The Hod carrier in flip-flops
After completing my teacher training I got a placed in the pool of recruits in the London Borough of Hillingdon. When I pitched up in July 1991 on my first day as a “probationary” teacher I in my newly assigned school was joined by a 35 year old ex- hod carrier, who had also just retrained and joined the profession.
William Davids was a huge bloke who had switched codes from a blue collar trade to a white collar profession so to speak. He had done a few things since studying Maths at Bristol University and the last job he had was in the building trade. We both had the Bristol connection – he knew about Natch cider and Clarks pies, so we hit it off immediately.
As an individual he was very strong willed with an inherent sense of right and wrong. If a system was flawed or unfair in his eyes he would always question and rebel against it. He kicked against the system. Management did not like him much because of this.
He was a generous man with his time and energy. He loved working with students who were willing to learn, but could not stand the odd one who would not bother at all. Kids loved him. One year he did a great version of Right Said Fred’s “Deeply Dippy” that brought the house down at the Staff Talent Show in Charities Week.
Despite being teachers in different faculties our paths crossed a lot during the working day. We both started as Year 7 form tutors and followed our pastoral groups right the way up to the 6th form. We both had long commutes to work and so got in early. We always met at the local greasy spoon before school on Fridays for a fry up before the weekly staff briefing. I remember that we also used to jump in the car and buzz down to Southall for a curry before a parents evening as there was little time to get home and back in the interval between the end of school and the start of proceedings.
We even did break duties together on the playground. Which had its ups and downs. At least we saw the kaleidoscope of outdoor conditions that the British weather can bring.
Not one to turn down a challenge. He would be up for anything slightly rebellious.
William and I used to sit together at the back of the Friday morning briefing – it is strange how schools survived on calling together staff once a week to discuss and inform the staff of major issues within the school.
Now briefings are called daily in most schools. It means that this meeting is no longer a milestone event that it once was.
After one meeting William and I got talking about dress down days that were a regular Friday occurrence in the private sector. We could not agree on what a dress down day meant in our workplace in terms of what would be acceptable attire. There was an unwritten rule that you could wear pretty much what you liked on a normal day, so if we dressed down, how far should we go?
Through further discussions William and I decided to push the dress code boundaries each Friday and see what reaction we got. It was a good day to try it as we would be seen by all staff and may cause the desired reaction.
We did our experiment in stages we started by not wearing a tie on the Friday of week 1. Then it went to no tie and no morning shave in week 2. A polo shirt replaced the more formal shirt the following week and still nobody batted an eyelid, so we pressed on with our quest. It continued for weeks and we had progressed to a t shirt, shorts and trainers accompanied by an unshaven face, but I called a halt when William suggested ditching the trainers for flip flops for the following week. Teaching whilst looking like a beach bum was fine with me but it was not a sensible thing to be doing science practicals “open –toed.”
William carried on the baton for one more week, and I think we took a photo of him sat in briefing in his beach ware as well as his flip flops! He always pushed the boundaries.
When I got my first job in a West London comprehensive there was only one other Chemistry teacher in the school – Roy Bollard. He was a well organised bloke who was a pioneer of the use of audio visual equipment. He moonlighted as the school’s sound and light technician and as a consequence was involved in drama and musical productions as well as some legendary discos. He was the bloke who also did so much to underpin the well-oiled machine that was “Charities Week”. He operated the lights and microphones for the shows, auctions and other events that took place in the hall.
Roy was dynamic enough to use an OHP in his lessons, which was cutting edge in those days. Pre prepared acetate slides were the equivalent of a modern day Power Point presentation. Roy had his own take on using the OHP. He had a huge roll of acetate mounted on his projector which became an organic scheme of work. He started writing in September on the top of the plastic scroll and worked downwards till the end of the academic year. So it became a huge time line that essentially grew into being the scheme of work. After a few years of doing the same thing he instinctively knew where a lesson was on the scroll and could wizz the whole roll of clear plastic to where it was written.
Now the cleverest thing that Roy did was adopt the simplest filing method I have ever seen. In those days you did not have e-mails, SIMS and all that jazz. You got memos on paper, in fact everything was paper based. Roy had one single pile that he put all his paper work on which sat right next to his OHP. It soon piled up, but made sense as he knew where everything was, he just had to sift through the pile to find it. The filing system had three rules:
- Anything you get given on paper you read and put on the top of the pile
- Anything you need later you find in the pile and deal with it but put the memo back on top (see rule 1). As a result the new and important stuff would be at the top and all the rubbish sank to the bottom
- When the pile reached the same level as the top of the OHP ie a about the height of a 30cm ruler, he would get a bin, lift up the top half of the pile and sweep the bottom half of the stack of paper from the desk and into the bin. Sorted!
I was thinking about how times have changed so looked back at this
I started my professional career in teaching on 8th July 1991 at a West London comprehensive school and I was thinking….
When I started teaching:
- Kids stood up in the Hall when the Head walked in to start an assembly.
- The Headteacher in my first school always taught a GCSE class, turned up to department meetings, wrote reports etc. Just to keep his toe in the water.
- Some staff would go down the pub at lunch every day, without fail. The Clay Pigeon used to take a copy of the TES on a Friday from the news agent as so many staff went there at lunchtime on that day
- Every parents evening you were served a hot meal before the appointments started or alternatively you could claim travel expenses for a return journey to and from home.
- Wine was always served at all INSET day lunches.
- Reports were…
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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!
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.
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!
Been thinking about CJ lately. A proper teacher from the Old School. Keep on rockin’ in the backstreet boozer in the sky Big Man!
There are some things that you just experience as part of life. Now the study of life processes is Biology – everyone gets that. You can have first hand experience of most biological actions. Hey, think about it, you can summarize most key concepts of Biology on a A3 poster, bit of colouring in and there you go! That is why girls love Biology, and also why I can say that without being rude, anyone can (and have done in my experience) teach it.
So Biology is the study of living things. Great.
So what is Chemistry? I was once told by a Physicist that Chemistry was “advanced cooking” – ‘So what was Home Economics then?’ I retorted.
‘Oh, that’s just dough bashing!’ came the reply.
My response was ‘Ok. So Physics must be Black magic then! – the study of things you cannot touch, feel or explain, such as magnetism and quantum theory” He took that as a badge of honour that he wore with pride.
He was the best A-level teacher I have ever worked with.
There is a different level of thought required to study Physics. That is why most girls do not choose it as an option. I will never forget the time when that same teacher came and unravelled the mess that I created in trying to explain the ideas behind Heisenbergs Uncertainty Principle to a very bright 15 year old girl (as it happened).
I had rambled on and tied her in knots, she did not even need to know this theory for her exam in the first place. Grabbing the Master of Black magic from next door’s classroom I shoved him in front of her. About a minute of time, a broken pencil and a mug of tea was all he needed to model his the ideas that he explained. All fixed. Panic over. A true master craftsman had done his work.
Anyway here are two sources of other great Physics teaching – click and enjoy. There are only two of you left now reading this anyway!
First up Sixty Symbols ………….
Then some inspiration in a ‘Physics in a minute’ video