Saturday, June 26, 2010
Another Day Another Dollar
These days I'm just a day labourer, hourly paid, cab for hire, supply teacher, waiting for that phone call, 'Can you go to...?' The default mode – Another Day , Another Dollar.
Once again I'm heading out on a journey of discovery to an unknown class in an unknown school. The sky over head is smothered by an impenetrable grey blanket, no break in the clouds, freezing cold wind, rain pissing down and I'm asking that eternal question – will there ever be a summer?
The trough of despond? Last night I watched the film version of Cormac McCarthy's book 'The Road'. A post-apocalyptic nightmare as a father and son battle to survive, the only humans left are crazed, cannibalistic psychos. Reminds me of Ofsted.
Switch Radio 4 on and there's an analysis of the government's plan to grant megalomaniac heads total control over their schools a.k.a. 'Academies'. As soon as the 'government spokesperson' is introduced I switch over to local radio. In lieu of hard news we've got 'infotainment', this includes whole swathes of inane chatter between the presenter and whoever is reading the weather or traffic reports.
Nothing about the queue on Queens Drive as the traffic inches forwards, the roads gridlocked, courtesy of whichever privatised utility has taken their turn to inflict misery on dazed commuters.
The gigantic cranes from the Liverpool docks loom over the horizon, the area took a fearful beating during 'The Blitz', houses demolished, people displaced. What the Luftwaffe began has been completed by Mrs Thatcher and private enterprise. There's acres of derelict land and boarded up houses. The only sign of private regeneration is a massive Tesco. Welcome to 'Clone Town'.
Thankfully most of the schools have been rebuilt, wonderful bright new palaces. The receptionist ushers me in and I make a mental note to ring the supply agency and change the photograph, I look like a lifer from San Quentin.
The class teacher has left sufficient notes to teach the lessons, you always fear the 'do what you like', or reams of indecipherable script detailing every minute of your day. The class are lively but want to learn and the teaching assistant knows how to keep them all in order.
Break time passes peacefully, no major incidents, there's a calm atmosphere in the school. Dinner, I race through the marking and venture out to find the staffroom. In most schools this hallowed dwelling has suffered from having a group of slatternly male students in permanent residency. My favourite is the the increasingly desperate notes pinned above the sink – 'Please wash your cups'; 'Don't leave your cup for someone else to wash!'; 'We don't live in a slum – wash up!'; 'IF YOU'VE USED IT – WASH IT'.
In staffrooms any sense of calm and serenity is pierced by the whirr of the photocopier and the noise of doors opening, closing, opening again and banging as the rollers are removed and tangled bits of paper are gingerly prized out. The carpet is threadbare the chairs reclaimed from a skip.
Here it's like a 5 star hotel, comfy chairs and couches, pot plants, dishwasher, cakes for the teachers and whole body massages for stressed teachers (OK. I made the last bit up).
The afternoon rolls along nicely, there's no cheeky back chat and we all troop off to assembly. Often there is the boot camp atmosphere as dominant silver-backed males and teachers who auditioned for the role of Rosa Kleb patrol the hall, that laser bean stare, the pointed finger and 'MOVE!'
Assemblies are a chance for headteachers to preach their corporate message. They've all been trained to National Professional Qualification for Headteachers (NPQH) standards. This is a competency based course with a ticklist -
ability to use spreadsheets
willingness to humiliate staff
can build a professional relationship with consumers (children) and stakeholders (parents)
full frontal lobotomy completed
From the creators of Dolly The Sheep we present the headteacher. But remarkably this specimen seems to have failed the brainwashing competency, he smiles, tells jokes, knows the name of all the children. The assembly is a cross between a stand-up routine and a great family love-in, they've also got a great way of including children with disabilities. I think the head actually likes children – it helps.
So in this post-apocalyptic world, laid waste by Ofsted, School Improvement Officers, testing and league tables, humanity is still clinging on, in some outposts. At 3.30 I surreptitiously edge out of the door and sign the supply form. It's been a good day, it really was a pleasure to teach there.