Friday, 23 September 2016

Friday feeling...

The normally calm and thoughtful learner drops his book for no apparent reason. This is followed by the phone which I'm too tired to spot on another usually studious girl's knee crashing to the floor face down. The whole class emits a groan of terrible empathy. The nuanced discussion point we were working on is lost, the fate of the lesson now rests on the strength of the gorrila glass (tm) which has met the floor with all the grace of a flabby belly flopping 40 yr old crashing into an ibiza swimming pool from a diving board too high for his abilities. Only a spider has the same power as a falling phone.

The phone is fine, the lesson is coaxed back on track. Things go ok, then another learner gives (in a perfectly valid way) the answer 'vagina' to a question. I try not to ask too many closed questions but it takes all of my skill and self restraint not to scream 'in what fucking world is the answer to that question 'vagina!'' The learner is embarrassed as his peers howl with laughter and I do my best to contain my mirth limiting my self to a sort of knowing world weary smile.

To calm things down and move on I say 'Hey, it's only a word. We've all got one.'

This would have been a smart, sassy, streetwise way to draw a line under things were I not male. Cue more howling. I howl. We all howl.

'What am I saying?' I splutter.

Another looks up.

'It's Angela again' she deadpans.

I used the idea of a female alter-ego to try and illustrate a point about shock and confusion a few lessons previously, asking them how they'd react if I turned up in full drag and asked them to call me Angela. Unsurprisingly they rather enjoyed this conceit.

I have to credit her with excellent timing.

We try again. We get maybe ten minutes further. I set up a group task. I wander round, restlessly. My pacing is distracting. I'm walking too fast. It's making the class restless. I sit down. My sitting down is a cue for the learners to stop. I stand again, make some token noises about not wanting to have to set the task for homework.

I'm asked about 10 questions as I resume my pacing. Only one of them bears any resemblance to a relevant question. I bat them away like an in form cricketer but then I chase a wide one and get drawn into conversation. They got me. I acknowledge this and say something else 'teacherly' and the task eventually gets done.

We do a plenary. It goes surprisingly well. I am pleased with the fact they've obviously managed to think certain stuff through despite not giving any appearance of study.

We get sidetracked by the issue of stereotyping. A girl makes a fairly blunt (but contextually valid) point about 'looking like a lesbian' and I ask her to consider the fact that lesbians come in many shapes, sizes and styles. She is confused and a bit defensive. I try again to make the point more clearly (she seems not to comprehend she's said something tactless) and another girl (who is a lesbian - I know because I've talked to her when she's been having some problems, but some of the class don't know her sexuality) makes a decision to challenge her. 'Do I look like a lesbian?'

There's palpable tension. They aren't the kind of kids to back down. I decide it's worth letting it breath for a moment. Neither of them are malevolent characters, so I'm not too worried, but you never know...

'No, I mean, I don't know, I don't mean, look, I just meant, you know what I meant!' insists the first girl.

Girl B smiles, point made.

'I think what you meant was 'the stereotype we are fed about what a lesbian looks like''
'Yeah, that's what I meant! I wasn't having a go, I don't care about anything like that'

The tension has gone, girl A+B aren't looking angry.

The plenary resumes. A quiet kid makes an amazingly intelligent point I've never thought of on a topic I've taught for years. She's got a diagnosis of aspergers but I mostly think she's just clever. It fits in a way, but she's so astute about human nature. She'll never get an A but I wish I could frame some of the things she says.

The plenary has finished. I set a written task to consolidate learning. I've asked them to do something on technology so stuff comes out of bags and I fix two tablets and explain to another girl that 'memory full - no more space' means the memory is full and there is no more space. I then patiently explain that I don't know what she should delete as I don't know what is on her tablet and nor do I want to know. She looks confused at the notion of a free choice. I suggest she puts some stuff in cloud storage. Her eyes light up at the procrastinatory (I think I've invented this word) prospect of asking 'what exactly *is* the cloud' but fortunately someone else seems to have a genuine question I can turn my attention too.

The question turns out to be 'what are we doing?'

I point to the instructions in front of the learner. They recoil in shock as if the words have just appeared by magic and go through the motions of refocusing. As usual, one person enquiring 'what are we doing' snowballs into at least three people needing the instructions from about 3 minutes ago reaffirming.

I ask for silence. I point out they could complete this task at home or do it now. I make an appeal to reason. The work is fresh, it's in your mind now. Use this time, don't waste it.

I say something vaguely cute about that being a useful maxim for life.

I realise I shouldn't have said that as me babbling is not role modelling the behaviour we need. I shut up and complete the register. There's miraculously focus.

Naughty boy who has been really trying to be good is even sort of working. He never does more than about 2 lines and always has an answer for any critique. He's really clever. I don't know how to coax the words from him. Everything he says is short, smart and often (not always) indisputably intelligent. He never expands. He's brilliant at any physical, active tasks but it doesn't seem to help him write any more than he otherwise would do. I wonder for a minute if I should do another sweep of the classroom. It's just going to prompt another wave of inane questions.

I focus on slightly strange but lovely girl who never does the right thing. I ask quietly if she knows what she is doing. She nods and shows me her screen. It looks vaguely in the right ballpark which is good news. She's not full of confidence and to be focusing is enough for me at this point.

There's about 4 minutes to go. The able writers are finishing. I ponder a stretch task but I can't think of a pithy 3 minute task of any relevance. I decide to ask them to tidy up. This is cue for everyone else to abandon ship and start to tidy up.

Several people just leave their resources right where they are. I shout 'Oi, I didn't print these just to get trees chopped down' They turn, grab them, I smile. I don't mind disorganised kids. I just want them to try. It's all I ask. It's all I can do.

There's 60 seconds left. I start every lesson on time. I never finish early. The chairs are away. The tables are away.

"Right, go on, I can't stand the sight of you for another second!"

The majority charge for the door, some wish me a nice weekend. I return it. I feel like high fiving them. Release at last... Girl B from earlier who likes to wind me up says 'I'm offended' - I return with 'get out you dafty' and she smiles.

I shout after them something along the lines of 'Be good and see you next week' - I dread to think where the conversation turns as they snake out along the corridors and thoughts turn to weekends.

They break my heart. All the uncertainty and precocious intelligence, all the energy and doubt. All nervous in front of a blank piece of paper. Most of them terrified of themselves.

I could do with a few days off.

(This started as a sort of 'what do you do to make last lesson Friday work?' and turned into something else)

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