Thursday, 1 March 2018

Rock bottom

Ok, rock bottom is a bit of an exaggeration. I’ve had a pretty good week, snow commute and chill blains aside, but today was the first time I felt like I’d hit absolute rock bottom with a class.

To give you some context.
Thursday, period 5, after lunch (an hour playing in the snow), 31 year 7s arrive at my classroom where I will be teaching them for the first time. They’ve forgotten where they’re supposed to sit, and I have to spend the first 10 minutes making everyone sit in their seat and moving those who have deliberately sat in the wrong seat. They ask why I’m teaching them and who I am. I feel ok, I usually like year 7s and they usually want them to like you.

But that’s where it all goes downhill. We’re doing storm hydrographs with 11 year olds, which is sort of already a recipe for disaster. It takes another 10 minutes to write the title: is that the title? Yes. That one on the board? Yes. I’ve done it, Miss. Good, thank you. My hands are too cold to write, Miss. Try rubbing them together to warm them up. Which page do I write it on, Miss? The next available one in your book. This one? Yes. Here? Yes. And it goes on. I remind several that they cannot have written anything if they haven’t opened their book, another few don’t have a pen and I struggle to understand how they’ve made it through 5 hours of school today without one. But hey, they’re just year 7s right, they’re needy.

We start with some key terms. We discuss them, what they mean and I say that they’re going to be important for our task. I ask students to write them down in their books. Have I done it right? Yes, well done. Lovely handwriting. Do I have to write down the meaning too? Yes, or you won’t know what it means. Is this dis-c-charge? We pronounce it ‘discharge’. What’s discharge? What have you just written down? Why are we writing these? Because they’re key terms, and you need to remember what they mean. Do I have to write all of them down? Yes. Now? Yes. Can I keep my coat on? No. But it’s cold. It’s not cold in the classroom. Then can I keep my hat on? No. But it’s cold. Then imagine these questions all being asked at once, over and over again. I ask for silence. Nothing. I count down from 5. Nothing. I count down from 3. Miss, why are you counting? Are you doing the peace sign? Nothing. I stand and I wait, and wait, and wait. And then it happens, silence, for approximately 7 seconds. We try and draw a graph, well, fill in the gaps on a graph that I’ve already sort of almost finished. But every time I start to speak, or stop speaking, constantly, there is noise. Some people are doing their work really well, and I try and recognise this. Some are doing it but at half the pace they could and should be doing it. Others are turning round, crawling on the floor, dancing in their chairs (or out of their chairs) and constantly, constantly talking. Miss, I don’t get it? Ok, let’s work through this together. I still don’t get it. That’s because you’re not listening. Yeah, but I’m cold. But you need to focus now. Yeah, but I’m still cold and I don’t get it.

I reach the point where I have explained it more times than I can remember, in smaller, simpler stages and hardly anyone understands it. But because they haven’t listened. Every time someone starts talking, I stop and I wait, and then as soon as I start again, someone else starts and it’s constant and never-ending and I feel like getting up and walking out and leaving them all to it. Who really needs to know how to draw a hydrograph anyway?  The lessons end promptly with the bell and 3 slides left to go. No one’s stuck their sheet in, some haven’t finished it, and some have barely started it. I know not to take it personally, because they’re supposedly a nightmare with everyone and I know that was one (of very few ways) to make hydrographs fairly simple and mildly, very mildly interesting. But that doesn’t stop me eating 3 chocolate digestives (wishing it was 3 gin and tonics) to dull the dread that is teaching them again tomorrow morning.

The only way is up?


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