Moving on up

Today the current year 9 students went to meet their new year 10 form tutors. In our school students have a form tutor in year 7, then they go into year 8 and have a new form tutor who they keep until year 9. Then for years 10 and 11 they stay with a different tutor.

There’s a bit of a change of mental gears required when the students enter year 10. Some of them are quite sensible, but others don’t understand the importance of the next two years. Several of the more challenging students have already been in their new head of year’s office, having the workings of life explained to them. This is upper school, we do not tolerate lower school silly behaviour.

I’m going to be “sharing” a tutor group with another teacher, so while he welcomed our new group I was covering for a new year 10 tutor who will be joining us in September. She’s got a nice tutor group with no real problem kids.

Welcome to year 10, the world as you know it is over, welcome to the new world order. Strap yourselves in, it’s going to be a rollercoaster and some of you will fall off.

The end is nearly in sight

Just a week and a half left at school before the end of this year. We are on week 38 of 39… The timetable is starting to fall apart as various groups of students go off on different school trips, work experience and badly timed holidays.

We’re introducing a new course next year for the GCSE kids, so have been up to our armpits in devising a whole new scheme of work, plus I’m making a website for my A-Level students to use next year. Gone are the printed sheets I used this year, it’s all been put into a website. If I’ve done this correctly, they should soon get into the habit of loading it up, finding today’s lesson and then getting on with it.

My aim is to get all the planning for next year done before we break up so that I don’t have to do any during the holidays. Plan B is to get enough planning done to last me until Christmas.

So a week and a half and then seven weeks of my own time.

The perils of cheap office furniture

I broke my office chair today by snapping the back. The chair is a fairly standard “executive” high back gas-lift chair with recliner feature. On this particular make of chair, the recliner feature also triggers the gas-lift so the chair goes backwards and then drops in height. No idea why, it seems a bit of a strange combination.

Today, when I sat down the recline pin somehow moved causing the chair to both drop in height and tip backwards. Not expecting this, I almost fell off it, landing heavily on the backrest, making it bend and snap at its join with the chair base.

This got steadily worse over the rest of the day and I fully expect to be tipped backwards onto the floor sometime tomorrow as the chair finally gives up. I wouldn’t mind so much, but I share an office with two large blokes of above-average weight. They have the same chairs and subject them to far larger forces than me. Their chairs are OK, mine snapped. I weigh bugger all and am quite thin.

And so begins the long and complex system for returning faulty goods to a supply company. Why do I see the next 7 weeks with me sitting on a plastic chair?

End of Term catch-up

This is great. Year 11 have been on exam leave for the past week, meaning they might only come in for revision lessons or exams (and so far I’ve had one student come back and that was last Tuesday). The ICT exam is tomorrow, so after that I gain four lessons each week. My form was a year 11 group so I gain a morning and afternoon and one lesson per week extra. The A-level ICT exam is tomorrow, so after that I guess my A-Level students will half-heartedly turn up, maybe if they can be bothered.

I’ve finished annotating and tarting up the sample GCSE coursework that needs sending off to the exam moderators, and the stupid irritating Year 8 reports are finished, printed, corrected, reprinted, sworn over and shouldn’t come back to haunt me ever again.

The only other important time sapping exercise is my year 10 reports, and to do that I will have to mark all their coursework. If I do this now I won’t have to do it next year when I’m doing six million other things again.

There’s four days of this half term left, a week off and then 6 or 7 weeks or something left before we all go away for seven weeks’ holiday.

With all this free time I intend on planning next year’s stuff before we even leave, so that I can spend the whole summer holiday doing stuff for myself safe in the knowledge I don’t have six weeks of lessons to plan, work to mark and oh my god there’s only three weeks of holiday left, where did it all go?

Teaching’s an interesting job. Overall it’s very repetitive so you can become good at it, but every day is different from the others. I like the way the year is filled with different things to keep me occupied and that every time I write a batch of reports I get a little bit more efficient and better at it.

Oh that’s something I’ll be doing over summer. I built an MS Access database that lets me make class lists and keep track of students, and I want to extend it to report writing. The boring and slow part of writing reports is the blurb about each kid. I think that if I spend a bit of time with Access I’ll manage to create a system where I can:

  • record all my students and what group they’re in (it already does this)
  • keep track of student grades (it can also do this)
  • Allow me to keep notes on each student (an extra field in the database and a form to enter it will need making)
  • Let me generate reports with this information on

That way I should (in theory) be able to keep notes on each kid as I go along, also recording their grades and then, after a bit of editing hit a button and *blam* have 96 reports coming out the printer, all different and all saying meaningful things.

Aaand relax…

After a crazy mental week I’ve finally reached the end… of both my sanity and the Year 11 teaching. All our year 11s have now left, only to return to do their exams. So now, after two years I’ve said bye to my tutor group. We had a trip to Alton Towers yesterday, and today they wandered about getting shirts signed before having a Record of Achievement ceremony in the hall.

I wonder what I’ll do with the spare time now that I don’t have to register a form every morning and afternoon, or make them do PSHE once a week.

I’ll miss most of them but there’s a small handful of my tutor group (and the year in general) that I won’t miss.

I get a new tutor group next September and the cycle begins again 🙂

Drowning in the marking and paperwork

Our office at work
Our office at work

It’s that special time of the school year, just before the Easter holidays where coursework needs handing in, the year 11s are going crazy and everyone is a little burnt out. Working in a normal job for six weeks straight is neither extrordinary or particularly difficult, but teaching is different. Now that I’ve got them working rather than messing around I’ve got to concentrate on the difficult thing of forcing information into unwilling brains.

The image you see here is of our office, in its natural state. It looked like this five minutes after we moved into it and gets neither any messier, nor any tidier. Well, the box on my desk moves occasionally and usually I can see my keyboard. God knows what’s in those in trays, probably important stuff I should have responded to a month ago.

What you can’t see is three plastic boxes full of year 11 coursework that I need to sort, check and then mark. Yes, I will be spending the Easter holiday marking kids’ work (or looking at their work and thinking “you have been in my lessons for two years and you have produced nothing…”).

Snow Day

School’s shut because of the snow 🙂 I got a text at 6:45 saying “School shut, stay in bed”. I’ve not looked outside yet to see what the snow is like, but I can hear cars going past the window so the motorway and road into town is open. Either the snow around school is really bad, or a load of people from the surrounding areas woke up this morning and thought “nah, not today”.

And I just found this via the magic of the Internet…

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Nottingham Council's webcam...

Using students to automate boring tasks

It’s Year 11 report writing time. Not only have to write reports for all the Year 11 classes I teach, but as a year 11 form tutor I also have to write reports for all my tutor group. I teach four groups of students totally about 60 kids, and then a form group of 22. So that’s 82 reports I have to write. As does every other year 11 teacher in the school.

Most students do about ten subjects, and we require a report and a copy of the report. Each student will receive 20 sheets of A5 paper, however giving those to the kids would be a mess so I am given them instead.

With the reports for each of the students in my tutor group I have to do the following

  • Check the name and tutor group for mistakes
  • Check the report isn’t actually missing
  • Look for obvious mistakes “John is making good progress in Maths, with hard work she will do well” (syntax errors)
  • Look for less obvious mistakes “John is making good progress in Maths, he is predicted a C but is only working at a B” (logic errors)
  • Put them all in order, alphabetically and split the copies off into separate piles
  • Scan through all the report again and tally up the grades and write a short summary

And that is just a giant mess and what we teachers call an “admin task”. They’re short, brainless and fairly simple tasks to do, but having to do them all throughly and correctly 22 times can take hours. Really, boredom sets in after the third one.

So what I did was spend an hour with my form and get them to do it for me. Each student was programmed to do the listed tasks above and then I just went around and made sure they were doing it correctly.

I even got most of them to write me some targets for improvement so that I don’t have to read the reports too carefully. I will still need to read through each report to make sure there are no pages missing, but I’ll only need to read each report once and can then put it in a pile in alphabetical order. Last year, without student help, I had to sort and find reports more than twice.

For the final killer piece of time saving, I took the data off the summary sheets and typed it into a class list in Microsoft Excel, and then tomorrow I will mail-merge this onto the report templates. The end result will be 22 reports that just need a few personalised comments adding.

Work smarter, not harder 🙂

Inspection tomorrow

latexTomorrow the OFSTED people come to visit. The theme of their visit is our post-16 part and other random stuff including several “types” of student. We’ve all been getting prepared, writing lesson plans and making sure everything is as it should be. Three inspectors are coming to visit for the day and will be wandering into lessons at random to see what’s going on.

Considering I teach a year 9 lesson in the post-16 block that contains several types of student they are coming to look at, what’s the betting someone wanders into my lesson. It’s also the lesson where the kids like to mess around and cause hassle, that I have to cross the entire school grounds in less than a minute to get to on time, that is in a classroom where there is no teacher PC so I have to take my laptop that takes five minutes to boot up and notice the network.

Knowing my luck they’ll be sat in there having a quiet five minutes writing notes when we arrive.

If they do, they’ll see a fine example of how to use cold weather to control children since I don’t let them into the 6th form block until they’re quiet and calm.

Curry Night

It was work’s curry night again tonight. This month’s wasn’t the best place we’ve been to, the food being alright but nothing special – mine seeming to mostly contain onions and a few bits of meat.

Finding the place was hard, with the building being located off the main road, with a giant row of trees between it and the road, up a hill on an unlit road. The way to it involved driving through a housing estate and round the back of a supermarket. I bet they keep their menus in a locked filing cabinet in a basement with a sign saying “beware of the tiger” on it too.