The Leper

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All of the English cohort have made it successfully through Placement 1 (I understand there have been casualties elsewhere on the PGCE). Well done to us. I found that in the weeks in Christmas, I have finally begun to get into my stride. I knew my students names, I knew what to expect from them, they knew what to expect from me and now I have been cruelly ripped away. All of my students made a good job of looking sad when I told them I was leaving last week. This is probably a demonstration of how I have been far too nice to them and not nearly strict enough. Things will change when I reach my next school. I am going to be much firmer. I have even bought some behaviour management books off Amazon that are going to tell me how. Admittedly they haven’t arrived yet and I certainly haven’t read them but I have taken the first step towards becoming strict.

Strict teacher

My 2nd university observation went much more successfully than the 1st one, although I still appear to be lagging behind everyone else on the grade scale. Everyone received at least one 2 (good) for their 8 standards on their 1st observation. I didn’t receive any outright 2s on my 2nd observation. Plenty of 2/3s but no 2s. Mr Mentor-vator has informed me that Professor Poppet is being much harder on me than on his last English student. Senor Coordinator asked if she doesn’t like my personality. They can’t understand why I am lagging behind everyone else and have tried to convince me that I am doing fine. Still, at least Professor Poppet’s verbal comments were nicer this time. On observation 1 I received a “that was disappointing” but she has upgraded me to a “well done”.

The Year 11 class I was being observed with behaved particularly well for me. I am terrible with technology and constantly break either the computer or the projector. After breaking both in our lesson the day before my observation, one of the Year 11 boys took it upon himself to work my PowerPoint slides for me so I wouldn’t have to touch the computer again. On the day of the observation he offered to do the same but after having a terrible technology based nightmare during the previous night, I had decided against using slides at all. The Year 11’s are quite a lazy class but I had arranged a marketplace lesson where they would create a poster and educate each other because they like drawing. One of the particularly moody girls turned up for the observation lesson, sat at the front table and said:

“I’ve been in a bad mood this week Miss and I haven’t done much work but I know that this lesson is important to you so I’m going to stay awake and try really hard.”

And she did. In fact they all did so I rewarded them the following day with Maoam bars. I’m beginning to think that teaching is more and more like training a puppy. Reward them when they learn to roll over and shout and point at them when they have been bad (but don’t hit them on the muzzle – that is frowned upon).

training a puppy

I was particularly sad to say goodbye to my noisy Year 9s. Whilst I have had the biggest battle with them, I have also had the most fun. They seemed particularly concerned about where I would be moving onto. In truth, it is still not confirmed. My 2nd placement school pulled out a couple of weeks ago and I know for a fact that Professor Poppet has tried to talk 3 other schools into taking me. I feel a bit like a leper that nobody wants near them. I shall be forced to walk the streets, ringing my leper bell and lingering near rubbish bins so I can dictate Shakespeare to any passing rats.

 

We had our first day back at university today but I was late in. I had decided to visit a school nearby that a job had come up in. Several of the others were intending to apply there but I thought I’d have a look around first. I had been to see a school in my home town that I absolutely loved but having been realistic about the length and cost of my commute, I hadn’t applied there. I was already concerned about visiting the school this morning. Professor Poppet had warned me that she wasn’t going to try to get me placed there because a previous student had found the English department less than supportive. I had also had a dream telling me not to apply (although this did coincide with teaching the noisy Year 9s about the witches prophecies in MacBeth).nightmare

The application form had to be in this morning and I had left it to the last minute. I couldn’t get The Boyfriend’s printer to work and called his school office and his work colleague before I managed to get hold of him and he talked me out of drop kicking it across his office. I needn’t have bothered. I was impressed but the number of things that the Head of English and admin assistant found to moan about during the length of my visit (IT resources, the leadership team, the new timetable, a possible GTP that was being forced on them etc etc etc). The final nail in the coffin was when the admin lady said she had spent every evening, during her first few weeks at the school, in tears. I left with my application form still in my bag. I had a joint tour with an experienced teacher from another school who was also less than impressed. Still, it was a learning curve. They say to go with your gut instincts (and your bad dreams) so I shall keep looking.

I would like to thank Mr Mentor-vator and Senor Coordinator who have been incredibly supportive throughout my placement and I will miss greatly. Mr Mentor-vator is a big ACDC fan so I shall dedicate this piece of music to him. Don’t read anything into the lyrics. He hasn’t shook me all night long, I just like this track.

It’s Christmas!

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The last week of term was tiring but fun. Whilst I allowed the year 11’s, fresh out of mock exams, to watch the film of “Educating Rita” I made the decision to work the rest of my classes right ‘til the end. Myself and the noisy year 9’s dragged ourselves through my formal observation on the Monday. I was, once again, teaching a lesson that Mr Mentor-vator had prepared which I always find tricky but it could have gone worse. The Year 9s had to create a word bank inspired by actual real life shells in order to complete Tennyson’s “The Shell”. Fortunately only one of them put a shell in their mouth. She made it through the rest of the week so I haven’t succeeded in poisoning any of them just yet.

Shell

We spent the remainder of the week writing poems about Christmas and/or culture and identity. They were actually shockingly good. One of my particularly noisy girls (who I am actually very fond of) wrote a really touching poem about what happens to snowmen when it doesn’t snow. We also endured a bloody but impressive poem about a Mayan tribe from one of the lads. Equally impressive was the re-writing of the poem “Half-Caste” as if it were being read by a Caribbean Father Christmas.

The Christmas dinner on Tuesday was a military operation. I love the dinner ladies at the school. They have always been incredibly friendly to me. Admittedly this warm spirit is probably why I’ve put on half a stone in my time at the school but they can hardly be blamed for that. I just need to lay off the custard. I tried not to look to vibrant on Tuesday. I happened to be wearing red and green on a day in November and the Head Dinner Lady said:

“I don’t mean to be rude but you are looking rather festive”.

I always think that when people say “I don’t mean to be rude”, that actually, they do mean to be very rude. Like when people say “you’re looking tired” – that is definitely code for “you look like shit”. However, she’s my favourite so I let her off. A Christmas dinner list had been floating round the staffroom but I totally missed the boat. I had to go and speak to Head Dinner Lady. I love her but I also wouldn’t want to meet her in a dark alley (same as the Reprographics Lady) so I was a little intimidated.

“List?” she said, “What bloody list? We’ve not had any list down here. That’ll be some busy bodies in the staffroom wanting to make themselves feel important. Don’t you worry, I’ll make sure you get some roast potatoes”.

So I actually came out of that conversation victorious but I still felt a bit like I’d been poking a snake with a stick.

Snake and stick

Who did I get sat with at Christmas dinner? The Headmaster of course. Mr Mentor-vator and Senor Coordinator think it’s hilarious that I keep getting sucked into conversations with him. I feel a bit like a pantomime hero: “He’s behind you”. I had to have a chat with him on the way back from church too. Fortunately we had plenty to talk about; trumpets and such like. Anyway, Christmas dinner could not pass without further discussion of The Penis in the Grass:

“I want you to know,” he said, “That I have had a selection of apology letters regarding the incident. There is no need for you to worry any more”.

I didn’t tell him that actually I’d given up worrying and I was now just enjoying my Brussels sprouts. He was being friendly after all.

My very last lesson of the week was with Year 7. We had been writing monologues as if we were Christmas tree decorations. I even shared my own about an ambitious fairy who is annoyed at being hung on the bottom branch (modelled on a number of previous work colleagues). I love the Year 7s who are generally incredibly sweet but I was a little disgruntled by their reactions in one of the tasks. I had previously done this exercise with Year 9; give them all a sweet which they then have to answer questions about: What does the wrapper look like, what does the wrapper sound like etc. It is designed to get their creative juices flowing. The noisy Year 9s were incredibly well behaved. The Year 7s behaved too but I was disappointed that some of them felt the need to complain about the sweet they had been given. The school is very affluent and this definitely came across.

“If you don’t like your sweet then you’ll just have to use your imagination!” I said. That soon shut them up.

I have a secret soft spot for one of the boys in the class who is from a less fortunate back ground. He came up to me at the end of the class to ask for another sweet because they were his absolute favourite and he really wanted another one. I would have loved to have given one to him as I know that it would have meant far more to him than most of the kids in the class would understand but I couldn’t. That would be favouritism and I simply can’t start walking down that road.

Scary Christmas tree

The Year 7s cheered me back up the following day. Their monologues were amazing. I had a supply teacher with me who is a specialist in drama and he was really impressed with their work. The kids were enjoying them so much that those who had missed the previous lesson wrote their own monologues as the others performed just so they could join in at the end. There were a couple of belters but my absolute favourite was from a really quiet boy who wrote about how the Christmas tree was bullying all of the presents. It was hilarious. My only disappointment was that my favourite wouldn’t perform his monologue. He laid his head on the desk and cried. This is totally out of character. I only hope that this was because he is tired as it’s the end of term. Still – making a child cry – I’m sure that can go towards one of my standards. And on the last day of term too. I had on my green coat which only served to reinforce my affinity with The Grinch.

The Grinch

The Church service and talent show were both surprisingly enjoyable. It was lovely to see students in a different context:

“Oh I see; when you’re not drawing phallic symbols in the grass, you are really rather good with a flute. Well that makes sense!”

One of my absolute champions was a Year 8 in my English class who did a stand-up routine. I thought this would be social suicide because he is so teeny tiny that he looks like a Year 4 but instead it was a work of genius:

“I think my teach fancies me. She keeps leaving kisses next to all of my work”.

The students loved him – he even got a standing ovation. The staff band and the Headmaster in his Christmas jumper were a sight to behold but my favourite performance was from a Year 8 girl doing “Wherever You Will Go” by The Calling. When the intro started up I though “She’s going to murder this” but she really gave it some welly. So instead of a sharing a Christmas song, I shall leave you with that. Merry Christmas!

The Penis in the Grass

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151″>Chalk man
The last couple of weeks have passed by in rather a blur, including a car crash (on the boyfriend’s part) and my first formal observation (also a car crash). Both experiences were traumatic. We have survived them with minimal physical scars but one less car. This does now mean that The Go-Kart is our sole means of transport. We regularly caress it gently on its bonnet and say “Well done little car”. It has coped admirably with a great deal of frost and a regular stream of passengers. Its only grumble has been at the absence of the Chris Moyles Breakfast show.

The one ray of sunshine in a rather dark couple of weeks for us was news of K.Midd’s pregnancy. Congratulations K.Midd. We are terribly happy for you. Sorry to hear about the continuous puking but hopefully that will pass in time for you to enjoy your Christmas dinner. I know that Moaney Morrisey has been shouting about you being a hypochondriac but nobody pays him much attention anyway so I really wouldn’t worry.

Me and the noisy year 9s have been winding down our unit of poetry from different cultures. They claimed that they wanted to write their own poems and I decided that this could definitely masquerade as an “educational” Christmas treat. We did some work on the senses this week. This involved giving them a Cadburys Caramel chocolate that they absolutely couldn’t eat until I said so. First they had to look at the wrapper, then they had to decide how they felt, next they had to listen to the wrapper, then they had to look at the chocolate and finally I let them eat it. They surprised us all by showing some self-restraint.

As they are writing a performance poem on either culture and identity or Christmas (no need to guess which topic 95% of them have gone for) I decided to show them some performance poetry. Unfortunately you-tube threw up a stream of boring weirdoes so instead I showed them the video for Bazz Lurhmann’s “Everybody’s free to wear sunscreen”. I love it. I explained that it went to number 1 when I was in year 8 but they were less than impressed:

“Do you mean number 1 in the singles chart Miss?”
“Yes,”
“How did it get there Miss?”
“Well it was constantly on the radio,”
“But it’s so long Miss,”
“And slow,”
“And boring”
“And there’s no singing”
“Well it’s really rather good if you listen to it!”
“When was this Miss?”
“1999”
“So not even this century then Miss,”

One girl liked it. She is also the only member on the class who is writing her poem about Identity. She will be winning a Christmas prize whether or not her poem is shit.

I have written a carefully worded entry into my weekly log under “significant events”. I haven’t taught year 11 in the last couple of weeks because they have been sitting their mock-exams. This week, however, we continued with our revision of “Educating Rita”. Year 11 are the only class that I teach for a double period. This is an hour and forty minutes and I have always let them out for a five-minute break. Previously, they have treated this break with respect and been back in the classroom punctually. This week, however, there was frost on the grass. Hardly significant, I imagine you think, as a mature, functioning adult. Unfortunately for me, four of the year 11s saw it in a different light. Once the disgruntled site manager had chased them back into the classroom, it transpired that they had drawn a rather large penis in the frost on the playing field. This penis was so large that if you swam the length of it in a swimming pool then you would definitely be eligible for a badge. I was torn between finding the situation hilarious and thinking “why did it have to be my lesson”!

That evening I attended a seminar given by the school psychologist. Naturally, I got sat next to the headmaster. We were asked, at one point, to discuss a “behaviour management issue” that had affected our teaching that week. I told the headmaster about my penis incident.
“Oh,” he said, “That was your class. I have been dealing with the aftermath this afternoon. One of the girls has been in my office in tears”.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “I won’t be letting them out for a break again”.
“Don’t worry,” he said, “It could have happened to anyone. If anything, they showed creativity, ambition and team work in creating male genitalia that size”.
Senor Coordinator sat incredulously on my other side.
“You were brave to tell him it was your class,” he muttered, “And yet somehow you have managed to diffuse the situation beautifully. See me before your lesson with them tomorrow – I’ll tell you how to deal with them”.

I delicately told them off the following morning. It was tricky to know what to do. The two girls involved were already ashamed of themselves and the two boys are so used to being shouting at that it would have had little effect on them. I settled for explaining that I’d had to endure a rather embarrassing conversation with the head master and they all apologised profusely.

This week I have been told not to set “behaviour management” as one of my targets – apparently I should expect every class to behaviour like Gremlins that I’ve fed after midnight. The university has observed me this term but my mentor hasn’t formerly observed me at all. Fisherman’s Friend has been observed 3 times by Senor Coordinator so I am missing a lot of paperwork. Unfortunately this means that my first mentor-observation will be taking place during Gremlin week. With year 9. My worst class. Roll on Christmas…

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In for a penny, in for a pound

I have just finished the third week of my placement and I am still living and breathing. After not teaching in my first week due to tests, I taught 9 lessons last week, 10 this week and shall be aiming for 12 next week. To employ another idiom (as I adore them so much) it has been very much “in for a penny, in for a pound”.

“You’ll thank us when you start your NQT year,” Senor Coordinator said and I suspect he might be right.

I feel it has actually been made easier for me in many ways. I know how many weeks I shall be teaching each class, what we need to cover and how I’m going to get there. For each class I have done a scrappy “medium-term-plan” on a rough bit of paper. Whilst looking like the scribbles of a child, it is giving me a rough idea of what I’m aiming for each week.

I am teaching Year 9 “Poems from Different Cultures” from the old AQA anthology and this is proving my biggest challenge. They are the class that I picked up first and I am combating their chatting but it still needs work. In fact it is my target for next week:

“Pick a year 9, any year 9 and properly lay into them” Mr Motivator has said “I want you pointing, I want you raising your voice, I want them keeping in at break”.

So that is what is written in my placement log: “Bollock a Year 9”. I’m quite looking forward to it.

Despite the chattering, the Year 9s are actually rather pleasant. They have been told to watch out for my terrible spelling (don’t tell Mr Gove) after my first poetry lesson involved some terrible use of the board. My handwriting is shocking and my annotations of “Search for my tongue” included both a spelling and a grammatical mistake. I have not written on the board since. Instead I am using spell checked PowerPoints. I did give them a misspelt anagram to deal with but I managed to pass that off as a “challenge”. I’ve played them some Bob Marley this week to go with our study of the poem “Half-Caste”. They loved that.

I’m preparing Year 11 for their January exam on “Educating Rita”. So far, we are getting on fine (touch wood). They know I am a student teacher but they also know that I am not straight out of uni. I only had 10 of them on Thursday which was delightful. I managed to break both the computer and the projector in the first ten minutes of the lesson but the boys and TA sorted it out for me.

“Can I mark off part of my standards?” I asked Mr Mentor-vator, “Successful use of a TA?”

“No Princess,” Mr Mentor-vator said, “Successfully using a TA does not mean breaking something and getting her to fix it for you”.

I’m glad my university tutor wasn’t there for that lesson. I did demand that a teenage boy stand on a table to switch the projector on and off at the ceiling (I was wearing a dress and couldn’t possibly have done it myself).

I have used “Jigsaw group work” in my lesson before the year 11s, where they had to educate each other on aspects of the poem. It felt very strange letting them go. During that lunch break Mr Mentor-vator said that I’d had my most successful lessons yet.

“Why?” I asked, “I didn’t do anything with Year 9 – they did all the work themselves and I couldn’t have broken much more with year 11, unless I’d gone for one of the windows”.

“Ofstead love a bit of peer education” Mr Mentor-vator said, “And as for Year 11, you dealt with your issues and moved on”.

Much like my driving test I suppose; I stalled terribly but dealt with it and still managed to pass.

Year 7 have once again shocked me with how young they seem. I love them dearly, they are cute little munchkins but my God they are babyish. During my lessons, they were finishing off their entries for a creative writing competition. The form asked for the school address which had really thrown them in our last lesson. I had therefore dutifully put it on a slide for them. I was however, shocked by AT LEAST a quarter of them asking me one of the following questions:

A)     I don’t know what county I live in

B)      I don’t know what town I live in

C)      I don’t know my address

HOW CAN YOU GET TO THE AGE OF 11 WITHOUT KNOWING YOUR OWN ADDRESS?

Perhaps I am an unusual case. As a toddler, I had a terrible habit of running away from my parents in public places. I could therefore recite my address and phone number from the age of two. Despite this, I still don’t know how a child escapes primary school without knowing where it is they live. Never mind. I will let the year 7s off. At least their chattering is minimal. I did “lay into” one of them though. I made a boy pick up his chair and go and sit with a girl because he displeased me. I saw him today and he has forgiven me.

“That’s it you see,” Senor Coordinator said, “If you punish students and they know they deserved it, they will understand”.

I shall prepare myself for punishing a few more people next week. Me and Fisherman’s Friend (the MFL PGCE) have our shouting lessons with Senor Coordinator on Monday so I can’t wait to see exactly what that will entail.

The Jeremy Kyle of 11 year olds

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I observed the head of English teaching year 7 this afternoon. I took a wander through the tables whilst they were colouring in their “Silverfin” cartoon strips. Whilst they year 9s have previously claimed to be scared of me, the year 7s definitely aren’t. They are a very sweet class; still getting used to the ways of big school and they will try to squeeze attention out of any adult who will give them a second glance. Today that was me.

I paused between the tables of three girls whispering pointedly and staring across the room.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Glittery-Glasses and Heavy-Fringe were fighting at lunch Miss and neither of them will say sorry!” a dainty blond girl said.

“What were you fighting about Glittery-Glasses?” I asked “Was it a boy?”

“No Miss, I was waving my arms about and I accidentally hit her on the nose” Glittery-Glasses said.

“Heavy-Fringe said it was a punch!” Dainty-Blond pointed out.

“It wasn’t a punch,” Glittery-Glasses said (it clearly wasn’t a punch – there wasn’t a mark on either of them). “But Heavy-Fringe hit me back!”

“Oh well,” I said, edging away, “Girls will be girls. I’m sure it’ll all be forgotten in the morning”. I did sound very much like a middle-aged woman but I thought I’d better escape before I started prattling on about a fight I once got into with a coked-up-man in a club in Clapham.

 

I headed to the front of the room where my mate Rabbit was sat. I like Rabbit. He’s not afraid to say hello to me in the corridors. Possibly this won’t help in the future but never mind. Today he was having troubles of the heart.

“Hello Rabbit,” I said, “How is everything with you?”

“All right Miss,” he said, “but I’m having girlfriend troubles,”

“Oh right,” I said.

“Yes Miss, I was seeing this girl but she dumped me at the end of last term. I’d even bought her a ring.”

“A ring Rabbit?” I said.

“Yeah, she dumped me the day before I could give it to her. That ring cost me £5 Miss – I could have got two trays of chips for that*!”

“Well Rabbit,” I said, “Woman can be an awful lot of trouble. At least you’ve still got the ring.”

“Yes Miss and I’ve got my eye on someone else now”

“Oh yes?” I said.

“Yes,” he said, “Heavy-Fringe”.

“Interesting,” I thought to myself, “Heavy-Fringe has drawn an interesting picture of the young James Bond grappling with an eel but she could well be trouble!”

*That is an actual quote – I could barely contain myself. If The Boyfriend ever compares jewellery he buys for me to its equivalent value in fried potatoes then I shan’t be best pleased!

The Mingulay Boat Song

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I haven’t actually been in school today; I have been at the Funeral of my Great-Aunt-May. I would like to dedicate this brief blog post to her and my Grandma.

My Aunt May and my Grandma, Sadie, were both diminutive Scottish ladies from just outside Glasgow. My Grandma left Scotland when she was 18 to serve in the RAF, where she met my Grandfather, a RAF policeman, and moved down to the midlands. On visiting her sister, my Aunt May took a shining to her brother-in-law’s brother (stay with me on this!) and moved down to the midlands herself. Despite both being widowed over twenty years ago, they remained in England.

Today was a sense of déjà vu for our family. My Grandma died in March after a 7 year battle with dementia, which she was well aware that she was never going to win.

Grandma: “Can you take me outside and shoot me Princess?”

Me: “I don’t think the neighbours would like that Grandma.”

Perhaps my sister and I might have considered it, if we weren’t so well aware of the strictness of the CRB checks required for teachers.

Potential Employer: “Sure we know you shot your Grandma but the year 7s are going to love you!”

My Aunt May had been in good health until my Grandma’s funeral. However, as the last of 9 siblings it seemed like death started tapping her on the shoulder that day. She has therefore spent the last few months shutting down; something in which I’m sure both she and my Grandma would agree is the better way to go.

Today we had the same silver cars, the same roses and the same Piper meet us at the crematorium gates. The funeral director even acknowledged as much. I bought a pair of tartan trainers last month. My Grandma would have thought them hideous and would also have told me as much. I shall still think of her and my Aunt whenever I wear them. I am going to be teaching the poem “Unrelated Incidents” to Year 9 next week. It is written in Scottish Dialect and I regret now not getting one of them to record it for me.

My delightful Tartan Trainers – £6 from New Look!

I am writing my Pedagogy Assignment on Standard and Non-Standard English. According to the experts, Standard English is taught most successfully alongside a celebration of dialects. Engaged Pedagogy suggests that teachers bring a little of themselves to such lessons. I think me and Year 9 will have a lesson celebrating Scotland. I shall wear my tartan trainers. I will also be checking the school policy on drinking whisky with 14 year olds. If all else fails, we’ll hit the shortbread instead.

I have shared a couple of celebratory songs with you at the bottom of this post. The first, The Mingulay Boat song, is the music which we hoped the Piper would play at Grandma’s funeral. If you are in a sombre mood, listen to the lyrics (it is very apt). He didn’t know it but his playing of an alternative still did both my Grandma and my Great-Aunt very proud*. If you would like more of a laugh, the second song is one that has been enjoyed by several generations of our family. I shall be playing it to year 9.

Tonight me and The Boyfriend** shall be raising a glass of whisky to the ladies. As my sister had touchingly put on our flowers, hopefully they are together now, sharing a plate of Scotch pancakes and enjoying a pot of tea.

*He also provided vital comic relief when the hearse-driver came close to running him over

**During the weeks leading up to my Grandma’s death, me and The Boyfriend had been working our way through “The Royle Family” boxset. The week Grandma died we had reached “The Queen of Sheba”. The Boyfriend was reluctant to put it on but I insisted. If you have just lost an elderly relative then I would recommend watching it – it was actually very therapeutic. “Better out than in” as they say!

And they’re off…….

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Yesterday marked the official start of placement. Whilst we did have a two week preliminary visit at the start of October, this is it now; we’re in until the first of Feb. I should have started teaching year 9 “Poems from Different Cultures” out of the joyful AQA anthology but that has been delayed for a week whilst they are dragged through their speaking and listening tests.  At least now I will be able to catch my breath before being immersed into teaching. I shall be gathering year 8, year 9 and year 11 in quite quick succession after that.

 

Also, who could have guessed that year 9 speaking and listening tests could be works of comic genius? They should have been performing their debates on a topic of their choice yesterday. Naturally, however, they had done absolutely no preparation over half term and needed a little guidance. Mr Mentor-vator allowed them the lesson to prepare. I wandered casually over to one of the tables:

 

“What are you doing your debate on ladies?” I asked.

“Eyebrows,” they said.

“Interesting,” I thought to myself. The table before had said “The Death Penalty” but clearly “Eyebrows” was the next obvious choice.

“What are you arguing about eyebrows?” I asked.

“That they can be used in lots of different ways” they said. I decided to go with it.

“Like this current fashion for HD brows?” I said. They looked at me blankly.

“What are HD brows?” one of them asked.

“It’s a trend for heavily pencilled brows that a lot of Liverpool WAGS are flouting”

This is definately NOT The Prison Officer

“Never heard of them,” they said.

“Oh come on,” I thought to myself, “The Prison-Officer has recently developed an addiction to HD Brow treatments and she doesn’t live anywhere near Liverpool. Even The Boyfriend knows what HD Brows are.” I tried a different tactic.

“Have you heard about the waiting list for this new sea-weed extract that’s supposed to make your eyebrows grow thicker? K.Midd has inspired it”.

K.Midd working those bad boys

“No,” they said.

Clearly one of us is spending too much time reading the Daily Mail Gossip pages and it isn’t any of those teenage girls. I considered trying them with a couple Bond references but decided against it and skulked away. They haven’t actually performed their debate yet so perhaps I shall have the last laugh.

 

QTS Numeracy & The Magic Numbers

 

I still haven’t received any wind of when we will be issued with those magic numbers that allow you to take your QTS tests. I was hoping I could have got them out of the way in half-term but that didn’t happen. Maybe the magic number will be here by Christmas.

 

I haven’t done any practice tests yet. Rumour has it that the numeracy test is pretty tricky but I was thinking that with a bit of effort I should scrape a pass. My reasons for this are two-fold. Firstly, I got an A in my GCSE. Secondly, several years ago I took skills tests for many different graduate schemes. Admittedly, I made the Prison-Officer’s fiancée take the first lot for me but then (when he wasn’t available for Ford) I discovered I could pass them myself.

 

However, my belief in my numerical skills has been shaken this week:

 

“Do you want to hear something funny?” I said to The Boyfriend this morning, “I thought my period was 5 days late!”

“There is nothing funny about that!” said The Boyfriend.

“It’s not really late,” I said, “I just hadn’t been using my calendar properly”.

“How can you not use a calendar properly?” he asked.

 

A clock and blood related image. What a good find!

Quite easily it would seem. I am pretty much like clockwork in your average month. Last month I was a couple of days early, on a Thursday. Like the organised Princess I am, I rushed to mark my next date on the calendar. Unfortunately the fourth Thursday from that was the first of the month.  My calendar also has those suspicious “Shadow Days” if the end of the month falls mid week. These are the first couple of days of the following month, marked in grey. Clearly I had been counting them. When I was 5 days late turning over my calendar I therefore got a bit of a shock. Something relatively minor you might say. My point is if I can be flummoxed counting to four on a simple calendar then things do not bode well for my QTS numeracy test. Perhaps I should start practicing a bit sooner than previously anticipated.

 

The Visitors

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DISCLAIMER: Please note this blog post has absolutely nothing to do with my PGCE. This weekend I have been enjoying a little light relief with The Boyfriend and his family.

 

I had my first experience with a caravan this weekend. The Boyfriend and I were due to attend the surprise birthday party of his best friend’s mother out on the coast. I had never met the lady that the party was being thrown for but being the female in our relationship I felt responsible for tracking down a suitable card.

“How old is she?” I asked The Boyfriend.

“I think she’s 60,” The Boyfriend said with a little uncertainty.

“Are you sure?” I said; both of our own mothers have turned 50 in recent years.

“Pretty sure,” he said doubtfully.

“Definitely?”

“Confidently,” he said, “But not quite definitely.”

“You’d better be right,” I said, “Because if we hand a 50 year old woman a 60th birthday card then we won’t get so much as a sniff of a volovant”.

 

We set off for the coast on Friday night with the suspect card tucked away in my handbag. I’d left the budgies with 3 sprays of millet and hoped for the best. It was cold, dark, foggy and wet – all the conditions that people like for a trip to the English seaside. I had opted to drive. I’m not the best of travellers and the road to the coast always turns my stomach. It’s a shame the Roman’s didn’t like the beach. Clearly whoever built the coast road thought “Why get there quickly when we can zigzag round all of these lovely fields”. I can still remember vomiting up a Chinese style stir fry on the way to a Brownie pack holiday. The Father wasn’t best pleased.

 

We stopped off in a random village to pick up Fish and Chips for The Boyfriend’s family. I parked in a dark little lane whilst The Boyfriend headed off into the fog, hunter-gatherer style. I don’t know why I decided to sit in The Go-Kart instead of going with him. The lane appeared to stretch off into some fields. The heating on The Go-Kart is beyond broken and the windows quickly steamed up.

“This is looking very much like the start of a horror movie,” I thought to myself, “What a good job I’m not blonde*”.

I sat by myself for a good ten minutes, waiting for the murderer to tap on my window with his hook when my phone went off.

“Oh Christ,” I thought to myself, “That’ll be him now: I’VE GOT YOUR BOYFRIEND’S HEAD ON A STICK. LOL.”

Thankfully it was only The Boyfriend:

“Nearly ready Princess – just waiting on the fish.”

He was soon back in The Go-Kart with the food.

“Sorry about the wait Princess,” he said, “At least you know your fish will be fresh”.

“Yes,” I said, “But I didn’t want a fish – I asked for a battered sausage”.

I considered cutting his head off myself but it’s not that long since I had the Go-Kart cleaned.

 

We soon arrived at the caravan park. We were also soon lost. Despite receiving constant verbal instructions from The Boyfriend’s Mother we found ourselves in a maze of caravans and hedges. The Boyfriend’s teenage brother was sent out in the rain to find us. I wondered if this could actually be the start of our horror film but decided that a bagful of chips and kebabs would not be consistent with the setting. He somehow managed to track us down and we arrived safely at the caravan.  Before any hugging could commence The Boyfriend’s Mother had an announcement.

“We have Visitors,” she said, discreetly pointing at The Boyfriend’s 6-year old brother.

“Visitors?” I asked, thinking “I’m sure he looks familiar”.

“Knits,” she whispered.

I would like to point out that when I googled images of headlice MADONNA came up!

“Oh,” I said with a laugh whilst The Boyfriend genuflected and doused himself with holy water**. The chief worry of The Boyfriend’s primary teaching career is catching knits. He has managed to avoid them so far. To The Boyfriend I imagine that the caravan presented itself as the set of Total Wipeout: Headlice Edition, with our heads taking the place of the large red lolly sticks.

I must now point out that The infested one is half of a set of twins.

“Does The Female Twin have Visitors too?” I asked. The Female Twin has long swishy hair.

“No,” The Boyfriend’s Mother said “They are only gracing The Male Twin.”

“Well there you go then,” I reassured The Boyfriend, “If The Female Twin has avoided them then the rest of us are bound to be OK”.

“If anybody gets them, it’s bound to be you Princess,” The Boyfriend said warily.

 

The following morning The Boyfriend was less than impressed. He got out of bed to make me a cup of tea (I am a Princess remember). When he returned, the twins had taken his place. I had never been acquainted with a Moshi Monster previously. Now I have been in bed with three.

“I hope you haven’t let The Infected on touch my pillow,” The Boyfriend said.

“Definitely not,” I lied.

Before we left the caravan for crazy golf, the knit inspection commenced. The good news was that the male twin is now pretty much Visitor free. He also happens to be a dab hand at crazy golf, unlike me.

“Nice try Princess,” The Twins sympathetically told me each time I hit the ball with limited success. The Boyfriend spent the day watching me with worry. His concerns were not helped by my sensitive scalp. It is not unusual for me to be found, scratching my head on a tree like the ING bear but I truly believe that I remain free from Visitors.

We returned to the caravan, Visitor free to prepare for the evenings celebrations. I was concerned about my choice of dress. It was Dorothy Perkin’s answer to Stella McCartney and bodycon and was tighter than I would usually choose.

I had bought a pair of good M&S tights (the sort that suck you in) in the hope that they would smooth me down without me having to shell out £30 for a pair of their magic knickers. What I hadn’t factored into this was that I had within me a club sandwich, two cinnamon donuts and the previous evening’s chips. To put things politely, I had been too shy to finish my morning absolutions in the cavern of the caravans bathroom. I therefore had on a bit of a bloat. The bathroom had proved a challenge for other reasons too.

“Sure,” I’d thought, “This is the 60th birthday party of a woman I’ve never met but I feel that I should shave my legs for her”.

You try climbing into a coffin with a watering can and a razor and see how that works out for you.

 

Somehow we all managed to scrub up quite well in the caravan. The Boyfriend’s Mother looked lovely in her dress but we had to laugh when we realised that my lipstick cost more than both of our outfits put together. My tights managed to win the fight with the carbohydrates long enough for The Boyfriend to get my zip done up. I’m sure the dress made a nasty crack when I was dancing to Tiger Feet but if there is a hole in it, I’m yet to find it. The Twins were suitably embarrassed by the shapes that me and The Boyfriend’s Mother were throwing on the dance floor. I therefore expect that any remaining Visitors were also shocked enough to jump the family ship and make off into the night.

 

*The blonde always gets it first – particularly if she is wearing white

 

**The Boyfriend’s knit induced grumpiness may have been grossly exaggerated for comedy effect

 

The reason that I have chosen this musical accompaniment is because I think it contains one line which perfectly sums up how we all react to The Visitors: “When I think about you I touch myself”

A Tough Week & The Magician’s Assistant

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It has been a tough week this week. Having returned to the university after a two week introduction to our placement school, we have found ourselves in limbo. Monday was difficult. All of the secondary PGCEers were gathered for a lecture by Professor Poppet on the importance of literacy across the curriculum. To say that some of the students were less than receptive to this idea would be putting things lightly. Us English students found ourselves engaging in verbal combat to defend both Professor Poppet and our own subject. The day was exhausting. We may have tried to fight the good fight but I’m not sure that we made any ground.

 

This week we have also been reflecting on what we have experienced in our two weeks at school whilst trying to prepare for the initial stages of our first written assessment. Us English students are a very social bunch but this week we have had to try to find a healthy balance between competition and mutual support. I am not sure that we have quite reached it yet.

 

Our experiences within school have been very different. This has to be expected as our lives over the next couple of months have been placed firmly in the hands of individuals who were complete strangers to us three weeks ago. Our mentors naturally have very different styles. Some of us have been thrown in at the deep end whilst others have been kept at an arm’s length from the classes we will be teaching. This is more of a reflection of our mentors than ourselves but through no fault of our own we have now been placed at varying stages in our steps towards learning to teach. There is not a lot that we as students can do about this. We just have to like it or lump it.

 

We also have different fears about the written assessment. Some of us have been out of education for a while, some of us have studied only English, some of us have studied education, some of us have masters, some of us have more classroom experience. It seems that all of our fears about the assignment are founded in the belief that someone else in the room has more relevant experience to apply to the written work. In truth, we are all very different characters with very different life experiences. I think that our individual traits will find a happy home in different aspects of our written and practical assessments. We each need to draw on where our own strengths lie and bring that to our essays and classrooms. At the age of 26 I know that I am a stubborn optimist and I just have to work with this. I will be a stubborn but optimistic teacher just as I will be a stubborn but optimistic corpse (stiff but smiling).

To cheer us all up, Professor Poppet nipped out in our break today and returned with armfuls of cake from the cafe.

“I don’t want you all being blue,” she said.

Smearing butter cream all over the assignment mark scheme certainly made it seem sweeter.

 

I have received some other good news this afternoon. The Magician’s Assistant is on her way to England. The Magician’s Assistant is one of my oldest and dearest friends. We have had a long distance relationship for the past ten years, since she went to train as a dancer whilst I continued on to our old schools sixth-form. In fact, I have a number of long distance friends. Whilst I remain in the rainy north, in the past year alone my closest friends have resided in 5 very different countries (and I mean proper good friends – the sort you would expect to show up at your funeral). I have been fortunate enough to see them all in the past 6 months as well. I had a particularly lovely visit at the start of my course from my friend who resides in Mexico and her amiable amigo tequila.

 

This lovely tequila is long gone. We had to throw the bottle away before we broke it open to suck on the shards.

Any way – I digress. The Magician’s Assistant is no longer a dancer but is now married to an Italian magician and yes, you guessed it, she is his assistant. I shall be seeing her and the rest of my school friends not once but twice before we even reach Christmas. This is a welcome treat as I didn’t think I’d see much of them this year as we are fairly well scattered and I have entered the DARK TUNNEL OF THE PGCE.

 

I was also lucky enough to see my parents and The Dog last weekend. This weekend we shall be spending some quality time with The Boyfriend’s family. I am very much looking forward to this. The English PGCEers shall also be enjoying a spot of bingo at a local bar on Thursday. We need something light hearted to enjoy as a team.

 

I am aware that the first half term of this placement will be particularly hard so it is nice to see your family and friends. It is also important to have some well placed markers which you will spend with some familiar faces who will lubricate you for the tough weeks ahead (mulled wine season is nearly upon us).

 

An Octopus’ Garden

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Last night I baked a banana loaf. I’d had a string of bananas lurking around the fruit bowl for a couple of weeks – The Boyfriend doesn’t eat them and I’d simply lost interest. Although my last attempt at a banana loaf oozed enthusiastically all over the kitchen table I thought I’d give it another stab. I contacted my Friend in France for a more suitable recipe.

“What if it oozes again?” I asked.

“Cook it a bit longer,” she said.

The recipe said 45 minutes. I gave it two hours.

 

When I came to the cake this morning I was pleased to see that it hadn’t leaked over the worktops. It did, however, have the appearance of a balloon found behind the sofa several days after a birthday party. I decided to work with what I’d got. I sliced off the wrinkly looking skin and popped it into my handbag. My phone rang at ten to 7. Mars Bar, Curly Wurly and Turkish Delight were waiting in the car outside. We were off on a road trip.

 

As we cruised past the university, the other English PGCEers slid out of the car park and tagged on behind us. It might be overly-enthusiastic to call this a convoy but this is what we were.  We had been invited to spend the day at an academy in a neighbouring county. We were expected there at 8.30. At 7.33 we rolled through the gates.  Jolly Rancher pulled her car up beside us and slid her window down. To spectators, we could have been conducting a very well-dressed early morning drug deal. Instead she was wanting to indulge another addiction:

“Mc Donalds?” she said.

The sat navs were consulted.

“It’s 6 miles away,” Turkish Delight pointed out. Jolly Rancher was desperate but not that desperate. Instead we trouped into the school and tried to convince the receptionists to let us near some coffee. Eventually, after consulting our drivers’ licenses and sticking our names to our chests, she did.

 

Once we were settled round a table in the conference room, I dug around in my handbag for the banana loaf. The car journey had failed to make it look any more enticing. In a mark of solidarity the Sweet Hearts gave it their best shot. Eating that cake was not a rewarding experience. It had the appearance and texture of a thin brown putty and stuck with enthusiasm to the roof of my mouth. We were more than thankful when the tea trolley was wheeled in and gave us something to wash it down with. By the time we had scraped our palettes free from the final traces of banana, the rest of the secondary PGCEers had arrived.

 

The initial talk that we received from the deputy head was incredibly useful. He gave us a number of tips for our lessons, a couple of which I will quickly share. Each table had a pile of poker chips in the centre. After we had been silent and sullen for a good ten minutes, he informed us that for every question we answered, one poker chip would be taken away. The team who got rid of their poker chips the fastest would be rewarded with a box of jelly babies. That soon perked us up.

 

The second tip that I found really useful was an introduction to a free download called Tarsia. All of the maths students had heard of this but it was new to the rest of us. This download allows you to create an educational shape puzzle. You input a number of questions and answers into the programme and it produces a selection of shapes with this information down their sides. Students can then match the shapes together (I am aware that I have explained this terribly but if you are at all interested, look it up and hopefully it will make sense – I was very impressed).

Whilst the deputy head was incredibly inspiring and gave us some really useful information, my favourite part of the day by far was the lesson that Jolly Rancher and I got to observe. After a lovely selection of pastries, we were collected from the conference room by a young English teacher.

“We’re going to see the nurture class,” he said, “Please be aware that they struggle even to spell their names”.

“Righto,” I thought, “I have come across this before with some students I spent time with in the North East. Nothing new here ”.

When we reached the classroom, the students were lined up outside. There were five of them. They were teeny tiny.

 

Once we had all been herded into the mini-classroom, the students were lined up by the window.

“Right then,” Sir said, “Who can tell me something they can see that is man-made?”

“This is going to be easy,” I thought but beads of sweat were beginning to form on the students foreheads.

“Trees?” They asked.

“No,” Sir said gently “Trees are natural. Ok then – who can tell me something else that is natural?”

“Lamposts?” said one of the girls confidently.

“No,” Sir said, “Humans made those lampposts”.

Things continued in this vein for a further five minutes. Each of the students eventually managed to get an answer correct with careful coaxing from Sir. One of the boys said that “A Bike” was manmade.

“Yes,” I thought, “But you can’t bloody see one!” but I didn’t tell Sir on him. He had got the right idea after all.

 

Next we all sat round the tables. The class were studying things you might see at the seaside. First they had to tell Sir which Seaside features were manmade and which were natural. They were very good at this as they had been doing it during the previous lesson. Next they were going to make a collage of the beach.

 

I have to say that the pair I was working with made an amazing effort with this task. We had little birds, a big bucket and spade, a baby whale and even a puffer fish. We did have a bit of a debate about which creatures lived in the sea, which lived in the sky and which sat on the sand but everything was resolved in quite a cordial fashion. One half of my pair was called out of the classroom so I decided to get stuck in.

“What are you drawing Miss?” my remaining friend asked.

“It’s an octopus,” I said happily.

We had a very pleasant chat as I got carried away, mainly about our favourite flavours of rock (mine – aniseed, hers – strawberry).

“Do you think my octopus is good enough to go on the collage?” I eventually asked.

“Yes,” she said rather reluctantly.

“I’ll let you draw his face,” I said. That perked her up a bit.

The first thing that I had underestimated about my octopus was how time consuming it is to cut out eight individual legs. We gave up after three and just cut round the outline. The second thing I had underestimated was the size of the bloody thing. We had to unstick the baby whale and puffer fish just to get him on the page.

 

I felt that the octopus had betrayed my pair on more than one account. My other friend eventually returned to the classroom and it was then that Sir said:

“Right everyone, now I want you to label your pictures,”

We struggled with bird, we struggled with fish, we struggled with spade.

“What a bitch,” I thought to myself, “I’ve royally stitched my pair up – how the hell are they going to spell octopus?”

But I shouldn’t have underestimated my miniature friends. With a little help from the phonics poster, a bit of time and some careful concentration they nailed it first time. I couldn’t have been happier.