I've had blogger's block for a while. At least blogging about my teaching. After two, not the grade I would have wanted, lesson observations (Ofsted and Performance Management) my confidence had been knocked, battered and bruised. Impostor syndrome looms large over me. Who the heck am I to advise others about teaching? Who DO I think I am?
But, maybe, just maybe the merest of corners has been turned and this is down to something that happened whilst I wasn't in school last Friday afternoon.
Context of my anecdote:
To cut a long story short, I have a doctor's note for reduced hours and work load (black dog combined with an Ofsted report that graded us 'serious weaknesses' does not a healthy Gwennie make), so I am currently leaving school at lunch. This leaves two lessons to be covered on a Friday, and with that doctor's note, there was a bit of confusion, with me at least, as to who was doing what regarding the cover. Acting with conscientious intent, I provided cover work, just in case.
One of these lessons involves what I affectionately call my 'snake wrangling' Year 10s. I have them twice that day and had already taught them Period 1 that morning. We'd started my version of 'The Reduced Shakespeare Company Romeo and Juliet' - I'd condensed the play onto two sides of A4, adapted from a postcard from The RSC.
I gave a copy of this condensed version to our wonderfulness personified supply teacher and the class were to: 1. Read it through, in roles they decided last lesson, seated. 2. For each character part, highlight the words that show emotions, annotate their dialogue with abstract nouns (emotion words as I call them with that class) and use that to work out how their parts should be acted. 3. The designated directors to begin directing the play section by section the actors using their notes to aid the director.
Yes, 'practical' work in a cover lesson, was perhaps a gamble, but they'd asked to do drama for Shakespeare. They suggested it, so 'Be brave' I thought. 'Trust them.' I persuaded myself, 'Be a bit co-constuctiony with them.' I'd tried to do it in a way that will only lead to a limited amount of time out of seats. I told the supply teacher, 'If you don't think they're in the right frame of mind to be out of seats, keep them seated.'
Yet something went horribly wrong. One of the girls, who it would be fair to say has anger issues, totally lost it in the lesson. I'll not describe in detail what happened, as I don't want to bring my school into disrepute - things are tough enough as it is - but I shall hint at the extent of the chaos. In total, 7 members of staff came into the room. All at the same time? I don't know. Included in that list were the Head of Faculty, two Deputy Heads and a Pastoral manager (a non-teaching year head). The awfulness of the situation has been described to me more than once.
Now, oddly this has made me realise some important things about this group. They have NEVER once behaved like that with me in the room. Yes, they have used every work avoidance tactic known to pupil-kind; yes, they have entered vibrating on the ceiling after witnessing a fight before the lesson; yes, sometimes they swear and their language would make a convent of nuns blush; yes, they are welded to their coats and their mobile phones are practically part of their anatomy; yes, they totally exhaust me; yes they are lovable rogues; so yes, despite all these difficulties and challenges in our classroom they have never shown aggression to that level, in that room with me present.
I often come out of their lessons feeling defeated; feeling guilty that they have not learned enough; that we aren't making enough progress quick enough; that I can't manage their behaviour.
But, but, but. There was no TA with me (there used to be, but I think the Pupil Premium has altered where our TAs go and why); there has just been me and them. There has not been a hyper-drive of descent into chaos and aggression with it being just us. Me and them. What does that tell me about my teaching-self? Perhaps, I'm not as bad as I think, just perhaps.
This morning, Period 1 I had planned, and more importantly, got to deliver a whole lesson with them on Shakespeare's rude language in Act 1 Scene 1.
I asked pupils to scan the extract while I was setting up a YouTube clip to watch and it didn't take them long to find some suggestive language once I'd clarified what I'd meant by 'rude language', in short, 'References to sex' is what I bluntly called it.
I'd asked them to find certain words and then repetition of them, one of the being 'stand'.
"What on earth is that referring to?" I posed to the class
A slight embarrassed silence followed.
One of my best prospects of a C said, coyly, "The bits below the waist Miss."
"Yes, good!" I replied enthusiastically, "Now, how do those bits below the waist, erm, behave? What happens to them?"
The boys smile, the girls giggle and some coy euphemisms follow combined with a 'you couldn't make this up' comment from a pupil.
"It's erm, when you're happy." suggested one of my best prospects of a C.
"What?" said another lad, who has ASD and one of my most interesting characters, "Playing Fifa?"
My composure crumbled and once returned I told the young man he had made my week and thanked him for making me laugh.
Back to the lesson, composure is back in place.
"So," I ask the class hopefully, "Is no one going to say the word that needs, to be said? MUST I say it?"
Silence. Dramatic pause. "Ok then, they're talking about their erections, they're being boastful about how great they are with women. Is that anything unusual when it comes to blokey conversation?"
"No Miss, of course not." they respond.
Towards the end of the lesson I show them pictures of The Globe full of groundlings and I ask them why Shakespeare makes the character's be rude and crude at the start of the play. Yes, dear reader, they knew why.
I point out that they had a whole lesson discussing Shakespeare's language, and asked them what they thought, "Well Miss, it wasn't really that difficult was it?" replied my best prospect of a C.
#pedagoofriday moment if ever there was one.