There are numerous times in my job when I have laughed so much that I've drowned my mascara, given myself a headache or wet my pants.
One colleague provided me, often accidentally, with many reasons to suffer such a lack of daintiness. She was a diminutive sprite of a woman nearing retirement age, with a permanent glint in her eye. One of those people who’s built with a core of kindness and an unyielding outer case. Her propensity to ditch the sugar coating got her into scrapes on more than one occasion. The students loved her, and so did I.
One day, after a particularly challenging session teaching maths to a notorious group of level 1 brickwork bother-causers, she bounded into the staffroom and announced: “Sometimes I’d just like to slap ‘em with a sock full of shit”, and mimed helicoptering a weighted sock above her head like an Olympic hammer thrower. Well, I lost most of my lunch hour to laughter. From then on we had a code. If either of us was teaching a tricky group, we’d give it a sock rating, based on how many sockfulls we’d ideally like to slap ‘em with.
Teaching: noble but frustrating
Now, before you send me a terse tweet or email my gaffer to complain, know this: we love our students. FE teachers don’t tolerate crap wages, national invisibility and government policy as an afterthought because we’re very specific, edu-based sadomasochists. It’s because our singular quest is to support our students towards learning what will ultimately give them a better life. It’s a noble job. But that doesn't mean it can't be frustrating in the extreme.
After consulting esteemed colleagues on Twitter and Facebook, I have collected some of the sock-rated phrases that students come out with, year-in, year-out, always with the belief that they are the first ever to utter such sparkling wit. I have also provided the reply that takes place in my head. Only in my head. On the outside, I’m behaviour-managementing like the clappers.
The replies that must remain unsaid
'This is boring'
I do apologise, Brianna, I know functional skills classes are renowned for their atmos of rolling mardi gras, but my tiki torch and Bacardi Breezer budget is frighteningly low this week. So we’ll continue learning where to stick an apostrophe, shall we?
'Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of college and he didn't do bad'
Yes, he dropped out of Harvard in his second year because he’d already invented something that would change the world and was about to have mountains of cash shovelled into his bank account. And while I have a carcassful of bones to pick with him, he does seem pretty near to what I imagine a genius to be. Are you a genius, Harjeet? ARE YOU?
'You should be teaching us stuff we don’t know. I already know this'
With respect, Emma, you may think you’re a modern-day Carol Vorderman, but your academic history tells a different story.
'My dad/mum/gran/boss says I don’t need to know this'
Get ‘em on the phone. Come and have a go if you think you're hard enough. If it’ s a war of words, my money’s on me.
'I already know English so I don't need to learn any more of it'
It is true that you’ve spoken English all your life, Matthew, but imagine if you had more tools at your disposal with which to express your every thought. You know, words 'n' that. Just imagine having more than the tedious babble you currently thrill us with. So while you might think you have mastered the language of Shakespeare and Dickens, I would counter that there may still be some uncharted territory left, even for you, to conquer. I know…EVEN YOU!
'I have to answer my phone – it might be an important call and I won't know until I've answered it'
You’re 16, Kylie. You’ve never had an important call in your life, babes.
'I’m not smoking it, only rolling it'
Oh well, that’s okay then. It’s totally fine for you to skin up while I'm working my arse off, in a session that took me longer to prepare than the length of the actual naffin’ class itself. And why stop at tobacco? Nah, George, get that weed out of your musty, reeking anorak. Treat yourself, bung some of that in.
'What time does this lesson finish?'
The same time it’s finished for the past 30 weeks. Funny that. Let’s just agree that whenever time that is, it’s not soon enough.
'I’m never going to need to know any of this in later life'
You're right, mate, you probably won’t.
'I don’t get it'
Is it because I didn't show you in five different ways, giving you a disproportionate amount of my time while you were mouthing to your mate that my lesson was shit? That can't be it, because I did. Is it because you are genuinely having trouble getting your head around this topic, even though you were totally capable of it last week? Or is it, by chance, that you’re a lazy twerp who can’t be bothered to try? I think we both know the answer.
- Slapping students with a sockfull of shit is generally frowned upon by the higher echelons of pedagogical thinking.
- There is little evidence-based-practice to suggest that the sockfull-of-shit approach to behaviour management in the post-16 setting has positive outcomes for learning.
- Such practice is unlikely to be judged by Ofsted as outstanding.
Sarah Simons works in colleges and adult community education in the East Midlands, and is the director of UKFEchat. She tweets @MrsSarahSimons