Diary of an NQT
AT THE CHALKFACE AT THE CHALKFACE
My mind is on the blink
“I’M SO tired, my mind is on the blink...” dull and dreary autumnal days. Illness too preys on
God bless the Beatles. Although I am beginning the tired. I wonder just how many kids have been off
to grow a distinct dislike for Hey Jude. If Sir at one point or another this week. If my form is
Paul closes another charity concert with anything to go by, flu has claimed the days
another self-congratulatory rendition of of many a sickening student. Teachers too. Ian Whitwham’s greatest hits
this classic, I’ll be forced to burn my The troopers that make it in need a
Beatles records in the street. firm salute, although just how much the
They could pen a good lyric kids are learning from snivelling Rod
though, and this one sums up the Stewart soundalikes is debateable!
general feeling around school at Trying to make light of the
The mixture of humour, honesty and compassion
present. I thought it was just the situation has led me to develop
teachers that were tired, and that ways of instilling fun and variety that define former teacher Ian Whitwham’s
their grumpy tirades at the kids into lessons. Students are now not
were born from their declining so enthralled by mini-whiteboards
writing has made his At the Chalkface column
temperaments, but no – it’s and post-it notes as they were five
definitely the kids too. weeks ago. I’ve moved onto the
I can always gauge the mood of heavy artillery and pulled out the
one of SecEd’s most popular fixtures. With
my classes by the “studentometer”. table-football. It had my form gripped
If they arrive lively I know PE was for a full 15 minutes!
his new book out now featuring his very best
good, if they arrive quietly I know The monotonous drag of the register
everything’s just okay, but it’s when roll has also been “spiced-up” this week, columns, SecEd editor Pete Henshaw picks out
they arrive sullen I begin to worry. It’s especially with my year 7s studying Private
the latter I’ve been experiencing lately. Peaceful. Gone are the calls of “Daniel,
four of his all-time favourites
I always anticipate the arrival of said Paul, Ryan”. We’ve moved on to the
studentometers with trepidation, but military dismissal of “Private Adams,
this week they’ve been predictable salute your general!” as they march out AN WHITWHAM’S At the Chalkface Pip! Pip! Pip! The final pips! Ask not for
– how boring! of the room one by one to the backdrop
It would seem that winter blues of It’s a long way to Tipperary. They
are kicking in for all concerned and really did stay in character too, that was a
a combination of the weather and end- fun one.
of-term fatigue is taking its toll. I swear Heading towards Christmas, it’s
that we, as a nation, suffer from a genetic remarkable to think that I’ve nearly finished I
column has been an integral and popular whom they pip.
feature of SecEd ever since our first issue, They pip for you!
way back in 2003. “Goodbye! Good luck! Off you go!”
The columns reflect over 30 years’ I watch them dawdle past that big oak tree and
experience of the classroom as an English disappear through the school gates forever into the
teacher in an inner city school. unkind world.
condition of S.A.D. I’m currently reading my first full term. This will no doubt be the They are intended to cheer teachers – and others
a book by a well known Scottish comedian hardest one too. A long term amid the drear and – with their humourous, honest, poignant and
who forewarns never to visit Glasgow especially wet and windiest of autumns has been compassionate exploration of what it is to be a teacher
Published October 14, 2004
between November and February as you a hard slog. I think we all deserve a mince pie and in this country.
will find the normally gloomy facades reduced to a sherry, don’t you? Have a great Christmas. Ian as a teacher, a writer, and a human being is I’m sipping a cappuccino in my favourite Italian café.
that of embittered, axe-wielding murderers. cut from the right stuff. His passion for real education It’s the middle of a Monday morning and the highlight
Although we’re slightly more sheltered from • Matt Connett is a newly qualified teacher of English is phenomenal, and his excellent column combines of my day. Until I see Dave Hooligan sipping a
the Nordic chill in Essex, I am still seeing a at Shenfield High, a training school in Brentwood in beautifully the joys of the educator’s lot with the cappuccino.
melancholic atmosphere develop, accompanied by Essex. He returns in January. darkness that can often beset teachers’ lives (Ofsted, He’s sitting over there under a picture of Juventus
league tables, red tape etc). with froth upon his nose. I hide behind my Guardian.
Ian’s sense of humour makes even the worst day He hides behind his hood. He sees me seeing him.
at the chalkface seem survivable, and his passion for Shouldn’t we both be in school? Aren’t we both
Teach it like Torno!
how education should be will inspire you and stoke truants? I must acknowledge him. I give him a whey-
the fires that drive you. He tells it like it is and I never faced smile.
stifle his words. “Shouldn’t you be in school David?”
Tech the halls…
Counting this week’s column, which you can find “No Sir – as it happens. Suspended, Sir!”
on page 16, Ian has now written 233 entries to his “What for this time?”
chalkface diaries. “Bunking, Sir.” He adds four sugar lumps.
As we approach Christmas, and to mark the “You get sent home if you’re caught! And I can’t
“One machine can do the work of 50 ordinary men. No lead in setting the tone for behaviour and being the publication of his book featuring the very best of his stay home. My mum would kill me if she found out!”
machine can do the work of one extraordinary man.” moral leaders. Whiteboards cannot do this – at least not columns, I have chosen four of my favourites – not an He removes hood.
Elbert Hubbard. yet (though I am sure there is some course costing £500 easy choice to make I can tell you. So sit back, relax, “What’s your excuse then, Sir?”
Go on, tell me. What is it that you want for you can go on about technology and behaviour). enjoy, and remember why it is you are a member of “I’m part-time. I don’t work Mondays.”
Christmas? “No marking” I hear you cry, but you In our school next term we are having a day in the toughest, yet most rewarding and most noble of I’m downshifting. Redressing the life–work
know as well as I that this is never going to happen. which teachers will not be allowed to use any form professions. balance. Dave too it seems – although he’s always
An iPhone? A Pea-pod Nanny? A Blueberry? A of technology whatsoever to deliver their lessons. erred on the first part of the equation.
Strawberry? Or even a Blackberry? Whatever you They will have to rely on their own creativity
For whom the bell pips
“Alright for some, Sir!”
get it might not be such a bad thing if it is not related and imagination to design tasks which engage
Published July 12, 2007
“Why do you keep bunking?”
to technology. students and move them on. They will “Too much grief, Sir – I can’t hack it anymore!”
This is all I seem to see nowadays. have to think outside the box (see even These final weeks are tough going. I wander maudlin He delivers a rather trenchant diatribe on current
Kids with mobile phones texting each I’m using this dreadful phrase now) down corridors. I keep almost blubbing. It’s saying pedagogical fashions. It is in the tradition of Illich,
other. Parents joining in: “Don’t b when planning lessons. goodbye to the leavers that does for me. Rousseau and the Bash Street Gang. He’s bored
L8 2nite.” Even teachers, at least This is not being carried out Like most of my 11th year. senseless by the national curriculum, he’s not meeting
“the trendies” – those wearing as a protest against ICT. I can still see them on their first day under the big his targets and his school career is in freefall.
headphones while marking and The reason it is being oak tree in the north playground. All lined up and Snap. We drift into a rather unprofessional
downloading the latest X Factor conducted is because it shining in the dappled light of the September sun. And complicity.
single. Conducting conversations will give our teachers an now I see them on their last day sitting in the falling “You go mental, Sir!” And all that testing is the
in the staffroom while pressing insight into the daily lives light of our classroom. Five years have passed – 1,500 final straw. He couldn’t face that last one. Hid in
buttons on their latest technological of our fellow teachers in hours. All gone in a blink. My merry crew all gone. the toilets, got picked up on the CCTV and then he
wizardry. our partner school in The No more Stanley Plum? Solid, decent Plum. A bunked it. He gets up and pulls up his hood. The froth
It’s all becoming too much! If Gambia. The school does teenage Horatio. Whither Plum? No more Lily Rose? is still upon his nose.
you do not possess these forms of not have the resources Sunny, laughing Lily. My register monitor. Whither “Can’t hang about. Be lucky then, Sir!” He’s gone.
gadgetry you can count yourselves so that we have and is not in Lil? And no more Dave Mania! Crazy, bonkers Dave. Off to do dodgy deals under Shepherd’s Bush – or to
last century! Colleagues, we live in a position to demonstrate The Pimpernel of the West Block. I’ve so often wished just sit on a wall under the Westway with earthquakes
the age of entertainment where all things by using the internet. him gone and now I want even him to stay. He’s in his ears and wait until his mother gets home.
lessons are required to be “fun” I believe this will be always been off target, message, chair, stream, trolley Anything’s better than another chance to fail...
and bad behaviour can only be beneficial both for the teachers and rocker. He’s rather been on feet, heat, drugs, I’m sipping another cappuccino next Monday. So
remedied by quizzes and ensuring involved at our school and our corridors and a hiding to nothing. I’ve tried to be his is Dave Hooligan. Again. Will no one rid me of this
we put on a show for the little students. There has developed an teacher and tutor – and once his character witness. turbulent youth?
darlings lesson after lesson. over-reliance on technology to the He was up for burgling a house. I did my best. But “What is it this time?”
Though I am a fan of ICT, I extent to which some teachers feel lost the case collapsed. It was my house. He’d nicked half “Locked out, Sir!”
confess that I am not as adroit without an electronic whiteboard. my record collection. Even Blonde on Blonde. That’s “By whom?”
at exploiting its possibilities as This is not a healthy situation to be in a triple ASBO. He’s since gone “straight”. Ho hum. “The school, Sir – cos I was late!”
many of my colleagues. I also and it must be remembered that schools Whither Dave? “Why were you late?”
plan to increase my capabilities as spend over 90 per cent of their budgets We all reminisce. There’s much cheering and “You know. The usual. All the fighting and the
time goes on. However, I no longer on teachers’ salaries. In essence teachers clapping and waving of shaving cream and scrawling dogs.” More sugar lumps. “The bouncers lock the
feel as guilty as I used to about being themselves are the most important resource of farewells on cards and t-shirts and tummies. What gates after nine, Sir.”
a “Luddite”. For example, when I am in the school and while I would in no way a rich mix of children! They’ve always taken care of Those gates are about 30 feet high with daggers at
teaching essay-writing I deliberately advocate a return to 20 years ago, I do believe each other. They’ve always been generous and tough the top.
avoid using the IWB (remember we live it will get us reflecting on what exactly it is that and funny. London’s finest. And they’re all still here “Tried to climb in. Nearly got over! Nearly lost my
in the world of the acronym) as I want to makes a good teacher. To quote another cringing and they’ve done alright. bollocks, Sir!” Ah – what a lust for learning!
demonstrate to the students the thinking phrase, we will begin to engage in “learning I feel compelled to give a valediction. “So I legged it Sir!”
processes I am going through. conversations” that can only be a positive thing. I tell them they’re all wonderful and it’s been a “But you’re bunking again!” Should I grass him?
By using the felt tip-based whiteboard I can On a final note, I have been having my suspicions privilege to be with them. Even Mania. “Easy, sir!” I “Had to – innit! If they’d caught me they’d have
precisely show the way in which paragraphs are for a long time, but now I am quite certain. I believe try to dredge up some final invincible wisdom. sent me home!”
constructed and points are made. We can then engage that Santa Claus is an Ofsted inspector. After all, who “Kindness trumps everything!” Well – should I?
in some meaningful AFL relating to their own work. else would carry out visits on Christmas Eve! “Is that it?” Well, yes. It is.
Of course this can be carried out on the electronic Have a great Christmas and I will be back in They play some music. Some even dance. Vladimir
whiteboard, but the point I am making is that it is the January. with Lily and Plum with Rebecca and is that Mania
Published March 13, 2008
value of the teacher and how they engage students getting down with Lucy? Then they play Stand By Me
that is important in the learning process. • David Torn is professional tutor and an advanced and I’m quite done for. Almost blubbing. A twilight workshop on “outstanding lessons”. I hope
No amount of technology is ever going to be able skills teacher at St Edward’s Comprehensive School Dave shuffles over to shake my hand. it’s not a bragfest. Bigheads bigging themselves up.
to replace a dedicated teacher who knows their subject in Essex. He is the London Secondary School Teacher “You’re alright, considering.” Considering I’m a Do you have them? Those fellows who come preening
and can involve learners in a variety of ways. Moreover, of the Year 2007 and is passionate that the purpose of naïve clot. into staffrooms and smugly intimate that they’re a mix
students, as ever, are looking to the teacher to take the education is to change lives. He returns in January. Rachel gives me a rose nicked from the 6th form of Jesus and Socrates and Bruce Forsyth. One of Mr
gardens. Brown’s “superteachers”.
8 SecEd • December 3 2009
08-09 Confis.indd 8 30/11/09 16:38:37
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