Sunday, November 28, 2010

Lesson #7 - When you're all having fun - no one cares about 'cool'.

I have spent the past year taking Year Eight sport.  There are various reasons, but a lot of it has to do with the fact that I like my sport organised, and I've spent a year shaping the ninety odd boys that are forced to partake in the free mandatory physical activity into exactly how I want them, and I'm not starting afresh each time a new term rolls around.

Because of the number of kids, and the crappy help I have in running the sport, they can be a bit of a challenge.  Year 8 kids are just starting to develop and attitude, and when they're running about, their testosterone is at its highest, and I'm frequently reminding the 'bros' that we can only play hands off sport, that they should put their shirts back on, and reminding the non-willing participants that it's not about being the best, it's about being your best.

We're quite limited in the sports that we can present to the kids too, and I tend to fall back on the basics (soccer, touch football, ultimate frisbee) because they're easy to manage and I know the rules.  It's been a year though, and the kids are starting to get bored, and where previously I could run a game of Dodgeball to get them all back on track, we've been stuck on the far oval in the reserve next door this term, and without walls, it's just too hard to keep track of the balls.

This week though, I was proactive, and decided that it was time I find something different.  I searched the storeroom, and there, staring back at me, was a bin of softcross equipment.  Now, softcross is baby lacross.  No contact except plastic on plastic, a tiny pathetic little squishy ball, and no pads.

We set up three stations, softball, cricket and softcross, man each one with a teacher, and split the kids into their teams.  I've inadvertently managed to pick the two 'silliest' teams to start on softcross with me, and I briefly explain the rules and start the kids off.

For a while there, I had the kids interested.  It was a challenge to catch the tiny ball in the basket, and teams were easily recognised by the colours of the sticks, so there was no need for the kids to wear braids to identify their teams.  They ran and played, and then they 'forgot' that it wasn't okay to hit each other with the sticks, and we had to have a time out.

It was during this time-out, that Scotty, the third most annoying fourteen year old I've ever met, decides it'd be pretty funny to stick the lacross stick between his legs and make lude gestures (I tried to illustrate this, but it's better left up to your imagination).  The lads all have a bit of a giggle, and I contemplate taking it off him, but decide against it when I realise that he'll only take that to be more suggestive.  The next thing you know, thirty boys are kneeling with a lacrosse stick between their legs, and I'm trying to work out how to get them to stop without bursting into giggles.  It's naughty, but it's bloody funny.

Next thing you know, Ted, one of the sweetest, most honest kids I've ever met, but also the largest by far (he'd be at least three times the size of your average eighth grader) picks up the little yellow squishy ball, and two gum leaves, and with the lacrosse stick between his legs, he yells "I've got the snitch!" and tears off across the oval, stick waggling between his legs as he does.

What happens next is so out of character I almost fall over, but I can only imagine that Ted's cred has played a serious role in what is and isn't acceptable.  Ted's pretty cool, you see, the kids respect him.  When I need them quiet, it's him that they look to to see what to do, and when he tears off like a rocket across the oval pretending to be everyone's favourite wizard, so do twenty-nine other boys. hands wrapped tightly around the handles of their 'broomsticks'.
I ask questions about exactly what it is that is taking place, and Ted turns around and brings the chasing game to a complete halt.  I appear to have asked a completely stupid question, because Ted has a look of absolute dismay on his face in his answer:

I nod an acknowledgement, and spend the next half hour watching what is mostly soccer, played with a small squishy yellow ball and thirty boys running around with sticks between their legs.

True Story.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Lesson #6 - I'm not a genius

I teach a class on both sides of a lunch break.  It's not uncommon for me to lose students over said lunch break: either they disappear to another class to catch up on missed work, get called down to speak to another teacher, do something at lunch that lands them in the principal's office, or nick off and force me to fill out a truancy slip.

I'd say that, with that particular class, on that particular day, I probably lose 3 on average over the double (more if they've been getting in trouble together).
So - opening the door on that particular day is a bit like a game, only it's not a lot of fun, and there are no winners.  On one particular day though, I'd had enough.  I was sick of people showing up late, or not showing up at all, and I took a stand.  I had a moment of inspiration and invention, and I created (tada!):

I'm a genius!  The "special late desk" seemed like a brilliant invention, and as my first latecomer (Doug) arrived, I put it to good use:
"Special late desk" win!  Doug suffered rather a lot of embarrassment as I plonked him in the front row, right in front of the board.  The little 'special late desk' note that I stuck on the top added just the right amount of "aw crap" that appeared on the young boy's face in the form of a cute little shade of pink.

Right then, I loved the special late desk.  I wanted to marry the special late desk.  I had grand dreams for the future, and all the magnificent times that the special late desk and I would have together.

Then there was another knock at the door:
The rest of the class were quite enjoying the humiliation of Doug, and as Nelly appeared in the door frame, a cheer broke out.  I must admit, I quite enjoyed it at first, until I realised that I only had one special late desk, and that Doug and Nelly were quite friendly.  I would have to invent another special late desk.

I'm a genius!  I manage to fit a second 'special late desk' into the front of the classroom with minimal disruption, and successfully embarrass a second student into showing up on time in future (at least for a week).  I even make a second little sign.  I begin to launch into my spectacular lesson when:

There is no escape. Another latecomer, and then another...
And it becomes evident.  I am not a genius.  I am an idiot.  I have, in total, six students come in more than 5 minutes after the bell, and I don't actually have enough 'special' desks to sit them at.  I flounder, and I give up, put them all down as partial truants, and with no forethought, move everyone out of the forth row.  I no longer have a special late desk, I have a special late row, and it's filled with troublemakers who I have now located in a central location.

Luckily, by the time I get to this point, the lesson is pretty much over, and I can start planning my next patent for the next lesson.

True Story.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Lesson #5 - No one puts Davey in the corner.

When I was still at university, I had to engage in practical 'prac' teaching.  I did so at 5 different schools over my degree, all of which were challenging in different ways.  At one particular school, I had the 'pleasure' of teaching an absolutely atrocious Year 10 class.  All but three of the students were male, and they pressed every single one of my buttons on a daily basis.  They were rude, aggressive, violent towards each other, and I was small, meek and mild, and I hadn't gotten into my teaching 'stride' just yet.

I'd learned fairly quickly that if I asked students to leave the room for a minute while they calmed down, they would do a bolt, so within a couple of days I came up with a new strategy - 'time out' in the corner of the room.  A time out would only last a minute, but the idea was that they were focused away from the rest of the class, and that, as they were so often acting like kindergarten kids, it was time that I treated them as such.

For several days, the 'time out' system was working for me.  A kid hit someone, or called someone a name, or called me a name - and I sent them to stand in the corner.  It actually ended up being a pretty ok spot for them, because the heater was right in the corner, so they could stand there and warm themselves up while contemplating why they shouldn't have dropped the F-bomb in class.

Of course, as a rule, behaviour management techniques often have short lived results.  It was winter during my prac, and fairly cold where we were (hitting a max of about 10 degrees Celsius on most days) and soon enough, being sent to the corner was a badge of pride.  It was warmer there than elsewhere in the classroom, and it meant that you had done something that upset the weak little pretend teacher.  In fact, the only kid who didn't like it was Davey, who didn't like anything but calling me names and giving me death stares.  Davey didn't like going to the corner, and I learned quickly, would do anything to NOT be there.

On one particularly chilly and hateful morning, I asked Davey to take his book out of his bag.  Davey felt it necessary to tell me where he'd like me to put his book.  Of course, he knew the rules, and at 10 minutes past nine, it was time for Davey to make his way to the time out corner.  Davey, as usual, was not impressed, and this time, he had a plan.

I can only image that it was a plan, because it was far too ingenius for him to have simply thought of on the spot.  Davey, simply looked at me, looked back at the heater, looked and me, and proceeded to unzip his fly and urinate into the gas heater.

It was about 45 seconds before I realised what had happened.  It apparently takes 45 seconds for urine to evaporate, and for the stench to fill a classroom. 

It takes another minute and a half following that for a teacher to evacuate 27 boys and 3 girls from a classroom, and 5 or 6 minutes for the defendant's best friends to agree to dob in their best friend to get out of a whole class lunch detention.

The classroom was put out of action for the day, and we didn't turn that heater on again for the next three weeks I was there.  He got a 48 hour suspension, and 30 kids froze to death for a month.

True Story.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Lesson #4 - Size Doesn't Matter (if you're a spider)

At one stage, I had a quite intelligent and capable class who were the top of the top in their particular subject in their particular year group.  They were lovely (though occasionally a little cocky), and often I miss having them around.  Often, not always.

On one particular occasion, when involved in a heated discussion a rather enlightening aspect of crime fiction, I was shocked and surprised by a blood curdling squeal from the back of my classroom.  Amanda seemed to have either just witnessed a violent murder, or was trying to compete with fingernails on a blackboard.  A shiver ran down my spine, and I spun around immediately to face her.

She was speechless, and her hand pointed to a spot directly above the doorframe.  She shook like someone overflowing with adrenalin, and for a milli-second I wondered how long it would take me to leap over and lock the door to stop what clearly must be some kind of insane chainsaw wielding criminal at the door.  I turned quickly and faced the foe that had caused the girl so much fear:
And it turns out that it's not a super-evil mega mass murderer, instead, it's Lola, the huntsman who's been living in my classroom for the past two weeks.  She's made her way out of the crack where the wall meets the ceiling and put herself on public display.  She's about the size of the lid of a jam jar, but apparently, terrifying.

I assure Amanda that Lola will in fact do nothing to hurt her.  That she's been sitting on the ceiling for over two weeks, and won't move for the duration of the lesson unless someone disturbs her.  A small paper ball suddenly impacts the wall about 10cm from Lola's front right leg.  Someone has disturbed her.

Lola began to descend the wall.  Amanda began to freak the hell out.  I had been made a liar, and as the tears rolled down her cheeks and I tried to regain control of my lesson, half the class was in stitched, and the other half was migrating to the opposite side of the classroom.  As Lola sat above the door, escape for the fearful was impossible.
Amanda is now unable to move while Lola climbs across the wall towards her.  I calmly explain to the class that Lola is an animal, and if I need to remove her from the classroom I will, but I don't want her harmed.  Most of the boys continue their great amusement, and one makes the Darth Vader death march while Lola continues her amazing ability to head towards Amanda.  I honestly think she was doing it on purpose, and finally, when she's almost directly above the hyperventilating red-head, she begins her descent.  Fight or flight takes over, and before I can react, Amanda has flown to the opposite side of the room.  She's halfway out the second floor window when I shout 'hey!', and approach the downward travelling spider.  I ease her onto my fingers, and am quickly surrounded by the male component of my classroom.

Amanda proceeds to vomit into her lunch box.

I decide to approach Amanda with the spider, to attempt to show her that it's harmless.
So I took Lola outside, and I let her go on the tree below the stairwell, and Amanda never trusted me again.

True Story.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Lesson #3 - Sometimes the excuses kids make are valid.

Every class has a certain number of students who are constantly looking for ways to escape.  Some manage it by not showing up in the first place.  Some manage it by simply not showing up in the first place.  Some like to employ the device where they offer kindly to help the art teacher clean up...for half an hour.  Some like to attempt to casually slip out the window when you're not looking.  Most however, opt for one of two options:

Toilet passes are fairly easily discouraged, and I have a couple of options that work well.
#1 - You need to ask me if you can go without using the letter 'e' in your sentence.
#2 - My toilet pass looks like this:

#3 - "When you've finished all your work for the day."

You can usually make a kid hold it until the next lesson, and then they have to bother that teacher instead, which is great.

Sick bay passes are a different story though, because who am I to diagnose whether or not a kid is actually ill.  If a kid says they have a headache, or a stomache-ache, I can try to keep them in the room, but ultimately, if they want to go, I'm not going to have them keel over in my room.

Enter Sven, who is probably my most regular "I need to go to sick-bay-er".

Sven is thirteen.  He is very well-schooled in the possible diseases that could cause him to need to be exempt from class, and I am super reluctant to let him go to sick-bay, because I know that 99.9% of the time, he's faking it.  The kid once claimed to have period pain (he obviously overheard a girl use this one, get away with it, and decided to try it on).

However, one day, he tried on a new symptom.  A teacher's worst fear:

I told him he was fine, that he should sit down, stop thinking about it, and it would go away.  The kid is a hypochondriac, and I was bored with his games.

I assure him that it's probably just dandruff, or that he's imagining it, and he assures me that he's 'for serious' this time.  He approaches my with determination in his eyes, it seems he is not going to take his spelling test lying down.

He has one more move.  He slowly, ever so slowly moves his clenched fist towards me, and finally hits me with the clincher, opening it:


True Story.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Lesson #2 - Don't play with batteries.

One afternoon, while teaching my Year 8 class a rather successful lesson that involved creating a picture of your favourite scene from Hamlet (Hamlet's stabbing of Polonius was the favourite, for the record), I suddenly overheard some giggling to my left. (I'm right handed by the way, so I'm not sure why I drew myself writing on the board with my left hand, other than basic aesthetics).

A child's laughter, contrary to popular opinion, is not one of the most wonderful sounds in the world.  It is in fact a warning system, a siren to let adults know that something very silly, and possibly very dangerous is taking place within their vicinity.  I turn around immediately and witness this:

It takes me a few seconds to work out what is going on, my immediate concern in the scissors, which I confiscate, and then I realise that the subject of the child's aggression is in fact the battery from a mobile phone.  The kind of battery that is covered in warnings about cutting it, heating it, burning it, destroying it in any way shape or form.  And here Dennis is, jabbing scissors into it.  I get a bit panicked...

Dennis is a little concerned at the severity of my reaction, quickly stops giggling (and speaking, and keeping his pants dry) and dropped the battery into the garbage bin by the board before scurrying off to wash his hands.  The class sits in silence until he returns, whereupon a few muffled chuckled are made at his expense (poor Dennis is almost in tears after my claim that he's had a near death experience), before the class settles back to work.

I decide that it's time to give up on the nice passive drawing activity and take some notes on the role of Horatio in the play.

The kids are chattering at a low level, but I'm certain that I overhear a small 'popping' sound.  I look around, and assume that one of the kids has gum, but after a quick scout, I can't see the culprit.  I shrug my shoulders internally, and recommence writing on the board.  Until I hear it again...

It's louder this time, and it scares the wiggins out of myself and Year 8.  None of us can tell where it's come from, and begin to make up lies about what in fact it actually is.

The noise stops at two pops, and we don't hear it again.  Once again, I recommence my enlightening study of Horatio, most infallible character ever...and I start sniffling, not because of the emotion of that final speech (though let me tell you, I've been there), but instead because something is tingling my olfactory sense.

My initial thought was 'that's weird', on account of you don't typically see smoke coming out of a garbage bin.  My second thought was to get the students outside, because as the old adage says, where there's smoke, there's fire.  I turn my attention to the class and am about to open my mouth when...

Thinking quickly for once, I grab my jacket from the desk and throw it over the bin, while evacuating the students out the door and down the stairs to the fresh air.  I call someone else in to babysit and return to the scene of the OMGFIRE!

When I get there, my jacket has done the job (and managed to escape unscathed - go natural wool!).  The fire has halted, though it has managed to melt through almost everything in the bin, and when I lift the bin to take it outside, it has a small rectangular shape that has melted through the base.
True Story.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Lesson #1 - There's no such thing as dragons.

I’ve been working through a genre study on Fantasy with my Year Seven class over the past term.  We’ve looked at a lot of different texts, and some strong definitions of the category, and yesterday I spent a double period with the kids doing a very light treatment of the dragon’s death in Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf.

After we’d drawn dragons, talked about dragons, written similes about dragons, come up with adjectives for dragons, etc. I set the students to task create a pamphlet that was either pro-dragon, or anti-dragon.  To me, this seemed an interesting task that required the students to use the visual literacy skills we'd been working on in combination with the language skills we'd just developed, with the added bonus of exercising the students' ability to write with purpose.

To my students, it seemed like a good idea to talk about the probability of dragons.

I don't mind discussion, provided that it's productive, and doesn't halt the completion of classwork. The discussion that took place in my classroom was actually neither of these.  Enter the three students who provided today's masterpiece theatre (left to right, Lulu, Susie and Jack):

Young Susie, suddenly perplexed by what she deems to be an 'emergency question', raises her hand quickly and waves it at me with a confused look on her face.

"Miss, do you BELIEVE in dragons?"  She accentuates the 'believe' with such force and genuineness, that even though I want to giggle, I hold it in, and instead explain the concept that we've been studying for the past eight weeks to her clearly.

"No, Susie.  This is fantasy remember?  Fantasy is everything that is imaginary and pretend.  Dragons are pretend."

Susie pauses, and tilts her head a little so that the information can settle.  She's not satisfied with my answer though, and ignores it. "Hmm.. Well – I think they’re real."

Jack overhears this, and while he's no Einstein, he's not emotionally four.  He throws his hands in the air and glares at Susie with a look that could kill a small rodent (though Jack's a nice kid and would never do that).  "Are you serious?!"

Susie of course, replies with an adamant 'yes'.  Jack is unsure whether to laugh or to scream, and I'm unsure whether to step in, or watch the discussion play out.  I mean, they were attempting to have about as close to an intellectual debate as we ever have in that class.  He thinks for a minute, and opts for raising his voice:

Susie's lost of bit of confidence now, and looks to her friends for support.  Lulu jumps in, to the rescue!

and her response causes the real me to almost double over laughing, but the teacher in me to jump in and stop the discussion, but not until Lulu finished her point... "So yeah!  Maybe there’s not like..dragons now. But there were before, and you don’t even know! How do you think we got dinosaur bones?"

FINALLY - I manage to end the argument, with much coercion (largely to Jack, basically by reminding him that not everyone is as clever as he).  The class settles, the kids relax, and begin colouring their pamphlets.  Silence ensues, temporarily, and the world is at peace.  Until, out of the corner of my eye, I see Susie's hand raise slowly in the air.

I'm not sure, but I think that a small part of my brain exploded.
True Story.