Wednesday, 27 May 2009

The School of Hard Knocks

Let me tell you about my school. It is right in the middle of the most notorious council estate in my city. An estate teaming with miscreants and rogues. When I tell people where I work they look aghast. It is grim. There is no getting away from it. The profiles of the children in my class are heartbreaking: children in care, fathers in prison, social services involvement with many, neglect, abuse . . . . I have 27 children in my class, 11 of them are considered to have 'Special Educational Needs'. None of those needs are physical, they are all emotional and behavioural. My class in not unique, in fact (as I have posted before) it is generally thought that I have quite an 'easy' class this year.

At my first ever parents' evening at the School of Hard Knocks last year there was a fight. Between 2 parents. I had to step in and separate them. Fights between parents are a common feature of our school. Many have now been banned from school property. Generally, if we have a parents' evening we consider a 50% turn-out to be exceptional. We spend weeks compiling children's reports, yet on the day we send them home they are treated as litter, the school yard is festooned with report confetti. I often wonder whether this is because many of the parents themselves cannot read.

I am fortunate to work in a beautiful, brand-new school. The resources there are tremendous. It has a recording studio, a theatre, a dance studio, a fantastic sports hall. The classrooms are gorgeous, they all have their own toilets and cloakrooms. We have a school orchestra, rock band, brass band, community theatre group. Our previous head was obsessed with performing arts. She thought music and drama would be a way of inspiring and liberating these children from the squalor of their shabby lives. It is an interesting theory. But she also spent our whole school budget on her Kids from Fame obsession, which meant no money for computers, laptops, books, paints or pencils. Teachers end up buying basic, everyday resources for their classes. All the pencils, paints, glue, pens my children use, all the rewards and stickers I give out, all the story books I read to them every night. . . they were all bought by me. This term our ICT topic is email. As our ICT resources are so dire (a few clunky, pre-historic laptops that have no relevant software on them) I shall be forced to teach the children about email ON PAPER.

Our new Head, Pompous Pilate came in January. He was full of arrogant bluster, pontificating that he chose to come to a school like ours because he wanted to 'make a difference'. We spent weeks debating a new behaviour policy, a school 'mission statement' etc etc. He reassured teachers he would support us actively in ensuring our classes were calm and disciplined, so that we could get on with actual teaching. (There are some classes filled with such angry, violent and disturbed children that teaching is impossible). But, of course, 5 months into the job Pompous Pilate is beginning to unravel and the behaviour in beginning to deteriorate.

He brought in a SWAT team of behavioural experts for our 2 terribly difficult Year 5 classes. These were huge, burly military-esque men who would take the classes one afternoon per week for team building activities. A scant 30 minutes into their first lesson, the men had 'excluded' 6 of the most troubled children, sending them back to their regular class teacher, complaining they were 'unteachable'. Pompous Pilate now spends whole afternoons pacing, red-faced up and down the corridor outside the Year 5 and 6 classrooms. Every few minutes he stops to peer, menacingly through the doors. He feels this is being supportive to the Y5, Y6 teachers. They feel this has made the already tense, edgy atmosphere even more explosive, and the children are even more unsettled and confrontational.

I don't want to paint a totally bleak picture. If you came to our school and walked around the corridors, looked into classrooms you would think it a calm and ordered place (as long as you avoided Years 5 and 6). Most of our children are fantastic: happy, optimistic and amazingly resilient. They seem to thrive in an ordered, boundaried and loving environment.

I love working there. I love my class. That's the thing about primary teaching, you work with a group of children for a whole year. It is a privilege, you get to have a massive impact on their lives. I can't help but think that is so much more rewarding than the conveyor-belt system of secondary teaching, where you barely get time to learn a child's name. Although, I am not sure our current Y5 teachers would agree! Next week I should discover which class I am teaching next year. I am praying that I will not be given one of those bonkers Year 5 classes.

No comments:

Post a Comment