Monday, 26 November 2007


My youngest daughter, Claire, was 21 on Friday. She says she's glad to be 21 because 20 is such a bland age.

I got a rare email from her father on the Sunday before this event asking what she would like as a present. He said - in more flush times he gave her sister a present worth £500 and felt 'duty bound' to do the same for Claire.

I think Helen's 21st birthday was the only other time he asked what the girls wanted. He usually gives them Amazon vouchers. Helen wanted a camcorder. Claire has simple needs. Money would be her first choice, but she knows he doesn't like giving money and certainly does not like to give what they 'need' only what they 'want'. So she plumped for a digital camera and clothes. I replied to him very speedily, thinking he wanted to get something that day, as he only had 5 days to get it to her.

At 11:56 pm on Wednesday night I got an email saying thank you and he'll get her a camera....(can you get digital cameras for £500? I was hoping he would get her a camera and some vouchers for clothes too.) and please engineer it so that no-one else gets her one as he didn't want her receiving two.

I had several ideas for replies to this.
a) Is this s bit late to decide what you are going to get her? Her birthday starts just over 24 hours from now.
b) Is this a bit late to ask me to engineer that no-one else gets her one? She has already received several parcels from people who want her to open her presents on her actual birthday.
c) No problem with anyone else getting her a camera because no-one else she knows can afford to get her one.

I decided not to send any reply. I just vented my thoughts to Helen via email, who agreed I didn't have to reply to it.

So Monday comes and still no sign of a present for her from her dad. She has decided not to care, but of course she does.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Dangers of Teaching

I've had a little challenge this week in my teaching career.

On Tuesday I taught at a school in Thatcham, Berks. I'd been there before when I had a car but this time I went via bike/train/bike. Took me one hour 15 minutes to get there. I was very pleased with myself that I cycled 4 miles in half an hour! My bike fell down once in and, whilst cycling away from the station (once I found out which way to go) I realised that myhe train bike lock had fallen off the handle bars and was now on it's way to Bedlam (or some-such place I'd never heard of).

This was a problem but not the big challenge of the day.

I had been to this school before but could not remember which class I had taken. I was in year 3/4 in the morning teaching a maths lesson for an ill teacher. Unfortunately the photocopied pages from a text book were not where she said they were so could not do the lesson as planned. Fortunately they had not completed the work from the previous day so they continued with that. 4 different groups were doing different sheets so we could not mark the work as a class. The previous day's work had not been marked by whoever had taken them.

Other lessons also produced marking so spent all lunchtime doing that task. Supply teachers are not paid for lunchtime, but I have never had that hour to myself doing this job. I am either preparing for the afternoon or marking work from the morning or both, and usually eat whist doing these tasks. We get paid to 3:30 but have to have done all the marking before we leave so I always do about 3-4 hours unpaid work whenever I do a job. I am a conscientious marker, which means I write comments and targets on their books.

This wasn't the challenge either.

In the afternoon I had a year 5/6 class. This was definitely a challenge. At least 5 children with severe behaviour challenges. Following the sanction strategy I sent two out of class. Unfortunately they came back a few minutes later. These boys were disruptive and disrespectful.

There is a challenging school in Reading that I often teach in and I enjoy going there despite the difficult children. The reason is the staff and management are so supportive. They know the children are a challenge and often it is prearranged that the worst behaved children spend the day in another class. The support from the head/deputy and other staff make the difficult job so much more bearable. The first time I taught at that school the headteacher came into the classroom as the children were coming in, having introduced herself to me, and spoke to the children kindly, about her expectations of them. She then popped in later to see how things were going. She gave me letters to give to the parents of children who behaved well telling them their child had behaved well for a supply teacher and was a credit to the school.

Unfortunately this is unusual in my experience. Usually I never see any management and if I do they do not introduce themselves so I don't know who they are. Last year I spent every Wednesday in a year 3 class enabling the NQT (newly qualified teacher) to have her designated PPA time. I had taken over from another supply teacher who found the difficult children too much to cope with (and they were very challenging). I had been there 6 weeks before I saw a member of the management team. It was the headteacher, who walked into the classroom without saying hello to me. She had an air of authority about her so I went up to her and introduced myself and when she didn't reciprocate I resorted to "I'm sorry, I don't know who your are."

Anyway, back to my Tuesday challenge.

The lesson had been so interrupted by the poor behaviour that they had written nothing in their books when the bell for afternoon play went. I told everyone that no-one could go out to play until they had completed the task set. Unfortunately the boys had to attend a meeting in the hall so I told them to come straight back to the classroom when it finished so they could finish the work before going to play.

As I was saying 'boys line up,' three boys ran to the door. I shouted stop, but no-one took any notice so I put out my arm to bar then from running through the door and into the corridor. They were going at speed and so the first two boys got by before my hand was extended, but the third boy collided with my hand. As he was lining up I saw him wiggle his shoulder and thought ' Oh he's making a big fuss, I didn't hurt him.' He was one of the most disrespectful boys in the class.

I was so glad when home-time came. As I was marking the books I got a phone call from the agency that gave me the work, to say there had been a formal complaint made against me. I couldn't think what I had done to warrant that! I had shouted a few times that afternoon, but that was the only thing I could think of. The agency said the child protection agency was involved. I asked what I was accused of doing. Apparently I had grabbed a boy by the arm causing red marks.
Oh now I remember! It must have been that really disrespectful boy who had collided with my arm. My gosh I was trying to prevent him hurting himself by racing out of the door into other people and now his mother was accusing me of abusing her son!

I left at 5 pm having done all the marking. The NQT came back after holding a dance club after school and I found out she had not been informed of the accusation. I therefore warned her to be wary of that child.

Fortunately I spent the rest of the week in that supportive school in Reading, who were most shocked that no-one from the school in Thatcham had spoken to me about the incident.

The week ended with a phone call from the agency. The police had decided not to pursue it. They must have been told by the other children 'witnesses' that the boy was running through the doorway at the time.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007


I'm sitting listening to more fireworks this evening. We have heard bangs and whistles for 5 days now. The official celebration was yesterday November 5th. For those non-English readers November 5th is called Bonfire Night or more officially Guy Fawkes night. We celebrate the fact that a person called Guy Fawkes and his Catholic friends were caught before they managed to blow up parliament and King James 1, in 1605. The original terrorist, before the word was invented.

I have some sympathy with the Catholic plight at the time. They were treated as second class citizens with less rights than the protestants.

I have never been a fan of the practice of burning effigies of the man on bonfires but I do love a large bonfire and can ooh and aah like the next child at the fireworks.

It is interesting that Catholics today celebrate Bonfire Night along with the rest of the population, without a blink of an eye. When I was in America on July 4th some Americans thought that I would feel uncomfortable with everyone celebrating the defeat of the British on that day. It hadn't occurred to me to be bothered. It was so long ago.

This attitude of the British is in contrast with the Muslim attitude to the Crusades, which finished in 1291. I was astounded to learn that the Muslims in Kuwait still hold a grudge about these events!

Learner Drivers

Part of my route to work is quite a quiet road. I cycle up it from the dead end and have noticed lots of driving school cars traveling towards me to the end. One morning I passed 5 such cars. I wondered why they were so concentrated on that particular street. My first lighthearted thought was that they were having a learner party. This of course I quickly dismissed as pure whimsy.

My next thought was that it was a good spot for reversing around corners and three-point-turns. But, I asked myself, why so many in this particular road? Surely there were other streets in the area that were suitable too.

Today I found the answer to the plethora of learner drivers. I saw one car drive down the side of a property to the car park at the rear. I looked more closely and realised that the building that I had thought to be only 'Thames Heating' premises was in fact two businesses and one was the DSA (Driving Standards Agency). Presumably this is where the learners take their driving tests!