Count out and count back in again.
At one time I taught a fantastic student who I will call Zed. Zed had been diagnosed with autism at an early age, this did not prevent him from doing well at school. To look at Zed was very small in stature and he had a soft voice that was almost a monotone. Zed liked telling jokes and riddles that were often homemade and told very slowly. He walked with hunched shoulders, almost in a scuttle and was a well-known character in the school. Typically of someone with autism, Zed was a talented mathematician and he also had a real interest in science.
Crustaceans were a source of fascination for Zed and he was a great authority on crabs – kids would often ask him questions about the trivia he knew on this subject.
Simply put he was a lovely lad, but you always had to look out for him. In most lessons Zed did receive in-class support, but due to his nature it was an absolute liability when doing practical work. This was a lad who was knocked over by traffic three times when walking to and from school over the years, once pretty seriously. I lost track of the times that Zed dropped something, burnt himself on hot equipment, or fail to carry out a task in the right sequence.
When Zed was in year 11, I had a free period when he had PE on his timetable and this was when I often used to come out and play football with the group for recreational purposes. This was something I did for years at both the schools I worked in. If I could wrangle it, I would come out and have a knock about once a week with a random Year 10 or Year 11 class – it was a great release and the kids loved it, as I often commentated during the games we played and generally took the piss.
The games we played in Zed’s class used to take place on the tennis courts which were concrete at that time, but just about all weather. Zed did not play football, but what he did do was run for the whole lesson around the entire perimeter of the sports field. This was something he loved to do at the same pace – he would speed up when our football went over the fence as he would always fetch it for us. At the end of the hour when bringing in the lads I would always shout to Zed to stop running. You had to time it right has he always insisted on completing the lap he was on.
Unfortunately after one tight match with an exciting finish I forgot to tell Zed to stop and come back in and this lesson was period three. I realised my mistake about 10 minutes into lunch. There was no PE lesson on the field period four, which meant that when I went out there Zed was still on his feet, but only just, still jogging around the field. Luckily he was just tired out and I had not killed him – we both shared a laugh at what a donut I had been as we walked back into school together. It was a lucky escape and so as with the scissors dished out in classrooms, the same goes for kids – count in and count back!
Watching the current crop of sixth formers trying to park their cars as close as they could to the school the other day made me think back to a lad I taught who always tried to park his car well away from the school gates, rather than close to them.
This story starts with RM* and I, who were both teaching GCSE Science to Year 10. We always shared groups others did not want; it became a sort of trademark. RM had a “way” with bottom sets; he had defined rules and unbelievable classroom management. His philosophy was based on issuing those that stepped out of line with a “good whelping” and sticking to his lesson planning of “if in doubt, copy out.”
In the lab next door I just got work out the kids through chivvying and cajoling and could only dream of having our shared groups under the same short leash as RM. But our partnership worked.
One day about half way through the school year a new lad arrived in my class. It turned out that he was an Iraqi refugee who had entered the UK via transit from Hamburg. Just because I could speak German it meant the powers that be dumped him in one of our shared GCSE wagon load of monkeys. I quickly found out that his lad could not speak much German and RM only spoke estuary English, so next day my “old school” colleague tried a different tack in his lesson.
Whilst the class silently copied out the notes on Plant Cells from Jones & Jones ‘O-Level Biology’ RM wrote down “6CO2 + 6H2O = “ on a piece of paper. He pushed the paper over to the lad who quickly scanned RM’s message. The lad knew a bit more about photosynthesis than his new peers, because he wrote “= C6H12O6 + 6O2”and slid the answer back, whilst holding RM’s cold stare. The class scribbled away in silence. RM tried a few other equations and quickly found out that the lad knew far more than an ordinary Year 10 student.
It took a while for the school to realise that the lad in question was older than originally claimed until he was sighted on a number of occasions driving to school in a Vauxhall Cavalier. What caught peoples attention was the fact that the lad was behind the wheel whilst still wearing regular school uniform! It turned out that he just used the school as a means of getting some qualifications whilst he sold cars from his “Uncle’s” car lot in West Harrow.
* RM – aka Richard Michaels the old school Biology teacher and my erstwhile mentor.
I used to teach in a lab that was joined to another with a prep room in between, in a self contained detached block. The block was a bit like a pair of huts, but a bit more substantial. The whole block was brick built with a flat roof that leaked like a sieve. Both labs had a huge bank of windows that looked out over a grassed area called the Quiet Green.
Richard Michaels (aka RM) – the hard-nosed mentor of mine and T-club member taught next door. RM had a way of controlling kids that was second to none and was always willing to “give ‘em a good whelping” if they stepped out of line.
One day I was chalking and talking to a class that were clearly being distracted by something outside on the Quiet Green. So I turned around to see a lad sheepishly standing on a picnic table right in the middle of this open space. I went outside to investigate and the kids I left behind in my lab jumped up on the side benches to get a grandstand view, faces pressed up at the glass of the windows. They all stared at this lonely looking boy stood on the picnic table.
RM had the whole of his own class lined up outside his lab and was barking orders at this clearly bewildered student as the rest looked on.
“That’s it son, up you get!” bellows RM.
The boy stands on the picnic table, blinking and unsure.
“You have not been paying any attention to me back there in that room; it is as if you are sticking two fingers up to me for the whole lesson”
The kid shuffles a bit with his tail between his legs.
“So you can come out, do it properly and stand up there for the whole world to see!” comes the cry, which is so loud that kids in the English block are looking out too at the spectacle.
RM stands there, arms folded. He barks again at this lad, who looks like he needs the toilet,
“So let’s be having you! Stick your two fingers up to me!”
The kid is very unsure as to how best to proceed. Giving RM the old “V” sign is something he is not comfortable with, nevertheless he slowly raises his hand.
“That’s it! Stick your fingers up!”
Two girls in the line stood outside the lab muffle a titter, but RM still turns around to glare at them.
“That’s all that I am good for isn’t it son? Two fingers…..”
The lad still stands there giving the salute.
I shake my head in disbelief and get back to my class.
Staff smoked in the staff room when I first started. When the smoking legislation came in and things tightened up my erstwhile mentor (Richard Michaels) would have a snout in my lab under the fume cupboard hood, whilst sat on a student stool. This saved the hassle of trapsing off to the smoking room.
Staff went to the pub at lunch. Some went every day – no joke! It was the norm for these teachers to have a liquid lunch. Mind you, lunch was an hour long break then, not these modern 40 minute “lunch hours”. In fact the local boozer used to take the TES on a Friday along with the regular order of tabloids for customers to read, as so many of us went down there on that day.
There was also an elite drinking fraternity, which was an off-shoot of the tea-club (see previous posts). “The 335 club” was as the name suggested based on a time of day when members had to be in the Black Bull by. This was the only rule of the 335 club. The “Bull” suffered at least one suspicious fire and had its windows shot out by one disgruntled patron. It has now become run down, but is still being used as a film set!
Back to the booze……..We used to knock back a wine box at every Science Department meeting, regular. The booze and nibbles were supplied by our HOD, who would always bring a decent red and high end bar snacks. Wine was also served with a hot meal on all INSET days and some of the hard core drinkers would regard it as a personal challenge to make sure the wine was all consumed before going back to their work, even if it meant minesweeping the unfinished bottles from other tables.
When I first started teaching the smoking regulations had yet to be introduced and staff were allowed to smoke in the staff room. Members of the tea-club would not think twice about smoking in the workshop where the club members met. When smoking in the workplace became more restricted a smoking room was set up. This room changed location over the years. It eventually ended up being put in the office space between two mobile class rooms. This mobile hut sat in one of the school carparks detached from the rest of the school. The smokers were a tight bunch who always made the room as homely as possible. It had a TV, fridge and microwave and some comfy chairs to sit in.
One day a Year 11 class was waiting for a cover teacher to turn up for their lesson in one of the classrooms next to the smoking room. The teacher had not arrived and the hut was empty so the class let themselves in. After 10 minutes or so an impromptu game of football broke out amongst some of the lads who were clearly getting bored. Things got more organised, chairs and desks were cleared and the boys started playing “headers and volleys” using the whiteboard as the goal. One stray shot got belted too hard and it burst a hole in the flimsy plywood wall between the smoking room and the classroom. A head got poked in by a student to investigate, the hole was made bigger and a lad shoved through to open up. By the time a teacher eventually got there the tea had been brewed, the fridge had been raided and the fags had been smoked!
Work Experience Visits
Work experience visits were organised using a sheet that you could sign up your name next to a student. It was pretty flexible. Form tutors used to do a lot of visits, purely on a pastoral basis, although there were a few perks, one of which was the fact that you got out of school and away from cover if you went visiting.
One mentor of mine that I have yet to mention was a Tea-club member who certainly liked a drink or two. Richard Michaels was a mean looking customer, a former London schools boxing champion, who in his younger years used to work some evenings as a nightclub bouncer. I shall call him RM. We both shared the same GCSE science classes in year 10 and 11. This meant that during work experience in June we had a lot of free periods that coincided. RM suggested that we did a batch work experience visits along the High Street, as we had similar free periods in a run from mid-morning till the end of school.
So we piled into the car and did the run of visits from Woolworths to the solicitors’ office all the way up the High Street. RM suggested we debriefed in The Swan and had a go at writing up the visit reports as it was still lunch time at school and we were free last period. We were similar to Inspector Morse and Sergeant Lewis in the fact that RM assumed the old git, boss role and I was the younger partner who got stitched up with the driving and getting the rounds bought.
As I brought the drinks back RM leaned back in his chair and puffed out a plume of smoke and said “This is the life! Year 11 are down the road, no classes to teach, no registration neither!”
REGISTRATION!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! My jaw dropped. I could see RM grinning smugly. He had no tutor group, whereas I had a Year 9 form and the school had a 5 minute afternoon registration period. He knew the score and I had been mugged off. I checked the clock……….. Too late! I had no time to get back in time to do it. Panic set in, I had visions of my form drifting in to the lab after getting bored of waiting for me and causing mayhem. Knowing them it could get messy.
I jumped up and got on the payphone and quickly punched in the numbers.
Rings for ages, no answer. Kids will be waiting now. COME ON PICK UP!
Still rings. I have visions of my lab getting trashed.
Receptionist finally answers
“Chris, it’s Sam. I need help!”
“You’re down the pub aren’t you?”
“No I am not! I need a really quick favour”
At this point someone in the pub wins on the fruit machine and it starts paying out. RM is laughing his socks off.
“You ARE down the pub!”
“YES I AM DOWN THE PUB! Just please get someone to register my form. PLEASE!”
RM is in absolute stitches.
“I will see what I can do. Make sure RM behaves himself!”
I could have swung for him, sitting there with his fag, pint and big grin.
Those were the days Part II
An “old school” teacher of what was then called Woodwork & Technical Drawing (I think it is called RM now, or is it D&T?) had his own personal policy with regards to cover.
The school had an 8 period day and cover was managed by a member of SLG. No computer networks then, you got given a slip of paper the cover details on it. These dreaded cover slips got delivered by students that ran around the school looking for you at the start of the day. When the said “old schooler” got given a slip he would often be found in the T-club (see later) having a snout. The bloke would squint through the smoke drifting from the fag drooping in the corner of his mouth and say ‘That’s number 6 lads now – not long to go’.
He had a large bulldog clip hung on a notice board in his workshop. It was used to collect cover slips. When he reached 8 that was it. The next full teaching day he had, bang, he would be “ill” – in his reasoning 1 day of cover = 1 day off in lieu. He would always take a sickie on an 8 period day to get his full pay-back.
The man would do this regular as clockwork, and it did not take long for him to clock them up, as the school was a little less gentile than here – so there were long term absences and also supply teachers would turn their noses up and a day of work there.
Cover got so bad at times that I covered the same maths class 4 weeks running. When I went to the HOD to ask what to do in the last week as we had finished the chapter – he replied ‘any chance you can set them a test?’ I was even asked for appointments for parents’ evening from some of the students in that group as I had taught them more than the regular teacher.
There was an art to using these. The real trick was not go too slow, or the ink smudged; going quick was the way, but too fast ended up getting the machine jammed.
The staff room had different smells and sounds then. The big Banda machine certainly provided a lot sound and that characteristic organic solventy smell when it was being used at full pelt.
Geographers loved them – all those colours!
Bottom set year 11 loved them – scratch and sniff!
Drinking was a cultural thing when I first started teaching. The last day of the Christmas term was notorious and one would often get invited to various gatherings.
A typical day would start at
8 am Port and Stilton in Music with the legend that had his own optics.
Break Gin slings in the Maths office or
Mulled wine & mince pies in Science
The mulled wine was cooked up using a tripod, gauze & Bunsen burner in a large Pyrex flask and served in 100ml beakers.
Lunch the kids went home and the Tea-club Christmas dinner started.
In addition PE would be an all day ‘open house’ serving cocktails & nibbles – a young suave blonde(then) Head of Boys PE was host and maître d’. Hawaiian shirts and flip flops were part of the dress code to the PE department one year.
When one mentions a Gentleman’s Club these days, people think more White Horse on the West Wycombe Road than The RAC Club.
The Tea-club was an ‘old school’ gentleman’s club that was based in a metal work workshop. Club membership was granted to me only after I wrote a letter of application that was seconded by a club member.
There was always tea available that was brewed in a big enamelled tin tea-pot. No women were allowed in the club – not that many wanted to join! Other colleagues that needed to speak to a club member would often knock and wait at the door if they paid a visit.
Typical members were Matt Morse the music “optics” teacher, the metalwork ‘cover’ teacher and my mentor, Richard Michaels who got me in to the tea club. Before gaining membership I would not have to knock before coming in.
President of the T-club was a salt of the Earth head of technology. He would often cook himself breakfast on the top of the ceramics oven. This oven was used to roast the turkey for the end of term meal. The President would get into work in the early morning to fire up the bird, the spuds were popped in during lesson time and sprouts & veg cooked on top.
At the end of school on that last day we had had a few drinks beforehand, by the close of the meal it was carnage. The traditional after dinner game was to try and get from one end of the workshop to the other without touching the floor. Only half the room had work benches, the last half was the tricky bit. You had to either climb over the machinery like lathes and bandsaws, which was nearly impossible. The reckless alternative was to jump up and monkey swing from the service pipes and cables on the ceiling. This manoeuvre was made more difficult by being pelted by uneaten sprouts as you tried to reach your goal! As darkness fell you could see the wives and girlfriends sat in their cars parked up at the back of the workshop with the engines running waiting in the cold to take their better halves home.
The Tea-club Christmas meal bit the dust circa 1991 when one of the deputies (Reg Ball) paid the Tea-club a visit to try and call things to a halt. “This cannot go on” he told us. “People are making comments about it” After delicate negotiations where the Tea-club view was it was a tradition and in fact had “become custom and practice” The resulting stand off was broken by Reg when he said “Ok. What is it going to cost me to get you boys to cancel the Christmas dinner and get yourselves to the pub?” A £50 cash donation from the deputy to start the whip was enough to break our resolve and the gents went to the pub instead that year.