One out of three isn’t bad…
New pencil case? Check. Shoes polished? Check? Excessive amounts of positivity? Check check check. Yes, it’s back to school time all over again and I’m ready for it. I love the start of the new school year; there’s so much promise, so much expectation and so much new stationery. Nothing can go wrong when you have new mechanical pencils.
At the start of each school year, I like to establish a few goals to keep me on the straight and narrow. I expect my students to set their own targets and know how to achieve them so I like to work on the same principle. Without fail, the first target is always to work less during the evening and at weekends. And what happened this week? I drove home each night eye-balling anyone who was within a 6 metre radius of a pub, bar, restaurant, even the cinema. I wondered what jobs they did, how early they got up in the morning and how on earth they had the energy to be out socialising and enjoying their youths when I was in the process of frying my own brain trying to prioritise the first 47 tasks on my ‘to do’ list. I felt a bit jealous. The first weekend was no different. Hello sunshine pouring through my window. I can’t come out to play today because I have to analyse my exam results from last year, plan a couple of schemes of work and respond to the emails that have piled up in my inbox over the course of the past 5 days. But maybe I’ll be able to enjoy you soon, perhaps in May when you come back out again (please come back out again). On reflection, target one is going abysmally. But it’s only the first week.
Target two is “just say no.” Sadly I haven’t recently been offered a starring role in Grange Hill’s anti-drug campaign (nor is it still 1986) and I’m well aware that this might seem a strange word for a teacher to advocate. I don’t mean saying no to a student asking for help in a lesson or my head of department requesting I take minutes in a meeting. I’m not completely unreasonable. But when it’s checking science homework (I’m an English teacher) or running errands to the post office (I’m an English teacher), I think I’m well within my rights to say no. So how did I fare this week? Terribly. A student from another class asked for some extra reading material; I was straight to it. A colleague needed help sorting groupings for a new A-Level class; that’s an hour of my life I’m never getting back. It turns out saying no is far harder than I imagined and it’s definitely something I need to work on, mainly because I have enough on my own plate without doing other people’s work as well. But it’s only the first week.
My final target is one that I have been a bit scared to admit to myself. This year I have taken on a new Year 10 class full of “naughties.” These are students whose reputation precedes them. Yet on paper this is a class capable of achieving C, if not B, grades at GCSE so the pressure is on. The target then was to establish a positive relationship with these 23 figures of my nightmares. I was expecting carnage so I went in with the “clean slate” chat where all preconceptions become irrelevant and we start afresh. They were silent, but not in a comatose way, in a manner which suggested they appreciated this opportunity and were ready to embrace their flourishing maturity and perhaps even a bit of learning. I took the bold move of beginning with Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress.” Not only was it written in the early 1650s (they’d already told me that they hated “old stuff”) but it also contains such charged metaphors as “let us sport while we may.” It was a risky strategy but it broke down barriers effectively. They made insightful comments about the characters in the poem, they analysed the language and they nearly fell off their chairs when I allowed one girl to go to the toilet (turns out my reputation precedes me as well). As first encounters go, this felt pretty positive and I’m now filled with a new found optimism about enabling these students to work hard and achieve great results. And it’s only the first week.
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