Archive for the 'Chalkface' Category

But I tell you who I really hate, and that’s those racists

July 26, 2006

Many people label teachers, in fact anyone involved in education, as hopelessly politically correct and lacking any ability to ever say anything that anyone might take offence at (unless they are “mainstream”, in other words heterosexual white men). 

Not so, as this recent episode from the staffroom will show. 

I was pretty unwell at the end of the last term, just general tiredness and lethargy as commonly caused by working too much and too hard for too long.  Usual teacher problem towards the end of the winter term. 

So whenever I was in the staffroom I would leave my game face at the door and generally dissolve into an exhausted lump trying to ingest coffee and biscuits to keep this sad hulk going for another few hours.  My contributions to conversations whizzing around me, even about matters I cared passionately about, were minimal.  Silent munching and slurping was my modus operandi from about Week 7 onwards.

But this damn reliever, he riled me.  He got under my skin so deep that I couldn’t just sit there.  I couldn’t say anything either, I was so upset by his epithets and dazed from the sheer unrelenting unending term, but I couldn’t put up no protest at all.  So I stood up to leave, saying “I don’t want to listen to this anymore.”  He turned on me, taking out his anger on me personally, threatened by my challenge, so I used a term that isn’t often uttered in the staffroom, or at least not loudly enough for anyone to hear.  It wasn’t very inventive, but I felt better for spitting it out at him.  Those who remained in the room after I left told me it had the desired effect; he felt quite shocked and stopped his rants for long enough for other saner types, more capable of sparring with him than I was, to put him right.

What was said that so upset this author?  What PC rule did this reliever break?  What could possibly cause me to quite lose my composure and curse him in a manner that I usually reserve for the drive home from school, when no one can hear me but the beaded car seat cover?

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Meeting madness

July 22, 2006

Last term I was told that there were to be some special meetings for teachers working in my main curriculum area, part of some consultation about new unit standards.  Now at my school the job of organising and running meetings of this nature often falls on me for a few of the local secondaries, so several weeks ago I asked the relevant HOD, The Beskirted One, if that would be the case this time.  She assured me no, that there were teachers from the actual curriculum workgroup who would be running them in many of the clusters, including ours.  But I did need to attend and be generally helpful.  All well and good.

The meeting for my area is on Monday after school  Yesterday (Friday) I contacted the teacher who is supposed to be facilitating and organising the group to find out if he would like me to turn up early to help with the set-up or if there was anything else I could do to help.  It took a while to get hold of him, but when I did, guess what?

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Please don’t breed

July 20, 2006

So Mr Individual made a startling announcement in the staffroom today – he has changed his mind and he wants to procreate at some point.

If I hadn’t been standing when he made his public flip-flop I would have not only fallen off my chair, I would probably have ended up spasming on the floor in disbelief.  The child-hater, the man who claims others shouldn’t have children because they then expect governmental services for said children, which are funded by his taxpaying dollars, he wants to have an ankle-biter, a rug-rover, a small little helpless baby.

In fact he wants to have “at least two, one of each”.


I think this might have something to do with being in a relationship.  For the first time that I can remember he’s actually met someone’s parents, and their friends.  I’d say this was a good thing if I wasn’t so jaded from hearing all about it at morning tea, lunch time, after school meetings, when we are waiting for everyone to file in for assembly, etc etc ad nauseum. 

One day soon I swear my ears will actually rot right off unless they have a tiff and break it off.  Please, dear God, bring it on before someone forgets to take their little pill or buy their little rubber sheathes. 

I know I said I wished him love, but I wasn’t thinking about the consequences; the possibility that there might be little Boy and Girl Individuals in the world.  Shudder.

Pushy parents on the sideline of life

July 15, 2006

I know, I know, I said I wasn’t going to write about the parents or the students, because I can rant about them in the staffroom at length.  I was (and still am) worried it could also jeopardize my anonymity, which must be avoided at all costs.

But a general vent about the pushy ones should be safe.  And it’s certainly needed.  It is needed like my car needs a new warrant (i.e. three weeks ago).

See there’s this thing about parents.  They care about their children.  Many of them care too little, but some care to the point of excluding any concern whatsoever about anyone else (except themselves usually). 

It’s like their kids are somehow actual physical parts of them.  They care because they have some kind of merged attachment going on – they actually are their kids, in some warped sense.  I have a theory that these parents were deprived of something in their own childhood – so now they push and push and push to make sure their own child gets everything and then some. 

But it’s bad for the kids – not just the other children, (witness the rather extreme example of Christophe Fauviau who doped his children’s tennis rivals) but also the progeny of the pushy parents.  Because as much as they push me to give their child a better mark, better assignment, better desk, better position on the netball team, better spot in the play, they push their kids too.  They push their offspring, at the same time that they make that child doubt that they could have achieved it for themselves, without Mum or Dad interfering, intervening, to make sure of it all.

And what happens to these parents when they do succeed?  The Dumper has shown pushy parent tendencies – one day she was bragging about the exam success of one of her kids, but it was clear to me that she was actually focused on the 8% of marks he’d missed.  He’d only got 92%.  How disappointing.  I hope she replaced all his sci-fi novels with books on quadratic equations, that’ll learn him.

My irritation with these parents started when I saw how they treat the unfortunate teachers who try to wrangle their children.  I was quite lucky in my first year of teaching not to have any pushy parents in my classes, but I saw how they totally and utterly chewed up and spat out the teachers at parent teacher interviews.  Because if it’s not the child’s fault, it must be the poor schmuck who teaches them who is to blame.  Or perhaps the teacher and the student collude together, with the purely malicious aim of frustrating their caring mother or father?  Either way, things must be put right!  And so out of the handbags come the pepper-spray comments “What could you be doing better to help our child?” and “So you don’t pay Beatrix as much attention because she is smart?” 

Teachers teach and parents parent.  They are complimentary jobs and we should both be focused on helping children to learn and grow up in a way that allows them to achieve their potential.  But that potential should be their choice, not the decision of Mum, Dad, or Mr Johnson who teaches mathematics five days a week.   Sometimes that choice isn’t the one we would make for them, as their parent or as their teacher, but if it is truly their own choice then it is more right than anyone else could make for them.

Just because there’s no school doesn’t mean it’s a holiday

July 4, 2006

When I meet people at a social engagement and they ask me what I do, I grit my teeth for the (almost) inevitable response to my reply. 

Many people, when they hear the word “teacher”, seem to have an automated response in their head, which sometimes flows out of their mouth, along the lines of:

Teacher (tee-char) n. – Discontented person (usually unattractive single older woman) who feels under-paid and under-valued despite getting 12 weeks’ holiday each year, on the taxpayer (i.e. me).

Now in this post I’m going to ignore all the other inaccurate stereotypes about teachers, and focus in on the one currently  causing my spleen to itch fiercely:  Holidays.

The reason it is currently creating so much distemper is because I am, right now, on “holiday”;  the break between Term Two and Term Three. 

And what have I been doing?  How have I been luxuriating in my freedom, wallowing in the salaried free-time that I am indulgently given by my loyal friend, the Ministry of Education? 

So far I’ve marked 32 assessments, written up 5 lesson plans, spent approximately two hours catching up on some reading in my curriculum area, and done some brainstorming for a minor school production I’m supporting in Term Four.  This is all before the end of the first week of my “holiday”.

When I first started teaching I lurched towards my first term break with hope.  Visions of a sparkling two weeks of blissful nothingness would break upon me at inappropriate times (when I was ensconced in a staff meeting, whilst plonked on the stage at assembly, and while monitoring the kids getting on to their buses at the end of the day).  But this was not the reality that overtook me in that first break.

Instead I was sick.  I fought off a cold, with what little vigour and energy I had left, from the end of Week 9.  I kept going to school each day because although I felt like my head was having some kind of trance-thrash concert without my consent, I didn’t want to go through the palaver of a reliever, and I thought it would be a bad look to take sick days so soon after starting. 

On the first Saturday of the break I could withstand the cold’s chilling embrace no longer, and I succumbed.  I spent the first half of that first “holiday” in bed, sneezing miserably and trying to make myself feel better by thinking about all that leisure reading I was doing.  I now know that it’s quite common for teachers, new or otherwise, to come down with something at beginning of term breaks – it’s happened to me at least once a year for the last eight years.

At the beginning of the second week I tentatively ventured out of the bedroom, only to find the pile of marking I had left in the car.  And then I made the fatal mistake of opening my planning book and realising that I now had six days in which to complete half a term’s worth of planning. 

I got it all done, but I learnt the lesson – term breaks are not holidays.  They are periods for recuperating, catching up and trying to get a jump on whatever onslaught is coming next.  Without them teachers would simply not be able to function. 

So next time you are having problems getting a park at the cinema during the school holidays and you curse those lazy teachers and their protectionist union, have a think about what we’re actually doing during that time.   Have a think about how difficult you find your children to deal with for the whole two days of the weekend, how exhausting it can be.  Think about the assignments they are set and how you struggle sometimes to read their writing or understand what the hell they are getting at in that essay on Twelfth Night.  And think about what it must be like to do that for a living. 

Trust me, you’d need twelve weeks a year out of the classroom to cope too.

The sad tale of Mr Individual

June 15, 2006

The list of annoying workmates that I've blabbed about on here just keeps growing.  I suppose that's the beauty of working in a big school – there are lots of "interesting" characters to write about.

Mr Individual possesses the most non-teacherly personality I have yet encountered.  He seems to actively hate children, and in fact any woman who isn't available to him for sex.  Sure, he can stomach these people, be nice to them when it's necessary for his day to go more smoothly, but the things he says behind people's backs in the staffroom…  Well let's just say it's a lot worse than anything you'll read here.

His politics are somewhat out of place in our school, but Mr Individual has no shame about sharing them.  Not that he necessarily should hold them back, but he could probably anticipate some of the hostile reactions he gets to statements about how he shouldn't have to pay for free doctors' visits for children, because he has chosen not to have any.  This is a constant source of declaimation for him – he has no kids, so he shouldn't have to fund x, y or z with his hard-earned money.  (Yes he does seem to realise the irony that he is paid from the public purse, but he also openly advocates the privatisation of the schooling system, so that's ok.  He seems to have dreams about McDonalds operating the local primary, so that it churns out perfect little fast-food workers, while the really smart ones could go on to iPod College and have their brain juices harnessed by the computer corporations instead.)

I suspect the "choice" he's made about creating and rearing offspring has been made for him by the fact that he is quite unable to attract a long term partner of any gender whatsoever.  I wouldn't be surprised to learn that he's never even had a pet for more than three months. 

His constant objectifying of women, in a female-dominated profession, is like some kind of bizarre death-wish.  It enrages me on a regular basis, his rants about the women's beach volleyball, his desire to go on a Strip Club Crawl, not to mention his constant physical ratings of any woman mentioned in discussions about current events.  (The Prime Minister gets a 1 on Mr Individual's meter of attractiveness – I don't think she needs to worry though, having held the position of PM for seven years and been highly successful at it probably acts as a considerable cushion against the jealous rantings of a frustrated high school teacher who doesn't even warrant any management units.)  Of course he's not likely to find himself on any calendars as Mr September any time soon, but that doesn't matter – only women need be judged on appearance, and any woman would be lucky to have Mr Individual grace her bed even for just one night, apparently.

It's quite bizarre to find him working as a teacher, especially in a public school.  I have this theory that he started out his career all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, but that something horrible happened to him, which changed him irrevocably from someone who loved to teach, to a grumpy curmudgeon, old and bitter before his time.  I wonder sometimes if Mr Individual's heart was broken by another teacher, or he was falsely accused of abuse (which must be a constant worry for male teachers these days). 

Now he seems stuck in a career he ostensibly hates, but he has too much inertia to retrain or try something else.  Instead he likes to spread his hate and malice around our staffroom, perhaps trying to infect others so that he doesn't feel so alone and vulnerable.  He feels like a total individual in a profession which values collectivity, so he tries to isolate everyone else too, with his nastiness and spite.

Strangely enough, I wish something nice would happen to Mr Individual.  Something so nice that it changed him for the better, something that spoke so undeniably of the benefits of being happy, of sharing things, of the strength that being part of a group can give you, that he had some kind of epiphany.  So that Mr Individual could start seeing the colour in life, and not just the shades of grey.  Oddly I find myself wishing him love, when I'm not so angry with him that I'm actively desirous of his violent and painful death.  Maybe love could crack out the human being inside Mr Individual's carapace of disdain.

Ms Snake and her strange disliking

April 28, 2006

Ms Snake is another one of my annoying workmates, along with The Old Duffer and The Dumper. Ms Snake and I used to get on very well, although I knew we weren’t really friends in the conventional sense.

Ms Snake is quite moody and has snitches against quite a few of the staff (especially those who aren’t teachers). But as we were around the same age and both independent-minded women, she seemed quite keen to get along with me at first. We went on a few lunches together (at which she would do basically all of the talking and interrupt and change the topic back to her if I did say something). We helped each other with work problems when they arose, we even texted each other about new shoe stores we had discovered. While I found her self-absorbed and arrogant, I also found her funny, at times very generous, and definitely smart, and we had enough in common to rub along nicely, as younger female teachers in a school dominated by those wedded to the older ways. So far, so sisters-in-arms.

But slowly everything seemed to change. Suddenly Ms Snake was quite silent about my role in a project she had asked me to help with – she still expected me to do the work but she actively hid my involvement from anyone in the management team. In fact she got highly snotty with me at one point when I was upfront with her about the fact that I was too busy to contribute much for the next month or two. This would hardly have come to her as a surprise as she knew all about the other work I had on my plate.

Ms Snake made it very clear to me that I was in fact not allowed to say no, despite her refusal to help me with something a week earlier because she was “snowed under”. (Funny how she found time that week to go to a clothing shop sale on one day during her release, and then disappeared for a three hour repast on another.) Apparently her “too busy” was to be respected but mine was not.

This was my second inkling that all was not right between her and I. The first was when she started excluding me from lunches which I normally would have come along to. I thought Ms Snake must be going through a patch of wanting some distance from me, so I was hurt but didn’t say anything, assuming her mood would pass.

But the exclusions from lunch continued (and continue to this day) and then there was this practical denial that I was helping her with her project.

Then on a Teachers Only Day we were supposed to share a ride to a course that all the teachers were expected to attend, four of us in someone else’s car. I turned up just as I had been told to by Ms Snake, and waited for her and the others. And waited, and waited and waited. Luckily I got a lift with another colleague in the end, but how juvenile can you get?

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April 9, 2006

When someone isn’t at school, cover is organised for their classes.  Sometimes a reliever will be called in, sometimes there will be a reshuffle within the department (or wider), to make sure there is a teacher standing up the front ready to impart wisdom, compel learning, and control the nicely riotous mob. 

I’ve already posted about my intention to take leave soon, for two weeks at the end of term when I’ll be on a course.  What I haven’t mentioned is my frustrations about the organisation of cover for these measley two weeks.  I shall enumerate these for clarity, in no particular order:

1.  The Dumper took fright at any suggestion that she cover any of the very small number of classes that she has been asked to deal with.  Every time I’ve tried to speak to her about my planning and arrangements during the forthcoming fortnight she has shrieked loudly that she doesn’t want to hear about it, and looked at me with the kind of stare usually adopted by horses suffering in the Outback heat and faced by a venomous snake on a narrow path with a sheer 50 metre drop on one side and an implacable cliff face on the other.  The amount of work she has to do is negligible (due to my preparation, which takes into account her nature), but don’t let that stop her from feeling very put upon indeed.

2.  Another colleague (who I am yet to do a nasty profile of as I don’t usually have to encounter him much) has kept trying to put the work back onto me, despite an earlier agreement between him and the HOD about exactly what he would work on.  He seems to be in some form of denial about the fact that I won’t actually be there to take the classes.  It’s like magical elves will pop up from the scuffed carpet squares and do it all for him.  I’m guessing his denial will cease five minutes into the first class when he realises that his disdainful attitude towards my attempts to prepare him were rather ill-advised.  I wish I could be there to watch.

3.  The reliever who is picking up a lot of my other classes is ok, and I’ve worked with him before.  But he needs to stop charging in.  He’s just doing a few classes for a couple of weeks.  Trying to rewrite the curriculum and aggressively solve the problems of every student in my classes is not a good idea.  For a start it couldn’t be done even if he had two years, and for a second if he succeeds it will make me look bad.  I’m worried he’s going to end up exhausted but looks like he is going to have to work that out for himself.  I might leave him a nice note about work-life balance for one final attempt to warn him…

4.  I’m getting rather fed up from the abandonment attitude a few of my colleagues are taking towards my leave.  I’m going to be absent for two weeks.  This absence is to go on a course.  I am not exactly swanning off for a $100,000 cruise through the Mediterranean for several months, complete with a holiday fling with an attractive Italian, and a beautiful tan to make them all green with envy.  Frankly they can leave the snarky “lucky thing” comments at home.  Or perhaps they could get off their lazy arses, find some professional development that they want and can justify, and apply to the BOT for funding and leave. 

I should point out that I have not imposed this rearrangement of my work on these people – in fact it has been organised in conversation with my HOD and is quite commonplace.  I have been known to cover for others when they have been away for whatever reason, and I just accept it as part of my job from time to time.  Usually it is a great opportunity to face some new challenges, expand your knowledge, and also legitimately put off a whole lot of petty tasks that you are trying to avoid. 

Well, I look forward to coming back and finding out just how they got on… 

A small question of release

March 16, 2006

It’s been a busy time for me at work, this last week or so.  I’ve been preparing to take two weeks away from the classroom later this term, to go on a block professional development course.  Which means a lot of work before I go, making sure everything will run smoothly in my absence, and minimising the impact for my students.

I’ve been planning, in my head and on paper, for several months in fact, although a lot of it couldn’t really be done until classes started and I knew the dynamics up front.  But I diligently applied for the release in late November last year, through the usual processes, and thought everything on that front, at least, was dealt with.

The usual way things work at my school is that you apply to your departmental head for the leave and then if you hear nothing bad it’s fine.  This was my natural assumption when December, January and February all ticked by with only positive comments about my release from my HOD, as we sorted out how it would work and who would cover my various classes.

Then late last week I got a letter from the Principal, quite nastily written (and as you know I’m rather good at nasty myself, so I can admire it when it’s expressed eloquently by others). 

What it amounted to was that I had applied for the leave quite incorrectly and that while it would be grudgingly (and generously) granted despite my monumental error, I should note for future reference that in fact I am supposed to apply directly to the Principal and the BOT. 

Funny, I thought, I’m sure that’s not what the policy says.  So I checked.  What the policy says is that I should apply to my manager.  That would be my HOD.  What the Principal’s letter states is that I should apply to my employer, which means the BOT, via the Principal in the first instance.  These are two mutually exclusive options.

In addition, the Principal sent a copy of the letter to the PPTA delegate for the school, patronisingly writing that it is often good to approach the delegate for advice on these matters.  She must surely recall that I used to be the delegate a few years back.  (What she doesn’t appear to know is that the teacher she sent a copy of the letter to is in fact no longer the delegate and hasn’t been for some months.  Sucks to be her.)

So basically I was supposed to obey an imaginary policy which does not exist on paper, which in fact contradicts the policy that does exist on paper, and which was only pointed out to me two weeks before the leave, despite the fact that I applied for it four months in advance.

Clearly this is all my fault.


Fear and loathing in the staffroom

March 10, 2006

Time to introduce you to another of my annoying work colleagues, The Old Duffer. 

He means well, most of the time, but he just can’t get over the fact that there are competent and intelligent women in the world, who are under 40 and don’t find him attractive.  Actually I’ve yet to meet a single woman (or man for that matter) who does find him attractive, but I guess there may be others who are prepared to simper at appropriate moments, whilst I most decidedly am not.

The Old Duffer is always correct.  He is never wrong.  I repeat, HE IS NEVER WRONG.  In his own head anyway.

In the real world he is often wrong, he makes mistakes, just like anyone else.  But, unlike most other people, he thinks he is to teaching what the Pope is to religion – infallible and in possession of a direct line to God on all matters, from the best way to deal with that difficult parent, to the school policy on internet use, to the National Party’s views on zoning.

We had a huge scrap the other day about one of the curriculum documents.  Luckily there were only a few other people in the staff room, and to be honest I didn’t want to push it because I didn’t want to embarass him.  It’s pretty clear to me that he’s just serving his time now, until he hits retirement at 65 (mercifully only about a year away now).  The poor Old Duffer can’t let go of his forty-odd years in the classroom, which is understandable, and sometimes I feel sorry for him. 

Other times I don’t.  Those would be the times when he leaps straight up on to the moral high ground without merit, often unflatteringly exposing his arse in the process.  He gets this tone in his voice that drives me mad.  It’s his way of saying, without actually using these words “I know more than you, how could I possibly not know more than you – you’re just a girl compared to me.”  In this, he so often reminds me of my father, even though Dad has never been a teacher.

The contempt The Old Duffer treats me with undermines my best efforts to be nice, and to view him as an old man who feels unsafe and uncomfortable in a world that has changed so much in the last forty years.  Instead I start to imbue him with spite and malice he probably doesn’t truly possess. 

His inability to deal with the world as it is, rather than as it was, and his denial that there is anything about education that he doesn’t know, really reflect his insecurity.   I need to remind myself of that, to avoid bringing along my dear friends Ms Sarcasm and Miss Harsh Tone whenever I deal with him.

I just find his rejection of me so frustrating, because it seems to be solely based on my lack of a Y chromosome and my age.  But ultimately I guess The Old Duffer fears me for those exact reasons.  Just as well I’m white or he really wouldn’t be able to deal with me at all!