Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Life in the Day of.... your friendly neighbourhood Religious Studies teacher.

I've never fully come to terms with being dragged from sleep at 6.20am, particularly during these dark cold mornings. When are they going to make hibernation a National Curriculum option? Even a refreshing mug of tea and the comforting tones of The Today Programme for the ten minutes I remain in bed do not compensate for the shock of being the first one up and of entering a freezing bathroom before the central heating has fully kicked in. Similarly there is something soul destroying about coming downstairs and turning on the lights and radio and drawing the curtains.

I now have less than an hour to empty the dishwasher (which I always do) and the draining rack (which I sometimes forget), eat a bowl of porridge, gather my packed lunch together, retrieve my laptop from daughter 2, shower (lukewarm again, ugh!), shave, dress (which tie? Too many sock choices. Too many odd cufflinks), grab my school bags and school keys, kiss my spouse, exchange some banter about a domestic chore I have not earned full marks on, check this evening's dining arrangements and drive off towards the Knowledge College. I am already frazzled!

Yesterday I arrived in school two hours late due to two breakdowns in the roadworks on the M62. I say roadworks, but in the time honoured British tradition there was no sign of any actual work taking place even though everything was coned off. I began to wonder what I would do if:
a) I ran out of petrol
b) I needed the toilet
Neither option was one which enthused me.

It didn't look good today either thanks to roadworks on the M621 but I arrive at more or less the right time only to discover that a colleague is away ill and that I can't print her work off for some technical reason beyond my limited IT skills to solve.

I turn the heating up in my classroom, light a tea-light for the scented-oil burner, (It is supposed to calm the hormonal teenager if you use lavender. I have run out of lavender and so use lemon. Am I storing up trouble? What does lemon do? Apart from deoderising the room after the Yr 11 class who use my room for registration have left, of course). I make a cup of tea, set out the text and exercise books for the first lesson and write the starter activity and some simple notes on the board.

I head back to the office which I share with assorted colleagues who teach R.S. Geography, Sociology and I.T. and manage to word process and print another ten of the 150 Yr 11 R.S. reports I have to complete by Friday. "Danny is a pain in the bum and it would be better if his presence in my lessons was functional rather than purely decorative " is just one of the many things I don't say.

The printer has burst into life and spewed out my colleague's work and I go in a fruitless search for the supply teacher who is taking her classes. No luck so I decide to leave the work on her classroom desk. As I enter the room there are three girls hunched over a book deep in conversation.

"Sir, Sir, could you help me?"

"If I can."

"It's this Food Technology lesson. I don't know whether to make this flan..." she opens a page at a garish picture of something covered in peach slices "...or this rhubarb creme..." a truly awful picture of something totally inedible "...or this strawberry mousse." The pink suggests something very chemical in terms of food colouring.

"Could you do raspberry instead of strawberry?" I suggest.

"Oh great idea. Thanks Sir."

Glad I could help.

The bell goes for registration. I am not a form tutor and so I go in search of the cover list to see whether I am registering for an absent colleague. No. (Thank you God.) This means that I am on the "Late Door" with the Attendance Officer. I pass the Head of Business studies, an elegant woman who is always stylishly dressed. We exchange some banter about she and I being the only staff to maintain high sartorial standards of dress. I look at my friend who teaches Geography who sort of proves the point.

The "Late Door" is fun today. The 842 has disgorged it's disgruntled load somewhat off the route.

"I got on the wrong 842".

I ponder the philosophy of this. Is there a moral decision in catching the 842?

"The driver didn't know where he was going so he dropped us at Cage St. and we had to walk the rest of the way."

"How sad not to be delivered to the door. When I was your age..."

"Yeah. Cheers Sir. Bye."

The Yr 11 girls synchronised smoking team arrive next. Not a coat between them although one is wearing a glove.

"What use is that?"

"I change hands every five minutes."

Declan arrives. I saw Declan in school fifteen minutes earlier when he wasn't late.

"I had to go to the corner shop and buy a can of coke."

Interesting use of the imperative.

The bell rings again. On my way to lesson 1 I pass a colleague who organises Citizenship days with me.

"Dorothy wants the afternoon put aside for a time capsule. Whole-school but in form groups."

"Gotcha." That's good. I wasn't entirely sure I understood what I had said myself. She probably went straight to the ladies then and wept. I would have.

Today I have four lessons and one marking and preparation period. That's three Yr 10 lessons which means repeat performances (spiritual death by half way through the second) and one Yr 8 to finish the day - in every sense I suspect.

The first class in are lovely and sharp and capable. We look briefly at the book of Job in relation to suffering and I explain that Job nearly didn't make it into the Bible because it's portrayal of God as a capricious and shady character who does deals with Satan isn't quite the image that theists were looking for. They nod sagely. We look at the three solutions Job's comforters offered and note that although Job rejected them many Christians remain influenced by them: suffereing as a test, as a punishment and something which is part of God's plan and which we, as mere mortals, can not hope to understand. Using Haiti as an example we examine each of the three and try to see them from the perspective of a survivor. The solutions get no votes from anyone in the class.

We move on and look at some other Christian explanations: Satan made me do it; Original sin ("Sir, it's a religious myth isn't it - a morality tale?"); the suffering of Jesus and Free Will. The suffering of Jesus is sympathetically considered. "I suppose if I was a survivor and a priest reminded me that Jesus could enter into my suffering because he had suffered, I might find that comforting." I love it when they think out loud. Free Will was the overwhelming winner: "Coz we'd be like robots pre-programmed only to do good so we wouldn't be human. It's a bit risky on God's part though."

The bell goes and they depart. It is my preparation time and I go to the print room to print off those worksheets for my colleague's later lessons. On the way I stop to commiserate with my mate the Singing Caretaker who has just learned that he hasn't made it through to the telivised stages of Britain's got Talent. This is clearly a travesty because Dave is very talanted.

"It's probably because you're too good. They really want people with no talent and no self awareness so that we can all laugh at them. That's how they get the ratings."

I remember that I did not give out my Learner of the Lesson token and so I go in search of Matthew who the computer tells me is now in science. On the third floor. Great. I need oxygen and crampons for that journey. On the way back I become involved in a pincer movement with a Deputy Head and a Behaviour Support Worker as we trap three miscreants who are on the loose and causing havoc on the Maths corridor.

Passing through the staff room I look at my pigeon hole. It is full to overflowing. I ignore it as usual on the basis that if something is important someone will eventually tell me. It's worked for years and makes me think of the waste of paper in all this communication which is clerly pointless.

I notice the grid we are all supposed to fill in nominating those who have been particularly good in our lessons. I nominate Mrs. Atkins, Mrs. Denham and Mrs. Andrew who are the support assistants who regularly work in my classes. They should get a letter home to their mums. I make a mental note to ask them. I'll probably get a memo from a senior colleague about that but it'll be in my pigeon hole and so I'll never know.

I grab a cup of tea and eat a bannana before setting up my room for the second Yr 10 lesson. I write eight more Yr 11 reports: Charlotte. Who is Charlotte? I look up her photo. It was taken two years ago and means nothing to me. Still she must be a well behaved kid for her not to be seared into my subconscious. I retrieve her exercise book. It is exemplary. I look at my seating plan. No wonder she is quiet. She sits next to Vicky/Vicki/Vikki/Viki (always with a heart dotting the Is). She probably can't get a word in edgeways! Oh ... Lottie. Why didn't you say so? Lovely girl.

It is now break time. Jagtar's wife and children are off to India to see his grandma who is quite ill and Jagtar is irritated by his kid's Headteacher who threatens him with "sanctions" for taking them out of school during term time. They are going for a fortnight.

"So you're cooking for yourself?" enquires Caroline who teaches History. In a flash of inspiration I know the answer. Jagtar's mum lives over the road. Italian mothers and sons, Jewish mothers and sons and now Sikh mothers and sons. Its all the same. Jagtar is by no means a traditional or conservative man in terms of religion or culture but, allegedly, he has reached the age of 37 without ever having to iron a shirt. Impressive. Well he can stand his mum down one night and come for his dinner at our house.

The next class is at the door. They are similar to the previous class except that the class is marred by Ryan. We go through the same lesson plan. When we discuss the idea of suffering as a test I pose the question "If you argue that the earthquake wasn't sent by God, how can we still be tested by it?"

Sophie answers "Perhaps it's about how you behave under the circumstances. You know, if you're O.K. but there is moaning from under the ruins of a neighbouring building you've got a choice. You either go and help or you do nothing."

"I'd go and watch T.V" Ryan announces. The others look at him in amazement. The bit about infrastructure didn't sink in.

"You can't." says Jordan, "Your house a pile of ruins."

"I'll go next door."

"You can't." says Sophie. "There's no electricity."


"Because of the earthquake, nob-head. Its knocked your house down too. The whole city. The whole country is in ruins. Did you think it was a localised earthquake that just hit your house?"

"No. My street's fine. What earthquake?" There are audible groans.

The others begin to take notes. Ryan discovers his pen has a spring in it. Half of the pen flies across the room.

"Sir, can I borrow a pen?"


"My pen's broken."

"Use your spare."

"Why would I have a spare pen?"

Simon intervenes: "Ryan you're a pillock." We used to have a political thriller on T.V here called House of Cards. The key protagonist would often say: "You may say that. I couldn't possibly comment." Seems quite appropriate at this point.

The third Yr 10 lesson is of quite a different order. I love this lot but they are much less able and have a much more limited concentration span. Ellie arrives first.

"I just saw Jade in a fight."

"But you didn't get involved. Well done."

Most of the rest of the class clearly did though, as they are late. However, when thay are in and settled they make a start on copying the introduction.

"Do we have to write all that?"

"Yes Tom. All six lines of it."

"All we ever do is write."

"Not true. Last lesson we just talked and read newspaper reports about the earthquake."

"But all we ever so is write."

"Yes. About that...writing is something we do in school. I can't believe you have made it to Yr 10 and not worked that out."

"Sir, you said it was only six lines."

"It is."

"Yeah, it is on the board but the board is longer than my book. In my book it's twelve lines."

"I wondered if you'd spot that. Sucker."

Job proves problematic.

"What do you mean its not a true story? What's the point of a book that's not true?"

We discuss the story of the hare and the tortoise. They seem to understand the idea of a morality tale.

"Is that in Job?"


"I don't get it."

We clear that up. They carry on. We get to Original Sin.

"What do you mean there was no Adam and Eve?"

I explain Religious Myth as a genre.

"Oh right. I often wondered who would have had to have sex with who........."

"O.K. Moving on.."

"So it's not about actually eating the apple then?"

"There was no apple." This causes consternation. We sort it out.

"If I went into the White Rose Centre and stabbed some random people..."

"......Are you going to?"

"No. If I went into the White Rose Centre and stabbed some random people and I said to the judge "The Devil tempted me. He made me do it" would that be a good enough reason?"

"That's depressing that is. Talking about stabbing people." There is general assent:
"Yeah, it is Sir. It's nasty."

"Do you think you may be missing the point?"

Lunch time. Caroline makes me a cup of tea and I eat at my desk as I review a DVD I intend to use with Yr 8 next. I realise I haven't had a pee since eight o'clock. Too late now.

Yr 8 is a small class and of very low ability. I am trying to teach them the basics of Christianity.

The starter activity is to draw a church. The outcome is as I had hoped. Everyone draws a building with a steeple. I introduce the idea of the church as a community of believers. They are sceptical. We talk about what happens in churches. Someone says singing and Johnny bursts into (tuneless) song. When he comes back into the room he is better behaved for all of..oh..three minutes. Eventually someone comments that church is dull and boring. This is the lead in I want for the DVD which is about examples of Fresh Expressions of church. They watch, mesmerised for half an hour as every possible version of "doing church" flashes across the screen. They are particularly taken by "Skateboarding Church" which happens to be the one that especially irritates me.

The lesson and the school day are over.

"I enjoyed that Sir." There is grudging agreement. "Yeah we didn't do much writing. All we ever do is write."

Now, about that pee...