This tale concerns a girl I shall call Kelly. I first taught Kelly in 8BR – a form that was a truly homogeneous mix of abilities and needs. Full of characters (and Kelly was one of them) this class was a true product of comprehensive education. The form group went into ability groups for their GCSE courses, and due to the fact that I always had a couple of GCSE “foundation” classes every year it worked out that I still had the pleasure of Kelly’s company for the last two years of her science studies.
Now Kelly and I had a love hate relationship, which improved over the years. I was starting out in the profession and wanted to make my mark, she could not really cope with life I suppose. Looking back now I understand why she did what she did. Kelly’s home life was a car wreck and consequently she did not enjoy living within the rules of the school at times. This did not always sit well with her science teacher, who was trying to assert authority, and often failing in the attempt.
I think she was the first student to walk out of one of my lessons and we did have some ding dongs at times. This is way before the time when students were issued with “time out” cards as they had “issues”. I like to think she learnt some science through the years and she did get a score of some merit in her GCSE. Whilst following the parallel path that our science careers took for a while, we both got to know the limits as to how far we could go in terms of pushing each other’s buttons. I would know when she had “a cob on”, so would ease off, but could chivy her along in most lessons when she was happier. As a result she made what I suppose is called “progression” these days.
Also it was encouraging to know that although she could be a real pain in the neck at times, Kelly had enough respect not to destroy my lessons. Kelly did however wreak havoc in other classes on a regular basis and she was often the topic of conversation in the staff room. She basically had no fear and a lot of anger inside her, so when in the mood for a bit of aggravation she would pick on any teacher and just cause carnage.
Now you need good personal skills in the teaching game and some people find it rather difficult to realise that if you fail to listen to your students and do not manage to get in tune with them, you often are making a rod for your own back. This rang true during one of Kelly’s science lessons that happened to be visited by a Borough Advisor. Advisors were the closest people then to the current day OFSTED inspectors
The advisor meant well, but lacked the finesse and awareness required to deal with the likes of Kelly. As the lesson progressed he wandered around the lab, armed with a clipboard, asking the students questions about their work. Now despite getting mainly monosyllabic answers to most of his questions, the advisor continued mingling and probing as the group plodded on with the practical I had set. Students always did try and give their best whenever there was an inspector/formal observer present in my lessons. I was lucky in the fact that they wanted to show what they could do, which was great for me – but being observed can still be a stressful process for both teacher and students being put under the spotlight.
You could sense that Kelly was having a bad day and suddenly after being asked another question about her work by the advisor, she put her pen on the desk, pushed her stool back, and got up and stepped past the man still clutching his clipboard, not giving him an answer. The tension in her face was clear to see.
People were still packing up the practical, so it did not look out of place to see Kelly walking in the classroom. Heck she did it when she was not even meant to in other lessons! It only took a moment for Kelly to come over to my desk and look me straight in the eye with a dead pan face and say, “Can you tell that bloke to stop bugging me, ‘cos if he asks me one more question I will f**king punch him, swear down….”
She was good like that sometimes.
Old School Science
There used to be a position in the teaching profession that had a very basic job title – “senior teacher”. As opposed to the modern terms such as “assistant vice principal” or “associate head teacher”, the position of senior teacher was a post that was simple and easy to get to grips with. The position could be quantified by the fact that it merited an “E allowance” on the old pay scale.
You were experienced, respected, and on the ball if you were a senior teacher. They knew what they were doing. Some were gun slingers (do we call them behaviour managers now?), some were planners and organisers (suppose these folks are now SIMS/curriculum/timetable coordinators today), but one thing that they had in common was they were all superb classroom practitioners and had a bit of presence about them (were they old school ASTs?) All I know is I do not see them around these days – dinosaurs I suppose, killed off by the “fast trackers” and well-dressed office types.
Jim Chinnor was a senior teacher who remained in the same school long enough to teach the kids of the kids he had taught a generation before. Physics was his specialism. He was a legend.
Jim was a pure magician when it came to holding a class’ attention. The way he held most groups’ interest was through his anecdotes and stories that related to the science theories that he was teaching and he also loved a good practical – as most kids do.
He had a special way of demonstrating to students the principle of heat conduction in a metal bar. The bog standard way is to stick drawing pins onto a copper bar using wax or petroleum jelly. (See video below) When the bar is heated with a Bunsen at one end, the conducted heat travels down the bar and melts wax so the pins drop one by one as the heat is conducted along the bar.
Now Jim Chinnor loved the spectacular, so he adapted the method above by using white phosphorus rather than relying on waxed pins. White phosphorus burns almost spontaneously in air; it has to be stored away in a sealed container in a locker or chemical bin outside of any building. Phosphorus was used by the RAF in the incendiary bombs dropped on German cities towards the end of World War II. It is nasty stuff and has to be treated with respect.
The brainwave that Jim had was to put small pieces of white phosphorus on the copper bar which would catch alight in turn as the warmth from the bar became enough to start the reaction of phosphorus with air. Jim made two mistakes when doing this demonstration for his students, firstly he did not set out the equipment in a fume cupboard and secondly he forgot about the stock bottle of white phosphorus and left the lid off it.
Jim was chirping away to his group when suddenly he realised that the stock bottle of phosphorus had been left open too long and the air had got to the volatile chemical. The whole bottle caught fire belching out loads of noxious fumes and because the bottle had not been put in the fume cupboard the room quickly filled with smoke. By now the bottle was too hot to pick up and put in the fume cupboard or taken outside, so a rapid evacuation took place. All the kids got out without any mishaps, but the bottle continued to burn and fumes spread up through the ceiling into the room above the lab, leading to mass panic in a German class. The fire was eventually put out, but not early enough to stop the chemical mess from spreading around the lab and the room above. The building got condemned by a HSE inspector and it was a week before the whole place got cleaned up!
Today you would not see such a practical attempted, but an “interactive” visual aid would be shown to the class instead, ie another POWERPOINT©
But watching the video below you can see why Jim tried to jazz up the demonstration a bit!
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!
Those were the days Part 22
The West London comprehensive school where I first taught had a few Science labs that were situated on the ground floor of the “sixth form block”. Above these labs were the sixth form common room, offices and three classrooms where languages were taught. “Languages” was commonly known amongst some staff as ‘Bosnia’, as it was truly a war zone up there. On regular occasions I would be invited over to help sort out kids from my form who were messing around in class. Consequently the joke was that anyone taking a trip over there could be regarded as a UN peacekeeper.
I was lucky not to be timetabled in that block. The main reason being if you taught below a language lesson it was quite disturbing at times due the chaos occurring above you. Regularly school bags would be hung on the blinds cords and left to dangle out of windows so that they were seen swinging outside from the labs below. The kids would eat up there all the time and chuck their leftovers and other bits of rubbish outside too. The occasionally rejected sandwich would land outside the lab downstairs whilst the odd crisp packet and sweet papers would drift past on the breeze. You always had to go up and sort things out if you were teaching below.
Luckily I did not teach in these labs that often, normally it was for a room swap. On one occasion I had to cover a test in one of the labs. The kids in my class were quietly doing the task in hand, whilst it was clearly kicking off upstairs. All of a sudden a large, dark shape wizzed down past our windows and landed on the playground outside with a huge thump. “Oh my God!” shouts a kid, “someone has fallen out the window!” It did look like it, and certainly sounded like it. Pandemonium broke out in my room; one kid started screaming. I dashed out the fire exit to check, only to find that the premises manager was replacing some carpet in an upstairs office. He had lugged out an old roll of underlay from an upstairs window onto the playground to save carrying it downstairs!
Things to do with the recycling……
At some parents evenings you get some kids that bring Mum, Dad, Gran, the dog etc. Yeah, I have had dogs on leads, that were being puppy walked, introduced to me. As if Fido would be that bothered about what I had to say.
Sometimes you had an older brother or sister that rocked up to be the interpreter for the Mums and Dads who do not have a great command of English. On the odd occasion you could kind of tell that the brother/sister was watering down the bad news which you had to give when the folks nodded appreciatively and mumbled “thank you very much” to my comment that “I am afraid to say that Sunil has not done any homework this term.”
A Mum who will remain anonymous used to come and sit down at my desk regularly without making an appointment. I taught or had taught most of her kids over the years. But even if it was a night for a year group of one of her kids that I did not teach, this Mum would always park up with me for 5 minutes.
The reason being was that the rows of desks were set out alphabetically and my spot gave a prime viewing position at which to gaze at CJ (Clive Jarvis) This is precisely what this Mum would do. She had an enormous crush on CJ and would tell me quietly what a wonderful teacher he was and how she would like to repay him for his professionalism!
The weirdest entourage I dealt with concerned two families that had wife swapped. Both families were very amicable and in fact all four parents turned up for the appointment for the kid I taught. So extra chairs were brought out and it was always most confusing trying to talk to four faces about one student. Very weird!
And the molecule at the top of this post?
Well for a while a few staff used to dress up their desks in not quite a “Pimp my Ride” sort of style. One maths teacher covered his desk with green poster paper and put loads of pot plants on or around the work top. It looked like a display from the Chelsea Flower show. A CDT teacher rigged up some Christmas lights to his desk that pulsed all evening long in a really annoying way. I used to make Molymod© molecular structures and leave them on my desk. Ethanol looked like a little dog which caused much amusement, but little opportunity for teaching and learning!
Why we have a block on picture searches
We used to be able to search for images with laptops. You get blocked from doing so by the County server these days. If you read on you will see one reason why.
I was teaching a year seven class about food chains using a food web that had a field of corn as the habitat for insects, field mice, various birds….. You catch the drift. One the girls in the class genuinely did not know what a swallow was. I told her it was a bird that ate insects. She still had no idea. So in order to provide a remedy for her blank stare, I did a quick picture search on Google and beckoned her over to my desk. As she approached the first hit came for an image from howtomakeyourwifeswallow.com which was hastily minimised with a Homer Simpsonesque yelp! It was a close call and luckily I was not hooked up to the projector at the time!