Sunday, 31 January 2010

Call me pedantic, but ...

Y'know those Google ads that pop up next to your mail? I saw one yesterday advertising a bit of equipment operated by a 'foot pedal'. Is it the teacher in me or what? But that really grated ... foot pedal, is there any other sort of pedal?
If it wasn't foot operated, it wouldn't be a pedal, would it? And if it's a pedal then the word 'foot' is tautological and is superfluous. Why do people feel the need to qualify the word pedal, but not handle? If you said to someone 'Oh, turn this hand handle' they'd look at you as if you were a bit simple - but for some reason the term foot pedal is quite common. I'm waiting to see a cunning bit of machinery operated via a hand pedal...
And, while I'm at it, whatever happened to 'fewer'? Fewer seems to have been universally replaced by 'less'. Statements like, 'There are less people here than usual' are quite commonplace; I've heard BBC reporters saying it. Do they not know any better? Well, of course they do - they know they should say 'fewer people' rather than 'less people'. So why do they do it; laziness, after all 'less' has one FEWER syllables? Or is it dumbing down in a patronising way to the illiterate masses? Apparently the Beeb has made a corporate decision to dispense with the plural 'referenda' and use 'referendums' instead. Is this another example of dumbing down for the masses? Or am I just being a reactionary old fart? (No, don't bother replying). After all, we all seem to be quite happy to say 'data is' when we mean 'data are'. The singular 'datum' has fallen into disuse and 'data' has gone the way of 'sheep' i.e it is used both for the singular and plural.
Oh, and don't get me started on the Grocer's apostrophe!

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Is low-level misbehaviour in class getting worse?

Somebody asked me the other day if I thought behaviour in schools is worse now than it used to be. My immediate response was to say yes, it is. But then I began to think about my own time at school....
It got me thinking back to my own time at secondary school, in the 60s. It brought all sorts of vivid memories flooding back like seeing my music teacher staggering out of his classroom with a busted nose having been thumped by Big Billy Barnes. Mr Entwhistle the English teacher snoozing with his chin on his chest while we read Jack London's "Call of the wild" in silence - or at least that's what we were supposed to be doing, in reality we were carefully inserting needle sharp pen nibs into the end of the waxed paper straws we used to have for the school milk then, very surreptitiously and with a deft upward flick of the wrist, flinging them up to stick in the wooden ceiling.
In those days we were given wooden nib holders to write with and each class had an ink monitor who would go round and top up the inkwells on the desks. We also had milk delivered to the classroom every day. Hence, each classroom had ample supplies of ink, brass pen nibs and waxed paper straws - all you need, in fact to have some good schoolboy wheezes. For those room where the ceiling was impervious to the straw and nib dart, or just for variety, we had plan B. The milk bottles had aluminium foil tops. This could be readily shaped into a little cup shape with a short stem. The stem was inserted snugly into the straw and the cup end filled with a wad of well chewed, soggy paper ripped from the back page of your exercise book. This was then flicked up to the ceiling where the mixture of spit and paper allowed it to stick. Each classroom was thus adorned with a variety of straw stalactites, creating a vaguely troglodytic ambience. Occasionally these would fall from the ceiling during lessons as the paper pulp dried out and shrank.
The milk bottle tops could be employed in a variety of other wheezes too. If carefully removed, the crimped edge could be smoothed out to form a small round, flat-bottomed dish. This, it turned out, made a super frisbee (before frisbees were known over here, note!) which could be whizzed across the classroom by holding the rim between the crossed index and second finger then flicking the wrist whilst simultaneously imparting a spin with the fingers. (you will note that quite a lot of wrist flicking went on in this all boys school, some of which I will not go into here!).
The utilitarian bottle top could also be smoothed flat then carefully domed in the palm of the hand. This dome then fitted snugly into the circle formed by the fingers and thumb of the left hand. The right hand was then cupped and smacked firmly into the bottom of the left hand. If performed correctly, this manoeuvre would cause the bottle top to fly off with a loud POP - most effectively employed in Mt Entwhistle's silent reading lessons!
Apart from milk bottle tops and straw darts, the other thing to fly around the classroom was chewed blotting paper (remember that?) launched from a wooden rule. It wouldn't have been so bad having that land on your book had it not been dipped in the inkwell first.
So what was my conclusion? Is behaviour worse now than it ever was? Hmm, probably not, in terms of the amount of low-level misbehaviour. What is different is kids in schools today just splat handfuls of wet toilet paper onto the bog walls and tell you to fuck off; so crude, no creativity, no wit, no finesse at all.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Pot calling kettle black?

A former primary head was judging schools’ performance despite GTC’s ‘guilty’ verdict. Well, Ofsted and the GTC in the same story; can I resist the temptation to have a go at both of them at once? (er, no.)

Those who can, do.
Those who can't, teach.
Those who can't teach, teach teachers to teach.
Those that can't even do that and who have a variety of psychological problems, including superiority complex, delusions of grandeur (and competence) become ..... ta dah..... Ofsted inspectors!

Alternatively, if they're the sort of curtain twitching busybody who stands on a chair in order to see into the neighbours bathroom (and then complains to the police that they've been flashed), or would secretly quite like to wear a uniform (one with large, glittery badges and a large cap preferably); if they're the sort of person who really, really, really needs to feel quite important, well, they sit on the GTC, don't they? I would like to know what qualifies the pompous, self-important bods on the GTC to sit in judgement on their fellow teachers? Anyway, where do they find the time? They should be at home drinking cocoa and marking books! Am I the only one who's depressed at the willingness of some of our alleged colleagues to jump at the chance to parade all their 'holier than thou-ness' in public? Give me Quisling anyday! They used to say that a schoolmaster was a man in front of boys and a boy in front of men. If that's so then GTC Disciplinary Panel members are .... erm ... teachers in front of ..um.. Ofsted inspectors and tossers in front of teachers. There, said it (and I don't care).

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

New complaints service for parents...and pupils - just what we need!

"Pupils who are upset by something their headteacher does will be able to complain to a new service in England". Another stick to beat teachers with? Read the full BBC news item here.

Pupils and parents who feel that they have suffered an 'injustice' will be able to complain via a new service set up under the Apprenticeship, Skills, Children and Learning Act. So what constitutes an injustice, exactly? A spokesperson for the Department for Cushions and Soft Furnishings said that an 'injustice' may include hurt feelings, distress, worry or inconvenience". So the first thing I do is check the date, nope, it's not April 1st, so presumably this is for real then? Hurt feelings? Inconvenience? If I got a complaint every time I inconvenienced a pupil or hurt their feelings...
The only note of sanity in the whole article came from Mick Brooks who noted that "Parents can already complain to Ofsted, the governing body and the secretary of state and some parents frankly make a hobby of it." Well, tell me about it; there was the parent who complained that I'd "beaten her son with a stick" (I tapped him on the shoulder with a 30cm rule), the one who screamed at me over the phone that I was 'worse than Hitler' and that my school was "worse than prison" (I asked why her daughter hadn't attended school detention). Then there was the parent who complained that I had 'made her feel like a bad parent' (I told her that her son was not making much effort in class). Sometimes some people have a completely irrational response to perfectly ordinary or reasonable situations. I suspect the woman who harangued me about detention being worse than prison had herself had a bad experience at school. The mum who felt that I had impugned her parenting skills was, I suspect, feeling a bit sensitive about here son's lack of effort and may well have been partly blaming herself, I don't know.
And it's not just me. Poor old Mrs Admin got a call from a parent recently complaining that her daughter had come home "upset and distressed" about something that happened in the lesson. It turned out that the distressing incident was that the girl had been asked to hand out some scissors at the start of the lesson.
Also noted in the article is the fact that MPs are considering 'guaranteeing' good behaviour and strong discipline in schools. Really? Will I be able to claim my money back from the Department of Comedians and Silly Fools if my school can't honour the guarantee?