Today was a good day

My day went comparably well; I tried to shoe-horn 27 kids into a room containing 24 PCs – hilarity ensued. Then I discovered I have a nice group that are quiet and moderately sane, followed by my A-Level group who have been gifted with brains! They didn’t look confused at me when I told them stuff! And to top this off I had a spot of schadenfreude when a kid who drove me bonkers last year was having a small paddy in the bus turnaround because he’d lost his phone and missed his bus. 😀

I need drugs

So, it turns out I have oral thrush, which is interesting. In the mornings it feels like someone has carefully dried out my nose, mouth, throat and then rinsed the whole thing with some stale beer. It’s quite unpleasant really, but in a non-specific way; nothing really hurts, but it’s just … not right.

I went to the doctors and after poking a torch in my mouth he happily told me it was thrush, and that some lozenges will sort it. One prescription later … I don’t have any lozenges. The local pharmacy has none and says there are “manufacturing problems” so they can’t get any either. Tomorrow I will try the Tesco across the road from school.

Today at work it was decided that a fire drill would be a good idea… five minutes before morning break. So the whole of break was spent stood on the astroturf with some rather irritated children. There were also quite a lot of worms, quite a lot of screaming girls, and lots of boys playing with the worms.

There are now less worms.

School holidays and working conditions

Aren’t school holidays wonderful? I am enjoying a week off from being a government sponsored child minder. So far I’ve been ill, done some tidying and random housework and marked four boxes of students’ work.

It’s quite a change of work style going from “normal” work conditions to teaching. Previously I was used to working in a shop five days a week with a token amount of holidays per year. The two days I was entitled to could have been together, or spaced out depending on the week and situation. The holidays had to be booked in advance and negotiated with other people to make sure it all fitted. And before that I used to work twelve hour days and get one day off a week with no holidays whatsoever because it was seasonal work so we had the entire winter “off”. Before that I used to work in an office doing whatever hours we needed, with the only guaranteed holiday being at Christmas.

Go into a school and suddenly there’s all these laws and regulations about how and when work is done. If you’re not a teacher, here’s how life goes:
Continue reading School holidays and working conditions

Skool Dinners

If you have children of your own, or work in a school then you’ll probably already know this. For the rest of you, cast your mind back to school. Specifically cast your mind back to dinner time.

I used to eat sandwiches at dinner time in secondary school, either in my form room or stood outside in the cold playground. My memories of actual school dinners are from primary school, way back in the 80s; we’d line up outside the hall waiting to go in, looking at the dinner board to see what today’s food would be. This was traditional school dinner, the type served by stern looking women from big wheely contraptions made out of stainless steel. You got a plate, it was filled with some sort of cheap tubular meat, a blob of mash, some things that were once peas and off you went for the gravy. No turkey twizzlers or chips here.

And you had to eat it all before being allowed to leave. And don’t talk too much, it’s eating time, not talking time. And definitely no taking your food outside.

Fast forward to the present day. At the designated feeding time, our students are released and they have quite a large number of options. There is a “fast food” canteen where they can buy a slice of pizza to chew on while running around the playground, or they can buy a tub of pasta to spill on the stairs inside the school. For students with a more leisurely attitude to life they can go into the canteen and get real food, or a sandwich, or some more of the pasta-in-a-tub. Our year 11s have their own social area that has its own mini canteen, so they don’t need to queue up with the little kids. And yes, there’s a bunch of students who would rather waste their money on a box of jaffa cakes from Tesco each day rather than a real dinner (but I used to do that too, and I seem to have turned out quite well).

And the real food is actually recognisable. Those of you who go to a canteen that caters for adults are eating the same sort of food. We’re not talking five star restaurant food here, but it looks, smells and tastes quite nice. The sandwiches look like something you could buy from Tesco and are fresh every day.

It’s really quite pleasant, even the mad kids seem to calm down a bit at dinner time. I guess it’s hard to cause havoc when you’re eating. I also suspect that for many of our kids, it’s the only decent meal they get each day, such is the home life of some of our students.

Dinner time is also a reasonably orderly affair – as orderly as getting 1500+ students fed can be. They know to line up tidily, there’s no unnecessary shoving or pushing, nobody queue jumps and everyone is free to sit and eat without being distracted.

The main difference though is that it’s a more relaxed atmosphere. Kids do actually like to sit in little groups and talk about stuff while eating. They save the running about and shouting till after their stomachs are full. There is a definite difference between morning registration and afternoon registration, but that’s the topic of a future post.

Finally back home, also full of curry

Today’s been a bit of a weird one. Since my car was in the garage being repaired, I was fortunate enough to have a lift to work with someone I work with. During my first lesson nobody turned up because they were in an exam, which was nice. By half twelve the garage had rung to tell me my car was ready, so as soon as my bus duty at 3pm had finished I was off to catch a bus into town to collect it.

And there I learnt a handy, but annoying fact; there are several local bus companies, they all issue some form of ‘Day Saver’ or ‘All Day’ ticket. And since I needed to catch two buses to get home (the garage is a half mile or so walk from my house) I bought an ‘All Day’ ticket. Did the second bus driver even understand what this ticket was? Did they buggery. Did I have to spend more money? Yep.

Personally I don’t think the second bus driver understood English, my stop has a very ambiguous name – it simply being the name of the road – and I have yet to find a bus driver that understands what the hell I’m on about. I end up pointing at his destination card and finding something recognisable. It’s a right farce.

Walked to the garage, which was fairly pleasant. It’s a long enough walk to count as mild exercise, but not so long you want to give up half way. I collected my car and drove back to work, arriving in time to do a bit of marking and then go for parents’ evening.

And parents’ evening should finish at 8pm, so why was I still there at half past? I think I had nearly all my students from one group come to talk to me, and even weirder I actually had meaningful stuff to say to their parents. Rather than some vague made up stuff I could say “They have done x, y, and now need to do z. After z we do u and v, followed by p and q”. It was all very specific and structured. Quite odd, I normally prattle drivel for a bit before abruptly stopping and getting bored.

After work we went out for a curry, which was very nice and is now digesting inside me. I think I might burst.

Tomorrow I’m leaving the instant the kids have gone, and not a second later.

Car seems better, it makes what I hope are normal clunking noises and I hope the mild paranoia I have about holes in the road goes away soon. Your car contains big metal springs, they can go at any time without warning. They can go when you’re driving, or when the car is safely locked in your garage. They can also go without giving any outward signs until something Serious breaks off.

Back to school

Yes, the adverts on telly might have been saying that for the past two months (which is really irritating) but I went back today and had a wonderous child free day doing “personal admin” and attending various meetings of dubious point.

Got back into the office and discovered everything as I’d left it, my PC still takes an age to apply my personal settings, the online registration system thinks I have two tutor groups, and it seems you really can get screen burn on LCD monitors if you leave them at the Windows login prompt for a few weeks (nothing to do with me, they were all off when the IT staff left seven weeks ago).

This year we’re starting some new courses with our kids, and I get to meet my new tutor group tomorrow, which will be nice…

Tomorrow I even get to do some teaching! Marvellous!

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?

Have GCSEs become easier?

Maybe, maybe not. However here’s some exam questions from the 50s.

First we have some GCE O Level  General Science:

1.   State the Principle of Archimedes, and describe
carefully an experiment you have carried out to verify
this principle.
      Explain briefly (a) why a hydrogen balloon rises,
but will eventually stop rising; (b) how a balloonist can
control the altitude of his balloon.

And then on Monday 29th of June, 1959 at 2pm until 4:30pm you might have sat the “Universities of Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield and Birmingham Joint Matriculation Board”‘s GCE English Language Paper A. This is a scanned image so you’ll have to follow the link.

And to finish off, how about a nice bit of algebra.

Looks quite hard and testing doesn’t it. Lots of complex words, very terse layout and zero help given to the kids sitting the exam. It’s assumed they knew what to do. Proper exam.

Let’s look at modern equivalents since they seem to take a lot of criticism. Here are comparable exams that were sat last year. They’re real GCSEs, not “applied” or a “99% coursework with token exam” course.

English Physics Maths

There’s a very different style of exam paper now. They look more like application forms than a list of questions. There are boxes for marks, the kids doing the exam know what is expected of them (making education more about knowing what’s going on, rather than guessing what you’re supposed to do), and it tells them exactly what to do – so if they do it wrong nobody can complain “well I didn’t know I only had to answer one question”.

Look at the actual questions though; I don’t think the content of exams has become easier – the same sorts of things are still being tested. The difference is that the style of questioning and the layout of the paper has been made simpler.

Of course, what we can’t see from the old papers is what the grade boundaries are and what you needed for a C grade.

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 🙂