Sunday, 29 May 2011

Another Nail In The Coffin

I've been in the same school for about six weeks now and days are generally quiet but every now and again there's an explosive event, sparked by seemingly very little. As this week is my last one in this particular school working with the nearly permanently excluded kids, I thought I'd share with you one such impromptu incident. Below is the report I had to write up on my penultimate day in the school. Obviously I have changed the student and teachers' names but everything else remains as I recorded it.

“ ? had finished working on the computer and as I logged her off she went over to the other side of the room so see ?, who'd just entered the room. When I went back over to the other side, she was sitting in the teacher's chair and refusing to move. Eventually she moved and stormed out.

I went out into the stairwell and had a chat with her and she seemed reasonably calm. She then came back into the room and aggressively demanded “pass me my flipping nails” (the fake nails ? had previously confiscated some half an hour/40 minutes ago after she started putting them on in the middle of a lesson). She repeatedly said this and ? went for “on call” (there was no walkie-talkie up here this morning as the battery had died).

While she was out of the room, ? came back in and started screaming “pass me my nails” again and “now's my home time – it maybe not yours but I'm going home now!” She pushed passed me and tried to get at the drawer, even trying to physically pull the chair I was sitting on away from the desk.

Members of the Science department (whose office is next door) came in and helped intervene. She stood at the side of my head and yelled into my ear “Give me my nails!” This then turned to “Pass me my fucking nails – if you don't get her to give them to me, I'll punch her fucking head in – I'll punch her right in the face!”

Other members of staff stood between me and her and one managed to convince her that the false nails were locked away downstairs in an office. Tables were moved and she was escorted out of the room away from me but said “fucking bitch – why don't you suck dick?” as she left. She also overturned the computer screen (thankfully undamaged) before being escorted out and causing a loud scene on the stairs.”

Immediately after this incident I heard wailing, fittingly demonic-sounding to be compared to a banshee. Three members of the senior management team had to restrain her and lead her out of the building. The police were later called on site. Prior to all this, the student in question had been working uncharacteristically hard and had had an exceptional day the day before.

This incident is the closest I have ever come to reliving my days at the crumbling West Leeds High School. Having been doing supply teaching across central London and even Essex, on and off for the past year and a half, I have never worked in a school as consistently rough as my old long-term Leeds employer. The students I have been working with for the last six weeks are all essentially in the “knacker's yard” - contrary to the name, “The Study Centre” actually seems to have been created as a place to collect evidence of bad behaviour so that the school's worst pupils will be accepted to a PRU (Pupil Referral Unit). Having someone shout in my face isn't that pleasant but at the end of the day, what is shouted is pretty laughable – the fate of some of these children isn't.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Dumming Down Eurovision

This year's Eurovision winners (Ell/Nikki representing Azerbaijan) sung an aptly named number called "Running Scared" - something a large quantity of the country's population do on competition night. During the run-up to the royal wedding I was busy planning ways to avoid the event, eventually settling on a nice lie-in and evening trip to the dog races. For Eurovision however, I'd e-mailed out a "save the date" plea more than a month in advance and actually planned on being awake for TV footage. It may well be the annual event many love to hate but Eurovision has a place in my heart. I can actually remember lying in front of the TV as a teenager with a cushion carefully placed under me, willing my favourites to win and even once voting for a British entry. Nowadays, like the royal wedding was for many, Eurovision is merely an excuse to get a little merry.

Terry Wogan's commentary seemed to get progressively more inflammatory towards our competitors as each year passed and as his retirement grew nearer. Wogan's sarcastic banter provided the perfect stimulus for the creation of a variety of Eurovision drinking rules. Having missed Graham Norton's debut as Wogan's replacement, I was mildly disappointed by his dummed-down style of presenting. Twelve of us squeezed around the TV and devised this year's drinking rules, banking on some infamous Norton sexual innuendo and bitchiness but less than half-way through the competition we decided to ditch the rule.

In asking Norton to tone it down, the BBC have destroyed the competition's celebrated playful commentary that for many was one of the main draws of watching Eurovision. This year's Düsseldorf show distinctly lacked the mullets and spandex of previous years and seemed heavy on child contestants. One entry (yes, Spain) actually decided to unintentionally mock deaf Eurovision fans by only performing part of the song with sign-language to leave viewers guessing as to what the rest of the song was about. But reliably, as usual the English entry was shocking:

Despite the song's title, "I Can", Blue proved they in fact "can't" by delivering a song significantly more dire than Ireland's rather catchy "Lipstick", performed by the loathsome Jedward, looking somewhat Gagga-ed:

After shots of everything drinkable in the flat and four slumbering viewers, I didn't win our in-house bet and the only memorable stand-alone performance came from Moldova:

Dressing up in items from a chosen country and bringing dishes from said country for a European feast was possibly more educational than watching the show. I now know the Fins eat liquorice and that apparently both Spain and Sweden share a love of rice pudding. I'm now looking forward to sampling next year's feast.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Belated "Bieber Fever"

Back in school, still in the “Study Centre” and taking the odd cover lesson, I'm once again exposed to prepubescent fads and heartaches. Up until this week, I've done a very good job of avoiding the “Bieber Fever” but have suddenly been floundering in a world of hormonal teenagers. Of course I know what the Biebs looks like but I'm not sure I'd ever actually heard one of his songs or at least not intentionally listened to a whole track, knowing that he was responsible for it.

Prior to this week, my only real Bieber-related research was prompted by my sister who thoughtfully alerted me to the existence of an amusing website ( that may well have single-handedly influenced our young Canadian icon to ditch his signature hair-style.

This week began with a Technology cover lesson with a distinct lack of work set. While a kindly LSA (Learning Support Assistant), scampered off to find some work, I took on the challenging task of entertaining the class and attempting to keep them seated. Noticing the boys and girls seemed to have migrated to separate sides of the room, I decided to ask the boys what was wrong with the girls to be told in less kind terms: “they ming”. Asking the boys who they deemed acceptable, I was surprised when a well-spoken boy admitted he fancied “Kate Middleton” - less surprising was the amount of females claiming Bieber to be their ideal man. I've previously taken a Technology lesson in another school where pupils had to design watch straps for celebrities and found Bieber to be just as popular, although a surprising amount of male class members seemed to be designing pink flowery watches with him in mind.

As the week went on, most of our study centre pupils managed to get themselves excluded for their poor behaviour. In order to alleviate the learning support unit and to ensure we were usefully occupied, we started to take on overflow pupils. Instead of mouthy students calling us “fat cows” and telling us “they hope we get stabbed and they get to watch” or that “we'd be shitting bricks after meeting” their parents, we were faced with a cooperative student who'd refused to remove a new ear piercing. Covering the Hindu belief in reincarnation for R.E., the Biebs popped up again as our blushing diligent pupil decided she'd like to be reborn as the Canadian boy wonder.

Later on deciding to somehow tackle a music lesson with no instruments or teaching resources, we found a lesson plan online that involved watching a music video with and without sound to discuss the marrying of visual imagery and song lyrics. After watching and dissecting Blind Melon's No Rain,

we had time to spare so decided to allow our pupil to choose an artist. Drum roll.... can you guess who I finally Youtubed?

Watching “One Less Lonely Girl” was an amusing exercise as we, like our lone student earlier, blindly watched Bieber's video having no idea what the song might be about, except for clues the title gave us - would it be a sinister-sounding rock song about a serial killer ridding households of moping lonely girls? We had no idea but watching our infatuated pupil smiling inanely at the screen was entertainment enough.

I was never really one for crushes as a teenager and can't even come up with a similar late 80s/early 90s phenomenon to the Biebs. New Kids On The Block were pretty fresh-faced but I don't remember nearly as much hype. Perhaps early Take That is the 80s/90s equivalent I'm looking for? Whoever it is, I'm pretty certain there was no solo artist matching Bieber's popularity or tender age, possibly because marketing tools were somewhat more limited back then (3D films?!).

What this whole music exercise did reveal is how misleading muted videos can be, while Bieber's was pretty predictable, Zero 7's Distractions was the exact opposite of what I'd imagined would accompany the lyrics:

An interesting exercise for those unusual moments in life where we actually have some time to spare – especially if you're rarely exposed to music videos.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Love Thy Privacy

As a teenager, village and small town life isn't the most exciting way to spend your days, especially when buses to larger surrounding towns are so infrequent and catching trains require kindly chauffeuring parents or the very same unreliable buses. Growing up in the countryside there's really very little to satisfy once you get beyond the romper suit stage - unless of course you're already massively into gardening, rambling or suitably outdoorsy activities like horse riding. As soon as I was old enough to realise this, I set my sights on leaving the "Garden of England". Once the University application stage came along, the majority of my chosen educational institutes were Northern cities far from home and ALL were much bigger places than the historic market town of Cranbrook I originally hail from.

Now, as an adult-in-denial, I enjoy my return visits to Cranbrook but still wholeheartedly prefer the pace of city life. Many of my friends are either returning to country living or contemplating the move. Discussing the prospect at the weekend and the advantages/disadvantages, reminded me of Channel 4's Love Thy Neighbour. More and more regionally-based reality TV shows seem to be cropping up (MTV's Geordie Shore, ITV's The Only Way Is Essex, E4's Made in Chelsea...) but the only one that has managed to attract my attention was Love Thy Neighbour - albeit accidentally.

Returning from London to Leeds every weekend generally means Friday nights are spent catching up with The Boy and The Major and Saturdays are for being more active and perhaps hooking up with other friends. Several Fridays running I was quite literally glued to the television by the array of hideous characters appearing on Love Thy Neighbour. The show promised one of twelve contestants the prize of winning a home in the Yorkshire village of Grassington, near Skipton. Each episode would introduce different configurations of the "family unit", be that a gay couple, an unmarried three teen family, new age travellers, a lesbian partnership, a British-Indian couple, a single mother and her son or young lovers still living with parents.

Out of the contestants that I did catch, the most sycophantic one made it to the finals and this was no real surprise given that some of the village members came across in an exceedingly negative light. I watched in a state of disgusted hilarity as a certain villager rallied around gathering information for a popularity poll before smugly telling contestants his findings.

If the programme aimed to promote traditional English village life with its sense of community then it was a complete failure. Judging by the array of contestants chosen from all walks of life, producers most probably sought to highlight small-minded village views as mildly prejudice folk were shown attempting to appear open-minded while judging whether a transvestite and his wife would make the perfect Grassington addition. The village's irritating lack of basic resources and privacy encroaching way of life merely acted to remind me how unappealing living in the sticks in a small community is. Give me a city any day! Still, if the show hoped to stimulate tourism in Grassington it may have worked some magic on me - I'm now slightly tempted to make the small journey from Leeds to Grassington, if only to do a spot of repugnant z-list celebrity resident spotting.