Saturday, December 24, 2011

Last gasp pre Christmas

Interested in what tired teachers get up to at their end of year break up? At a lawn bowls club for pity's sake?

At least it was different from the usual contrived knees-up with bad karaoke singing that almost drove me to take up smoking again.  (That way I could hang around the entrance with the other escapees from death by off key singing.)

Read about it at Fraudster's Musings .

Season's Greetings from bad fairy, Fraudster.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Glut of Junior Students

Making a big production number of it, I walk to the whiteboard.  Detention, I write on the top right hand corner.  The ruckus continues.  Raising my eyebrows in mock surprise at the foolishness of youth, I slowly underline the word; turn to face the class.  I quietly exude the appearance of calm.  Some students nudge other kids to get them to stop whatever they’re doing.  ‘SHADDUP!!!’ someone yells, adding to the racket.  After about a minute the group settles.  I start to mark the roll.  Someone, I can’t tell who, ‘blows a raspberry’.  Raucous laughter.  I wait.  I return to the whiteboard with my marker. 2 mins, I write under Detention.  To no effect.

‘I will keep certain people in at recess for fifteen minutes,’ I pronounce. 

Brief silence.  Then dramatic nose-covering.  Girls have pulled the fronts of their dresses over their noses and mouths.  Boys roar with laughter; fall off their chairs.

‘P-PHWAWWW!’  Don’t know how to spell that sound people make when they’re exaggerating how they feel  because someone’s farted. 

And someone had.  It was snaking its tendrils right out to me at the front.  Hard to quell that sort of disruption when you don’t know any of the students.

Giving up on settling the class, I turn to write the absent teacher’s instructions on the board.  Some girls start mocking my name.  Can’t tell who.  Try not to emotionally engage with them.  If I follow my ‘discipline plan’, I’ll cope.  Five minutes later I evict a belligerent girl who’s screaming at me.  Fifteen attempts at the ‘broken record’ technique – acknowledge the kid’s grievance then repeat assertive statement – failed to achieve anything.  Clearly, she hadn’t read the book

For the next sixty minutes, the first fifteen having been wasted, I pace the room, assisting here and there – it’s a science lesson on light - and putting out ‘spot fires’.  I have a heightened sense of anxiety for the duration.

At recess, I detain four students.  I release one because she’s threatening to physically assault one of the other detainees, who’s called her a lesbian.

Twice each day since early November, this has been my reality.. 

A glut of junior school students.  Not a bad collective noun for thirteen year olds one doesn’t know with whom one must interact.  What I’ve failed to capture in the above scenario is the abject rudeness of these students.  They are nasty.  They treat me like shit.  And they don’t even know me.  This seems to be the default setting for so many teenagers these days.

Why the glut?  I taught two year 12 classes.  When they finished in November, the reward for all that extra-curricular preparation and marking is that one takes replacement classes.  Fair enough.  Junior and middle school teachers are still teaching and I’m swanning off. 

When I tell non-teachers about replacements/extras/supply teaching they say things like ‘they wouldn’t do that to me’ or, ‘if you don’t like it get another job.’  

And then I get defensive.  Secondary teaching has been hard work, but mostly a great career.  Or has it?  It’s been manic, occasionally depressing, regularly bowel twistingly boring – that’s meetings – and joyous.  A bit Ground Hog Day.  I hope I’m still learning what I need to know.

Next year I’ve swapped my two year 12s for two year 8s. 

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Dropping the C bomb

Don’t know much about Mireille, a girl in my year 7 Creative Writing class, but thirteen years ago, someone thought to give her a pretty name.  Her mother, perhaps.  Her mother who now, for whatever reason, lives on the other side of the country.

Mireille is short, physically mature and overweight.  Her permed bleached blonde hair hangs kinkily around her face and shoulders.  There’s a darker row at the parting where the roots are growing out.  Her facial features are regular, and could be considered attractive, if you catch her at the right time.  When she’s not sneering at you.

Mireille is at that point in the discipline handbooks where the ‘goal of her behaviour’ is revenge.  Which translates into doing whatever the hell she wants.

That’s partly why she called me the c word today.  (Weird.  I can’t even bring myself to type it here, although I typed it out in the obligatory discipline report.)  She said it under her breath, but I heard, and I couldn’t let that one go.  Now she’s on a two day suspension.  Dad’s been advised to find her another school because she’s just this side of expulsion.  Very serious.  Not my fault that she’s now at the expulsion stage.  Swearing at me was just the last straw. 

Mireille arrived late to class, ‘announcing’ herself by wearing a livid red cardigan, against the strict uniform rules of the school.

‘But it’s co-old!’ she declaimed, for the benefit of the other twenty-four students, when I asked her to remove it.  School rules require a note, or a detention for uniform transgressions.  ‘I didn’t have anything else to we-ar.’  A loud affronted whine. ‘I stayed at my friend’s last night, orright!’

It wasn’t cold, but I didn’t want to have that centre stage fight over something I didn’t really care about.  I decided to let it go and didn’t issue a detention.  She wouldn’t have cared anyway and probably already had one with a different teacher.

Mireille is fearless, confrontational and powerful.  She has no respect for my teaching status.  ‘I hate all teachers,’ she brags.  It's as if she has no decent, ‘better’ nature to appeal to.  I’ve goaded her into working occasionally but it’s been a waste of time praising or encouraging her.  She wants to be bad; she thrives on disrupting.

Once she wrote a terrific piece.  She’s a natural.  Surprisingly neat – beautiful, careful handwriting, each paragraph in a different colour pen.  Error free.  She’d nailed the writing task, albeit in an abbreviated way.  Of course, eager to encourage her, I was like a seagull on a chip.  Great writing; terrific details, I wrote on her work. Can’t wait to read what happens next!  

‘Nothing happens.  It’s finished.  Why should I bother writing more?  I know how to write already.  I’m really clever.’  This is yelled in my face, in response to my exhortations that she should keep writing because she’s good at it.  And watching her while she wrote it, it was obvious that she enjoyed writing.

‘I don’t want to learn.  Why would I want to be a goody-goody like them?’ She waves a hand towards a row of neat, enthusiastic, well-behaved students.  ‘It’s more fun being bad.’ She’s unafraid of offending them, or anyone

Once she turned up to school with her school skirt hitched up under her large breasts, her school shirt splayed open and knotted at the midriff to showcase her black lace bra.  Like a hooker, really. 

It hasn’t been terrible having Mireille in my class.  Just avoid cornering her; avoid the fight, which she’d inevitably win because she’s no holds barred, like many students these days.

But yesterday, this late in the year, I was under pressure to get the students to complete their ‘Individual Learning Plans’; to reflect on their personal learning goals – what a joke, but that’s another story.  The kids were a bit loud and unfocused as I moved around the room trying to get the job done.

‘I haven’t got any goals.’ Mireille was loud and ostentatious, boldly defying the task, summoning her audience.  Again I decided it wasn’t worth it.  The ILPs are a crock anyway.  So what if she doesn’t have one in her report?  Move on.  There were books she could read but she was happily drawing love hearts and silly pictures with a felt pen.  As long as she wasn’t drawing on the desk I was happy to let it slide.  Twenty-four other students needed my attention, including several other ‘discipline problems’.

Towards the end of the 75 minute period, Mireille was flagrantly breaking rules.  Sharing headphones with another student, she was doing some exaggerated dancing motions, hands in the air, fingers twirling.  Treating me like a fool.  Challenging.  I walked up behind her and her hapless, half-asleep side-kick and plucked the headphones out of their ears.

Mireille, outraged, turned in her seat.  ‘You have no right to touch my property!  If you’ve broken them, I’m suing you!’  This was screamed at me.

‘Hand over the phone, Mireille.’  My voice was calm, assertive.
‘It’s not a phone.  It’s an ipod.’  One to Mireille, but stand back, for I am an expert in the ‘broken record’ technique.  (Thanks, Lee Kantor.)
‘I hear what you’re saying, but hand it over.’
‘No, it’s brand new, you can’t take it.’  She’d zipped it into her uniform pocket.
‘Okay, it’s new, but hand it over.’  Reluctantly she surrendered it.  Feeling pleased that she responded to my third request, I put the device in my office drawer.  She was furious and let fly with the c bomb.

If only she’d called me a bitch.  Could have let that one go through.  Hate my part in this sorry mess which seems so pathetic written down, twenty-four hours later.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


“Will you miss us, Miss?” Doe-eyed Year 12 student, Leesha, is all expertly applied foundation and eye-liner, a somewhat sexual Dorothy from Wizard of Oz, spangly red shoes included.
“Yes and no,” I say too quickly.  This is my character flaw; the weakness for which people either love me or hate me.  Don’t mean to be nasty.  I blame my early childhood and my dad who used to scare all the kids in my street.  I do the same, without even trying.  I’m the witch.   

Should have said that of course I’d miss her.  But thirty two years of teaching has taught me that she won’t ‘take’ in my long-term memory.  Some students will, but not the normally shy Leesha.  And I'll read this and wonder who she is.

Leesha isn’t that interested in my response anyway.  She’s bursting with the excitement of  another muck-up day and friends who might be heading out the door without her. She’s glancing surreptitiously at them, perhaps regretting her decision to speak to me.  But her politeness wins out  and she lends half an ear to my response.  I keep it brief, and it’s along the lines of 'as one class leaves, another one begins'.  Started to ask her if she was familiar with To Sir With Love, but saw her young brow furrowing and thought better of it.

After form assembly in the VCE ‘lounge’, Leesha and I walk through the school together and she’s happy to explain that she’d bought her costume ages ago, just for this occasion, on Ebay for $20.  Wish they’d put as much forethought into preparing for SACs and exams as they have into preparing for this “muck up week”.  It’s not one day of mayhem at our school.  It’s three.  Kids are supposed to attend classes.   What a joke.  It’s three days of harmless pranks, or vandalism, however you want to look at it.  Shaving cream, eggs, flour, silly string, noxious substances sprayed from water pistols and fart bombs.

And a bit too much near nudity on the boys’ part.  About six years ago, we had our first almost nudie ‘run through’ at assembly.  A skinny arsed, athletic young man donned a mankini and ski mask and at Monday morning assembly, charged past the principal on the podium, down the steps and out into the incredulous mass of students.  A senior teacher gave chase, but he wasn’t quick enough.  It was hilarious, but we all agreed that the student had gone too far.

Good old days.  This ritual has grown.  Yesterday, as I headed for assembly, I passed the First Aid room where the principal, grinning, had corralled about ten oiled, buff, near naked young men.  During assembly, on cue it seemed, they charged past the principal on the podium, down the steps and out into the unconcerned mass of students.  No one gave chase.  The boys raced one way, then they sauntered back in their g-strings, and stood in their groups, affording the year 7s a cracking view.

Today, I genuinely flinched when a black-hooded, bare – waxed – chested marauder barged into my classroom, where I was reminiscing with a group of students, and held a gun – imitation – in my face.  Tad intimidating, until he handed me his exit form to sign.  It’s the first class he’s attended all term.  “I’m going to get a B for English, Miss,” he says.  Hope he does.  Hmm.

Mixed feelings about this time of year. 
Anger.  Hate some of the punitive vandalism that occurs at this time. 
Frustration.  GAT scores indicate many of our kids could achieve higher marks than they do.   If they’d work harder.
Nostalgia.  Wheels go round and round. 
Loss.  Because I am very attached to many of this year’s students, some of whom I’ve taught for four of their six years of high school.
Freedom.  Because having taught year 12 for all but two years since 1981, I’m not doing it next year.  And, depending on how it feels on the other side focusing on middle school – and whether I can live without the masses of extra marking incurred with year 12 – I may never teach year 12 again.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

On The Waterfront and Family Loyalty

It's the pointy end of the VCE year now. Just marked a pile of On The Waterfront essays, as I've written in the previous post, and discovered that many of my students wrote expository essays, appropriate for Creating and Presenting, instead of analytical text response essays. I've been spending a bit of class time, trying to remedy the problem, as one does. We worked on the topic from last year's final exam paper: How important is family loyalty in the film?

Have to concede that initially I found this a little obscure, as did my students, some of whom were freaking out. After showing them a way to deconstruct the essay topic, I decided to have a go myself. In doing so, I found that the topic wasn't obscure at all.

Here's my essay:

Near the exposition of On The Waterfront, Edie Doyle, kneeling at the side of her dead brother, cries “I want to know who killed my brother!” Her family loyalty, her relentless quest for the truth about corruption on the waterfront, initiates Terry’s moral dilemma and his eventual transformation to ‘contender’. Furthermore, Terry’s relationship with his brother, Charley, is central. On The Waterfront is also very concerned with unionism; longshoremen paying a corrupt union that they unfortunately rely on for their survival. The union could be considered a family, of sorts, albeit one subjugated by a tyrannical leader who dispenses ‘largesse’ according to his own ends. The longshoremen must remain loyal to this union to ensure their survival, or so they think.

On the Hoboken wharf, the union could be considered a family upon which the longshoremen depend for survival. Betraying this collective, as Joey Doyle (and Andy before him – ‘that’s like when they called out my Andy’) discovered, is punishable by death. The ironically named Friendly, lurking in his low-shot union quarters, with his well-dressed adherents, rules this family. The longshoremen seem entangled in his system, their tenements seemingly trapped behind a matrix of fire-escape stairs. They are dependent on his dispensing work to them each day, desperately scrabbling for work tokens on the dock. They pay their extortionate dues; accept loans from J.P. Morgan, Friendly’s loan shark. They know they are powerless against Friendly’s corrupt rule. Their loyalty to this union is unwilling, born out of fear and survival needs. This is seen in Pop Doyle’s return to work immediately after his son’s death – ‘I gotta work to pay for the funeral’. With no work token he is forced to borrow from Morgan. Pop Doyle detests the union but pays his dues nonetheless. After thirty years on the wharf he sees no other way.

Perhaps though, it is the loyalty between members of these Hoboken families that is so compelling in this film. Edie Doyle, often filmed in pure, clear light, is almost an avenging angel, defying the constraints of her gender in her pursuit of the truth about her brother’s murder. She galvanises Father Barry to take up the cause – “What kind of a saint hides in a church?” – prompting him to see the longshore as his parish and fight for justice. Further, her burgeoning friendship with Terry which stems from this loyalty to her brother, triggers Terry’s moral development. This is revealed in the cafe as Terry wrestles to understand Edie’s sorrow. “Whatsa matter with you?” he asks, struggling to fathom why she can’t leave the subject alone. Her words, “You would [help] if you could” and her touch, deeply trouble Terry, forcing him to grapple with his conscience. [Brando’s acting is sublime at this point., I think!!] Edie’s loyalty to her brother and her subsequent relationship with Terry is thus a catalyst in his moral transformation.

Moreover, Edie challenges Father Barry to involve himself in the waterfront fight; to care for his people. In this way he connects with Terry, initially when Terry is ‘stool pigeon’ for the union at the meeting at the church. Later, after K.O.’s death, when Father Barry delivers an impassioned sermon from the hold, his words prompt Terry to take a stand, punching Tullio for his interjections and drawing the ire of Friendly, watching from above. Father Barry becomes a paternal guide for Terry, hearing his confession – “I swear I thought they was just going to talk to him” – urging him to confess to Edie and later testify to the Crime Commission. Perhaps, like a father, Father Barry is able to rebuke Terry, knock him to the ground, when Terry tells him to go to hell. Furthermore, he is able to quell Terry’s anger – “I’m gonna take it out on their skulls” – leading him to fight Friendly in court, rather than “like a hoodlum on the docks”. (Ironic, as it turns out.) After Charley’s death, Terry’s respect for Father Barry greatly assists in Terry’s redemption.

Ultimately, though, Terry’s relationship with his brother, Charley, is central to the film. Charley is supposedly Friendly’s ‘brain’, trusted with the financial dealings of the union. He is one of Friendly’s acolytes and has pledged allegiance to the union boss. Initially, he seems to have an easy relationship with Friendly. He was instrumental in ensuring Terry ‘took a dive’ to win a bet for Friendly, “for the short end money” for Terry sadly, when he “coulda been a contender.” Thus he has facilitated Terry’s lesser existence, on the rooftop, hanging out with children in their Golden Warriors jackets. So often Terry is filmed behind chicken wire, highlighting his sense of restriction and entrapment. He is caged like the homing pigeons. He envies them their freedom to feed and fly around, albeit at the mercy of the hawks, hanging around on rooftops ready to pounce. Terry is at first portrayed as an errand boy, a follower, a dupe. This is revealed in the mise-en-scene as he follows Friendly and his men out of their lair on the docks prior to calling Joey out and inadvertently luring him to his death. Yet at this stage Charley has shown some loyalty to Terry, ensuring he gets easy work on the docks as long as he remains ‘D and D’.

One of the most memorable scenes in On The Waterfront is that shot in the back of a car involving Charley and Terry. In this scene, where Charley has been asked to hand Terry over to Jerry G if he threatens to ‘go canary’, we begin to see Charley’s real love for his brother. Charley is charged with taking Terry for a ride to buy his silence. We see Charley’s turmoil as he pulls a gun on his brother. This is emphasised by the disturbing lighting heightening the sense of confused loyalties that Charley faces. As Charley reconciles himself to the ‘bum’ deal he has bequeathed his brother, the soaring legato score underlines his love and emotional pain as Terry reminds him “It was should have taken care of me a little more.” Charley knows he cannot give up his brother to the mob. Charley’s allegiance to Terry and his own consequent sacrifice is pivotal in Terry’s later stance. Indeed it could be said that until he lifts his brother from the hook, almost in an embrace, he does not fully comprehend the magnitude of Edie’s loss.

These family loyalties are central to, and drive the narrative of, this film. Kazan seems to suggest that such relationships override mob rule; that grappling with one’s conscience and seeking moral truth is imperative. Perhaps this aligns with the choices Kazan made: his vindication of ratting out his friends to the HUAC.

Interestingly, I handwrote this essay in between parent interviews. (It was my first parent-teacher night as a part-time teacher, and oh, what a difference. I only saw fourteen families, as opposed to about sixty. How did I do it before? How did my full-time English, Maths and Science colleagues do it last night? Teachers deserve more pay. But I digress.)

Hope the essay was of some use to you. I'm getting my students to identify the three main points in the introduction, then link these to the topic sentences and links - as per TEEL formula - in the body paragraphs. They'll have a hard time doing this in the penultimate paragraph because it's more or less an extension of the previous one.

Think I'm blathering now.


Friday, September 09, 2011

Procrastinate? Moi?

Whilst procrastinating today - avoiding marking again - I achieved the following:

- 9.30 am. With the erudite curiosity of a PhD student, read the small print leaflet in a packet of "Menopause Harmony";
- wrote an email to a cousin in France, who I haven't contacted for sixteen months;
- encouraged, via Edumail, a teaching friend to read several blogs and start her own;
- discovered that T2 Earl Grey tea, brewed in a pot, keeps piping hot and at perfect strength for hours in a thermos, thus obviating the need for a tea cosy, boiled water and forty seconds in the microwave on the second and subsequent cups;
- Googled correct use of the term 'albeit' to confirm that it isn't a replacement for 'despite' but a rather for 'despite being'. (Felt the need to find an appropriate website to share with a Year 12 student who keeps misusing the word);
- discovered, in the Narnian depths of my wardrobe, a cardigan, bought in Italy in 1985. Furthermore, found that said cardigan, worn over a Bonds hoodie, with hood up, precludes the need for a heater in my kitchen while I'm marking, thus saving on heating costs;
- read the side of a packet of Ferro-F-Tabs to realise I shouldn't be taking an iron supplement for more than twelve months without seeking medical attention. Stopped short of Googling, again to find out why;
- put head to one side and with a bemused expression on my face, pondered my need to record all this, thereby further interrupting my marking;
- counted my 'marked' pile - 6 in two hours - and my 'unmarked' - 21;
- devised a numbered checklist so I could cross off a number every time I completed marking an essay to stop myself obsessively counting through the pile - did it anyway to see if I'd forgotten to cross any off;
- considered the tenuous similarity between marking and knitting given that I count off knitted rows in much the same way, except faster;
- visited the furthest rather than the nearest lavatory in the house several times;
- remarked on the curious nexus between the drinking of a litre of piping hot tea from a thermos and the frequency of micturition;
- thought longingly of champagne as I gazed at the flutes in my kitchen dresser. (12.05 pm. Nineteen essays still to mark.)
- Googled, unsuccessfully, to see if a student had cheated on his essay. Quite sure he didn't write it but Google wasn't letting on;
- Experienced an almost orgasmic rush when I realised I had forgotten to cross off essays on my list. I had eleven, not fourteen to go. ('Menopause Harmony' must, as promised, have restored my libido.)
- Made second litre of tea;
- wondered whether I was perhaps overdosing on tea, but congratulated myself on denying another Google opportunity and resuming my marking;
- assigned 'blues' ringtone, on my iPhone, to my son;
- went for two k walk;
- organised my laundry.

Finally completed marking twenty-seven On The Waterfront essays at 4.43. Now I can whinge about having spent my whole day off marking. Sort of.


Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Retail Therapy?

Why is clothes shopping at Highpoint Shopping Centre low on my 'to do' list? Find out at Fraudster's Musings. Link in the side bar.

Cheers. Fraudster.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

E-reading Revolution

I was lying in my bed reading one Saturday morning, the room all buttery and sunny. In came my daughter who plonked herself on the bed next to me. She wanted to show me her new iPhone. Being at that stage a customer service person at Telstra, she always had the latest. She blithely showed me a copy of Wuthering Heights that she’d downloaded for free.

Next she was clearly entertained by me, the sobbing wreck next to her. I was emotionally overwhelmed by the sci-fi idea that I could get a book on this palm-sized device. This was revolutionary, me in The Jetsons. Books have been my life. I love them. I’m surrounded by them at work, at home, on holidays. I simply have to read. I can’t function without books. And it was all changing.

This phone was amazing. Later, I met my daughter at her shop and signed up for my own iPhone. That was three years ago. (Good sales pitch, Didi.)

Still absolutely love the phone, love having access to all its cleverness, but I’ve only just got around to actually reading an e-book.

Sure, I’d downloaded Stanza, eReader and Kindle. Marvelled at the wealth of classics all there for me. Free. Notwithstanding the seventy bucks a month I’m still paying off to own the phone, the electricity to charge it, the potential brain cancer. But hey, Tarzan of the Apes at my fingertips.

I’d made a bit of a stab at A Tale of Two Cities, but didn’t get very far. I decided that I was more likely to read an e-book if I was reading something I really wanted to read. I bought Geraldine Brooks’ Caleb’s Crossing on Kindle – it was cheaper than the other e-readers – and started.

But it wasn’t that easy. A hard copy edition of The Fry Chronicles distracted me. Oh, and all three volumes of The Hunger Games. I kept making little forays into the e-book, on the tram, in a doctor’s waiting room. But it felt seriously odd reading the one paragraph that fit on the page then tapping it off to the left with my index finger. Four thousand more pages to go.

However, with sick determination – I actually was sick in bed – I poked my way into the story. Found myself tapping more quickly as the narrative drove me. Loved the convenience of being able to press on a word and instantly access a dictionary definition – although Brooks’ propensity for archaic words stymied me a few times.

I finally finished the story last Saturday, chasing the first bit of Melbourne spring sun across my garden. Kept my back to the sun and sheltered my little iPhone under the shadow of my chest. Yeah, slightly awkward but it did the trick.

The verdict? I love reading, paper or screen. Might even buy myself a Kindle for the sake of fitting a few more words at a time on the screen. Yes, there’s all that tactile stuff about reading, browsing the book section in shops, fondling, handling, sniffing – why not? - lining one's walls, writing notes in margins. I can make notes on an e-reader too, but don’t know how I’d go teaching a novel using an e-book. Don’t think it would work as well as my own paper text, stuffed with sticky-notes. Still, might give it a try.

New e-books are generally cheaper than hard copies but they’re single use really. I can’t share them around my family and friends in the same way, so if, say, I want my digitally challenged mum to enjoy something I’ve just read I’m going to end up buying a hard copy anyway.

Happily, at this stage I have a choice. I’d call that being able to have my cake and eat it too.

I'd welcome any suggestions re teaching print texts using e-readers, BTW.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Facebook page for English teachers

"There's this page on Facebook that's perfect for you." Thus I am greeted by Sneering Boy on my return to school. It's my first class for the week and I'm a bit under the weather. I've had a couple of days off; a rare occurrence. He laughs loudly, mirthlessly. I attempt to ignore the jibe, whatever it means, and wheel my data projector trolley to its usual position.

I'm about to show the kids On The Waterfront. Most haven't yet seen the film.

I didn't preempt the film too much. Told them to consider the film's production in the context of when it was made, hoping they wouldn't laugh when the dummy Joey Doyle is hurled off the roof. Explained that Kazan deliberately shot the film in black and white. Look at everything in the shot, I said, not just the central focus. If Johnny Friendly is washing his hands, for example, it probably signifies something, or why would Kazan bother?

We watched about half the film in the time we had left that session, leaving the rest for the next day. For them, and me, it was an easy session. I suppose I wanted them to engage with the plot and characters, much as I had done on my initial viewing one Saturday night, back in the '70s when I was sixteen.

Didn't give Sneering Boy's Facebook page a thought really. But that night I noticed one of my Facebook friends, another English teacher, had 'liked' this page. Out of curiosity I clicked on it. A minute ago, 19,758 people had 'liked' it. I didn't. Didn't even raise a chuckle.

Perhaps some teachers read too much between the lines and into films. Most of us study, research and attend Professional Development to develop our understanding and ensure we don't sell our students short when it comes to SAC and exam time.

And it's all there on the screen or page and is open to interpretation. I doubt whether Kazan intended to position his 2011 audience to view his film from a feminist perspective, but there it is for a modern viewer. The brave woman, knowing the truth and unafraid to speak it is silenced and side-lined by Joey Doyle's father. Terry tells Edie to do as she's told a couple of times - get back to the sisters; guard Charlie's body; do as I tell you. Another nondescript woman hurries across the background in a bar scene. It's there.

The offending Facebook page is really a testament to the zeitgeist, I suppose. Lots of poor spelling and punctuation and lots of that special combination of ignorance and arrogance - the secret of a happy life. Careless students, for the most part, engage with the social media and casually malign their teachers in the process. I concede that some of us are better or worse than others, but up at the year 12 end we're all working our bums off for our students regardless.

But being an Engliah teacher, I'm probably reading too much into it. Kudos to Sacha, the seventeen year old student who engaged in some of the discourse on the page and had the temerity to defend his teachers.

FYI, if you haven't caught up with it, the page is called Understanding a book more than the author because you're an English teacher.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Exam supervision.

Any junior secondary teacher who's had the dubious pleasure of exam supervision - or 'invigilation' (sounds more exciting than it is) - in winter in Melbourne, has no doubt suffered the assault of fifteen of twenty-five kids taking it in turns to drag snot back up their nostrils - where else? - in the absence of tissues or handkerchiefs.

"Got a tissue, Miss?"
"No. Use your sleeve."

What's with kids not being responsible for their own secretions these days? The teacher is expected to provide.

I pace on imperiously, looking for the position in the room where I'm least likely to be infected by kids I don't even know.

These are year 8s. Their basic reading comprehension, grammar, punctuation and spelling skills are being assessed. I glance across the room to see a boy studying his dictionary. Cheeky. It's quickly confiscated. Boy feigns outrage at the contravention of his rights. Now everyone's talking.

"Settle down and get on with it," I boom. "Absolutely no communication with any other student."

"Can you shut up, Miss? I'm trying to concentrate. You're the one who's talking." The class is duly amused by 'Jonah'. (Chris Lilley got it so right in Summer Heights High.)

And what's with kids turning up to exams without a writing implement? Again, the teacher has to prepare for this eventuality. I do, and cringe as I see the kid, who's been instructed not to, sucking on the end of my pen.

So there I am, up at the front of the classroom, counting every sodding minute. I've written the time at fifteen minute intervals on the board. Should have written it at five minute intervals so at least I'd have something to do, crossing out the passing time. I've gazed out the window, over the valley. I've studied the empty playground out of the other window. I've confiscated a set of headphones from the class attention seeker and won a sotto voce glaring eyeballed battle of wills with the same kid, who for some inexplicable reason started pretending to be a fish flapping his fins.

"Flap like a fishy! Flap like a fishy!" he chanted, to much mirth, flapping his hands. A couple of near-by kids followed suit. Must be an in-joke.

"I'll put you out!" I whisper, fiercely. "Last warning!" After a final, half-hearted flap, he settles. Terribly grateful he didn't call my bluff. I generally don't win contests with kids I don't know. I'm easily overpowered.

Check my watch. Two minutes have elapsed.

How to pass the time when one can't look away from one's charges? Hmm.

You can tell a lot about a thirteen year old school boy by his hair style. His parents have either lost control of him already, and thus he does what he wants, or they think it looks cool and the kid is an extension of their own ego. This kid has that swept around the face, little boy rock star shag. Totally impractical, it requires the wearer to modify his behaviour, constantly flinging the head, and the 'fringe', over the right shoulder to maintain vision. Particularly difficult when the wearer is hunched, nose dripping, over an exam paper. This was one of the tissue-less sniffers. Fling. Sniff.

He's tiny, little legs poking out of short pants, despite it being about seven degrees outside. His little feet are in battered black canvas slip on shoes; the type that look down at heel, even when brand new. Quite de rigueur with the male school rebel. This one, yet to reach puberty, has a grey ball pierced through the lower left lip.

Another rebel, a girl with thick eyebrows and long dark hair parted down the middle, glares at me through her curtains. She slouches down in her seat and extends her legs under the table to place them on the vacant chair, barely within reach, on the other side. I decide for the sake of harmony to ignore it. She looks distinctly uncomfortable but is determined to keep her feet there, to prove some point or other. Not getting a rise out of me, she kicks off one cheap black ballet slipper, then the other. Like I care.

Excruciating, tense, mind-numbing tedium.

Another five minutes have passed. Sixty-three to go.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

No, there isn't a film of Year of Wonders!

When I check my 'hit' stats, as one does from time to time on the Blogger Dashboard, well, frequently for some narcissistic reason, I feel a little sorry for all those students and teachers out there who are searching for insight on Encountering Conflict, the VCE English Context and The Secret River. All they'll find is a fairly slapdash mental doodling from my inner monologue; a mere reflection as I grappled with the ideas in the text.

Would that my current year 12s would grapple with some ideas. Or even read a book. I struggle to overcome their apathy.

At our school we provide compulsory end of year VCE orientation classes. Obviously, the teachers' brief is to prepare students for the enormous transition into their next year. They're ordered to read the set texts during the summer vacation; to mark up their texts with sticky notes; to underline significant sections; to write chapter summaries. And this is just for their first reading. Many students respond enthusiastically at the time. They earnestly make notes; hang around at the end of the session for more information.

Come the new year, a few keen students arrive with their texts fluttering with fluoro sticky notes. Indeed every student will usually submit the first work requirement for assessment. I usually set a reasonably challenging analysis of the use of language in argument. They'll type their work and often will position me to reward their efforts by telling me how hard they've worked on this particular piece. Conversely, they'll start blaming their previous English teacher for their lack of skill in this particular area.

That's the first work requirement, anyway. For most students, the apathy now sets in. This reluctance to complete work and submit it for assessment seems endemic at my school. This has a cumulative effect, of course. By the time some students reach Year 12, they have few resources to draw on. The truth is that students are usually promoted each year, whether or not they've really learned the skills to cope with the rigour of the increasingly complex English course. There are heaps of valid reasons for this. We can't bank them all up at the end of year 8 until they make the grade. Teachers generally do the best they can to impart the requisite skills. And not everyone loves, or is good at English. It seems to me that if it weren't compulsory, there'd probably only be one class, rather than six, at year 12.

We started our year teaching Outcome 2, Creating and Presenting. It was abundantly clear that most students hadn't read The Crucible. Students' writing contained lots of inadvertent references to incidents in the Daniel Day Lewis film.

This term, about three weeks into my teaching of Year of Wonders - "Is there a film, Miss?" - it was becoming bleedingly obvious that perhaps two thirds of my students hadn't read the text. During the term one break they'd had a series of general questions to answer. Well, that was the idea.

One question required students to list and define some of the archaic words in the text.

"I didn't do that one, miss." Giggles nervously; tilts head to one side; winds a strand of blond hair around an index finger. "I didn't know what 'archaic' meant so I left it out."

"Nobody told me we had to do the questions."

"I couldn't do them because I was busy. It's supposed to be a holiday. Du-uuh!" Rolls eyes. As if.

"Why are you looking at me? I'm not the only one who hasn't done them!" This girl's clenched her jaw, her dark eyes glaring at me.

There's a 'redemption' system at the school. If a student fails to complete a work requirement, the teacher may allow said student to redeem him or herself. It's almost biblical. Perhaps we could call it Atonement. Students are permitted one redemption per subject per semester.

About a week ago, when two work requirements were due, I faced the prospect of issuing redemptions to about twenty six students. Redemption notices must be issued to students, which must then be signed by parents, the teacher, the student and the coordinator before being filed. In other words, it's an administrative nightmare. Rather than face it, I gave up.

"I'm not doing this for my own pleasure, or to hurt you," I tell them, in one of my regular pep talks. "I want you to get the best marks you're capable of. I've done year 12. It's not about me. It's easier for me if you don't do the work because I have less marking. But I'm prepared to die under a pile of marking if you'll only do the work!"

"Miss, chillax!" Why do I care? They don't.

It's not all bad, though. I really like these kids and I feel their pain. I'd hate to do VCE. Some students work exceptionally hard. And there's the occasional gem.

"Yeah, Miss, I read Year of Wonders over the holidays but it was a bit boring. It's just about a chick who gets stronger." Wish he'd enjoyed it more, but you've got to admit, he summed it up. Sort of.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Fraudster muses about Ebay

Just in case anyone's interested, new post at my other non-teaching blog. There's a link in the side bar.


Fraudster, the part-time Fraudulent Teacher. And loving it.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Playing the wild card

Feeling pretty darn smug.

Worked my last full-time week, hopefully forever. School found a great replacement teacher who’s going to do an excellent job; can just feel it. Finished up well with my year 8s and 10s. Sad to let them go, but glad to have some semblance of my own life back. I’ve been sporting a big smile since I worked my last ‘four-on’ day on Wednesday. It hit me then. No more weekend marking. No more crashing at 8.45 every evening, just to have it start all over again at 6. 30 next morning. No more relentlessly working six days a week to keep up with my two year 12 English classes. But this takes the cake. This is the end to all my stress.

No. More. Meetings. (Anyone who’s read my previous posts will know how much I loathe them.) My new timetable works so that I don’t have to attend meetings!

Feel like I’ve won the lottery. Well, I have, really. Work was insanely oppressive. It’s not good to be constantly fantasizing about how one is going to get out of it. Too old by too many years to pull another pregnancy. That got me out of it back in the eighties, when I hated just about everything about the school I was teaching at at the time. Still not sure that I had my now twenty-four year old son back then except as a way out of gaol, because that’s what it felt like.

They don’t give part-time lightly at our school. New mums get it, but only on a year by year basis. Part-timers are hell on a time-table, and that’s how schools operate. A few years back a colleague – an excellent teacher by everyone’s reckoning – wanted to ease into retirement by going part-time; three days a week. She offered to attend school five days a week to accommodate this. They wouldn’t do it. She retired and what a waste of an experienced teacher that was.

So how have I achieved this miracle? In an ironic way, really. I have Type 1 diabetes that’s a bit hard to manage. Stress affects it. But I’ve managed it for all but two years of my teaching career. That’s the two years I taught before I was diagnosed, BTW.

One of the Assistant Principals caught up with me in the school reception area on Thursday. He’d heard the reason for my reduction in hours and wanted to offer his sympathy. This guy is a bit deaf and consequently has a foghorn voice.

“How’re you travelling?” he bellows. Students stop their conversations. The women behind the glass wall in the office pause at their computers and look quizzically in the direction of The Voice.
“Yeah, not too bad,” I smile. “Glad to be going part-time, of course. Pity I have to have an uncontrollable chronic illness to get it.”
“Yeah. Now you look after yourself, won’t you. An old mate of mine’s a diabetic and every time I see him he’s had another bit chopped off.” He throws his head back and laughs. I titter awkwardly, aware of the audience at reception.

You might see why I keep the Diabetic Card close to my chest. Comments like his are not uncommon. I could write a book about it.

Anyway, I’ve played that Diabetic wild card now, and it feels sublime.

To celebrate, thought I’d pop in and visit Dan on the way home. That’s Dan Murphy, my mate. (It’s the liquor superstore, for any readers who may live beyond Australia.)

Swanned down the chardonnay aisle with a beatific smile on my face, feeling wonderful, despite the bleak leaden sky and pelting rain. Pulled up at the curb outside my house. Waved, queen-like, at my thirty-something neighbours and pitied them with their screaming baby and a whole lot of people arriving. Strode confidently around my car and opened the passenger door. Head held high, relishing the gale force wind in my hair, positively beaming, I scooped up my bag in my left hand. The six pack of chardy – well, it’s cheaper by the half-dozen – was one of those with ‘carriers’ cut into its sides. I grasped it with my right hand and yanked it out of the car, still in an attitude of Uma Thurman on the red carpet, so thrilled was I, on a Friday afternoon, with my part-time status.

Rrriippp. That’s the sound of cardboard tearing. I dropped the case of wine on the grass verge, luckily avoiding any breakage.

Felt a tad less smug as I put the other bag down and hoisted the carton, by its base, onto my left thigh and into my arms. When I put it down at my front door, before fumbling with my keys to get inside, I discovered, when I tried to brush the mustard looking stuff off my thigh, that I was pasted liberally with foetid dog turd.

Pride goeth before a fall. I’m even less smug now.

Nah. I’m lying. It cleaned up and I still feel amazing. Sometimes all the cards, even the diabetic ones, fall into place.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Me and Sisyphus.

Eight-fifteen, Sunday morning. In bed. First cup of Earl Grey and let the marking begin. A colleague said that his wife forbids him to do any school work in bed - as if he should be at his age! Fair call. It's a bit of a violation of the marital boundaries, I suppose. But for me, it's the best place to do it. The marking. Get it done quickly enough and I can trick myself into believing that I'm not really working. (Gotta feel for my old man, eh.)

By ten fifteen I'd completed it. This is the thing. Marking that pile of year 8 work was a light-bulb moment - well, 120 minutes. I had an insight, and it wasn't how shit it was to be working for the second day of my weekend. No, it dawned on me that I was actually enjoying what I was reading, albeit some of it laden with technical errors. My year 8s, despite the vagaries of their thirteen year old selves, had engaged with the task. They were having fun writing an alternative ending to Lockie Leonard, Human Torpedo. They were playing with similes and metaphors and writing entertaining, plausible scenarios. Well, mostly. One student had turned Sarge, Lockie's dad, into a pathological practical jokester, setting up Lockie to believe that (a) his whole family had perished in a car accident on the way to church, and (b) that Lockie had terminal cancer. Even got a doctor to play along. Gotcha! This was Sarge's strategy to get Lockie to stop moping over the demise of his relationship with Vicki Streeton. Made for interesting, entertaining reading.

Just about every kid in the class completed the assignment. Some of their stories contained writing in my own hand, a sentence or two to give them direction or inspiration when they claimed they were stuck. Love doing that. Love the responses when the kids grab an idea and run with it. Lots of the kids had redrafted their writing. The finished pieces showed genuine pride in their work.

So this morning, I was pleasantly rewarded to be able to see where I'd been as a teacher. I'd facilitated the learning, and here was some evidence in the finished work.

However, I'm not seeing this much from the Year 12s, and it's not for the want of trying. I do most of my teaching at year 12 and for a lot of the time I feel like Sisyphus, if he's the guy who had to keep rolling the boulder up the hill just to have it roll down again. Spent about four hours yesterday marking SACs on Encountering Conflict. Mostly they were turgid. Some students are genuinely engaged in the task; developing as writers. Others try, but with limited success. And then there are the students who write unmitigated pretentious rubbish; page filler. Sadly, their literacy skills suggest that if they just made an effort they'd be quite capable of writing well. There's my dilemma and there's that massive rock again. How to motivate the disengaged.

Think I need a sabbatical from teaching VCE. It's not fun. It's constant pressure to get through an enormous workload: wall-to-wall SACs leading up to the final be-all-and-end-all exam followed by the judgment in December when the results come out.

A couple of years ago I suggested to my former principal that I have time off from teaching the year 12s. She told me I'd miss it and wouldn't cope! When I assured her I would, she told me that in that case she'd have to give me a directive to teach it. The trouble is that few English teachers at my school want to teach year 12 because they know how demanding it is. Meanwhile, I keep working six days a week pushing that rock up the hill. Perhaps, like Sisyphus, I'm being punished?

Auspicious start to Term Two.

Quite weird returning to school on Wednesday after a longer break than usual. Nonetheless, four on. That is, a full day of teaching awaited me. No biggie. This is my teaching lot on Mondays and Wednesdays; for the entire year. The timetable has remained unchanged for me for three years. I'm used to the pace.

However, I was feeling the pain on Wednesday. Dragging my feet. Should have been energetic, instead I was enervated, for a variety of reasons. But as teachers know, we can't let our moods affect us. Take that mood into the classroom and you can guarantee a lesson of kids acting out.

Had year 12s last period. Last term, I'd planned that this lesson would be low impact, on me anyway. The students had a task to complete during class. That was it.

As I approached the classroom the students milled around the door, enjoying the warmth of the autumn sunshine. I could feel it on my back as I approached. Bit of a breeze too. Pity we all had to go into the classroom.

"Hi, Miss, how was your holiday?"
"Too short! You?"
"Yeah, good." The usual post holiday banter. I was amongst them now, smiling, feeling not too bad.

In front of me was Rodney. He's a big fellow; stocky and about six four. He's one of the brightest students in my class, but I'm hard pressed to get his best work out of him. Something in him renders him reluctant to give too much. His year 11 teacher admitted to seriously loathing this kid. He's sarcastic; too ready with the smart-arsed remarks. Kids aren't born like this, and at the end of last term, I felt I was beginning to get around his self-defeating behaviour. As if.

"Marked our SACs yet?" Rodney asked. All our year 12 SACs are cross-marked. We do first and second round marking, and third marking should it be necessary if the first two rounds throw up discrepant marks. I learned this during the years I marked exams for VCAA. As it happened, all the teachers had completed the first round marking. Of course, it being our first day back, we hadn't had a chance to do the second round. I started to explain this to the assembled students. We still weren't in the door. But before I could get it out Rodney let me have it.
"What's wrong with you?" he barked. "You've had three fuckin' weeks!"

This prompted an explosive verbal reaction from me, not to mention a near coronary, by the feel of my heart banging in my chest. Yeah, I shouldn't have sworn. Teachers should be above this, and generally I am. My arm was thrust out, indicating the direction he should go to get out of my sight. He spluttered something but retreated. At that stage I became conscious of the silence in the yard. About forty kids had witnessed a woman of a certain age going off.

After that I could barely function, despite the support of the students who felt that he had it coming. For me, it was my loss of control that was so shattering, as was the flagrant disrespect of a senior student who also should have known better. Within about ten minutes, Rodney had apprised another student, via text message, that he'd phoned his mother, who'd phoned the principal. Naturally, he had played down his own part in the drama. Apparently he'd asked an innocent question at which I'd abused him and unfairly banished him from the class.

So there I was, at 3.15, seeing the principal. Fortunately, he understood.

In conclusion, what? So glad my own kids have pursued careers other than teaching? Teaching can really suck? Is it worth it? Why am I still dwelling on it even after the principal told me not to lose sleep over it? Back for more of the same tomorrow? And why have I spent six hours this weekend marking?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Fraudster's Musings

Writing my previous post about Parent Teacher Interviews, Mark 2, I felt that I'd come to the end of the loop re writing about my teaching life. It was a variation on a theme; same horse, different jockey. Think the earlier parent-teacher post was probably better; less cynical, perhaps.

A couple of my colleagues have mentioned they've noticed a change in my attitude at school. They're right. I seem to be channeling bitter much more than I'd like.

Thought it might be time to branch off in a different direction in my lazy writing. Thus, I've started a new blog, in which I'll try to develop my writing about other stuff, the minutiae of my other, equally significant life away from school. No doubt there'll be some overlap, because just as I can't switch off being all those other things I am, I can't switch off being a teacher either.

I've linked to it in the side-bar, if you're interested.

Meanwhile, I love holidays during which I've got times to think about such things. Of course, I'll also continue to write about teaching, as and when the mood takes me, in this blog.


Monday, April 04, 2011

Fifty-four parent teacher interviews: the bitter sweet excremental excruciation that keeps on taking.

The steps and path leading to the hall are lined with parents and kids getting in early. Lots of undisguised staring as we descend the steps. I am on a stage, it seems. Or am I running the gauntlet? Take a photo. It’ll last longer.

We have a different, somewhat ironic seating arrangement this year. Young Rick and I are sitting back to back. Trust we have each other’s. I’m flanked by two other colleagues. One I know. The other looks about seventeen. I don’t know his name. He seems to be coping. Perhaps his open laptop affords some protection, creating a bit of a screen. Must have a good battery, given that the interviews go for seven hours. Other teachers range around the walls of this glary echoing sports’ centre. Their backs are against the wall. Seventy or so teachers are here. It’s like a market. The place is quickly crammed with milling families, shouting above the racket, catching up with friends, children running around. Seated, I feel vulnerable.

I’ve been teaching all morning and have sacrificed my two free periods to this afternoon’s proceedings.

Our tables are organized alphabetically. I don’t know where I’m sitting, but needn’t have worried because, despite me being five minutes early, I already have customers who wave and beckon me over to my seat.

I place my mark book on the table before me and we’re off.

It’s speed dating without the bells or the promise of romance.

I teach about a hundred students. I’ve been working with them for eight weeks and in that time I’ve learned something, some little, of each. There’s this quick dip into my head as each family sits, smiles, frowns, occasionally weeps, and waits for some news. In that process, my brain quickly scrambles. My head feels tight after about eight families. Swig some water and press on.

It’s mostly positive.

During a brief hiatus, I twist around in my chair to see how Rick’s going.

He leans back, stretches his legs, cups the back of his head in his hands and chuckles. He’s in his second year of teaching and has found his stride.

“I can’t get over how some of them play out their domestics in front of me.” He’s laughing, incredulous. He’s about to say something else but he has another customer and so do I. Ahead of me a couple of families compete for the seats. I check the list to see who’s first but Ms Billet is already determinedly seated.

“Ms Donald is actually next,” I say as Basil Fawlty obsequiously as I can to Ms Billet, but Ms Donald is happy to concede her place.

“You go ahead,” she says. She waves at Ms Billet, who’s terribly grateful, as am I, to have avoided an unpleasant queue dispute. In about three minutes, Ms B has been dispatched, given her daughter is the model student, and Ms Donald and son, Dwayne, assume the position.

Ms Donald is beige looking, with short, grey-brown hair, nondescript except for a few blonde highlights. With a medium build, jeans and top, she’s an ordinary middle aged woman.

I had been grateful for her earlier forbearance. Little did I know. Seems she is the bad fairy, waiting her turn to curse me. And I did not see it coming.

Next to her, Dwayne is wearing dark sunglasses. He’s in year 12, and is extremely weak in English. Nine out of 30 for his SAC. In class, he’s told me he has no idea how to complete an essay. One to one, I’ve directed him to the relevant sections of the textbook, told him to read through, to look at the annotated model answers and to just have a go. I’ve even given him the starting sentences.

“But no one’s ever shown me how,” he’s whined. “Can’t you just show me what to do?”
“Well, yes, but first I need to see your attempt. It’s early days. We’ll get there.”
“But I don’t know what to do. My teacher last year did nothing.”
“Look, I’ve told you what to do. It’s your first piece of work. The marks aren’t going anywhere. But you need to try or I can’t help you.”

But he doesn’t want to do the work. This was at the beginning of the year and it was the same for lots of students, complaining about the inadequacies of their year 11 teachers who didn’t show them how. No doubt these teachers were also faced with the same passive aggression. These kids just don’t want to try. It’s a familiar litany

Dwayne’s mother and I have introduced ourselves. I eagerly lean forward better to hear mum amidst the background din in the hall. Ms Donald also leans in. She’s sitting at the corner of the desk, stevedore-like, with her legs spread around the leg of the table. Dwayne folds his arms and leans on the table, a slight smirk on his face. I cannot see his eyes.
“What’s with the sunglasses?” I ask.
“They’re prescription,” he says. “Left my other glasses in the car.”

It’s disconcerting. I avoid looking at his blank dark stare. He seems focused on me but for all I know he could be napping behind his shades.

“I wanna know why you haven’t been teaching my son.” And there it is, the ball that comes out of left field to strike me in the head.
“Sorry?” I’m not sure I’ve heard correctly. It takes me a while to process. This is, after all, perhaps my fifteenth interview.
“My son’s told me that on at least two occasions, he’s asked for your help and you’ve refused.”
“What?” Deep breaths. Calm. “That’s not true.”

I can imagine the scenario at home. This is how Dwayne keeps mum busy; keeps her attention. Act helpless and make out it’s the teacher’s fault. And she responds. I’ve seen it many times over the years. The kid’s learned that if you blame someone else, you’re off the hook. Way to get ahead in life. And who knows what feeds the anger and self-righteous ignorant indignation of the mother? Probably goes back generations. Have these people never thought that their kids might be spinning them a line?

“What did I get for my SAC?” Dwayne’s awake. He’s demanding; aggressive now, something I haven’t seen the vaguest hint of in class. He’s been reluctant to try, but otherwise innocuous and polite, even friendly. “Remember? I was away when you gave everyone their marks and I asked you the other day what mark I got but you never told me.” So there, he seems to be saying. Here’s your proof.
“You have to remind me.” I say, “I’ve got other things going on in class.”

With that, I found the mark. “Nine,” I said.

“Out of what?” spat Ms Donald, perhaps trying to expel the bad taste I’d left in her craw.
“Yet you refuse to teach my son. What sort of a teacher does that?” She was menacing, getting closer; in my face.

I leaned away from the table at this stage, wrapping my arms around the back of my chair, same din continuing around me but her invective poking me hard in the chest nonetheless. Happily the adrenaline kicked in. I chose fight.

“That’s it. Interview over!” I shouted to be clear. “I’ve got about forty more parents to see. Don’t speak to me. The pair of you are extremely aggressive and I’ve had enough!” I reached fever pitch. “And as for you, sitting there in your dark glasses so I can’t see your eyes… Make an appointment with the coordinator. Next!” Was that the Soup Nazi? No. It was me.

“How dare you?” she spluttered, standing. “Well! I’m seeing the principal! Right!”
“Feel free. She’s not in ‘til five, but go for it.”

I may have sounded in control, but as soon as she’d stamped off, Dwayne trailing behind her like a blind man, tears of frustration and rage sprouted from my eyes. I turned to my nearest colleague, who’d heard nothing, so engrossed was he in his own line of parents – he saw sixty-two families that day.

There was no one to tell. No one to care. A few members of Prin Class were swanning around beatifically in their Sunday best, but none handy. Besides, I had a queue, the first parent of which had kindly waited. “Thought you might need a minute,” she said, smiling, slowly sitting.

Later, at meal break, another colleague confided a similar story. Another weak student; another parent blaming the teacher who was in her second year of teaching this girl. Clearly, it was all the teacher’s fault, according to the parent. Nothing to do with any other environmental, genetic or socio-economic factors. This gentle teacher is heart-sloughed. Because she does care and goes to extraordinary lengths for this girl and all her students to ensure the best possible learning outcomes.

My dilemma remains. How to continue to do my best for Dwayne tomorrow, first period, knowing my words will inevitably be twisted. No doubt there’ll be a summons to the principal to explain.

Wonder if Dwayne will be wearing his sunnies. Perhaps I’ll wear mine.

Monday, March 28, 2011


About 3.38 am I'm writhing in my sheets, greasily sweltering in the cool bedroom air. Doona off. Kick. Fling myself over. Now I'm too cold. Now something's crawling on my hand. Flick it off. No, something really is crawling on my neck. Frantic slapping and jerking. Light on. 'Can't see anything,' says the old man, who's up on one elbow assisting with the insect inspection. He drops back onto his pillow and almost immediately the gentle, but fucking annoying, not quite snoring resumes. (Happily I can't hear myself snore. Apparently I regularly reach motor mower on a Sunday morning proportions. In case anyone's interested.)

Why am I thinking about students, at, what is it now, 4.25 am? Haven't been back to sleep, just continued the hot cold twisting, thumping head on the pillow, first this side, then that. To no avail. I'm thinking about how immature these two rangy Bobsy twins are, swanning in late with immaculate foundation and hair swinging, to every lesson. My faultless peripheral vision picks up their incessant signals to each other from their 'seating plan' seats on opposite sides of the room. Why don't I just sit them together and cut out the middle man, me? They're disruptive anyway. Let them sit together and giggle their thirteen year old hearts out about the tricks they've played on 'the hobo' at Watergardens. Suppose they're allowed to be immature at thirteen. But why are they in my head at, what is it now, 5.13? The joys of the red eyed digital clock keeping an exact watch on my insomnia.

I'm not feeling well. I feel positively queasy and belly-cramped. No. I can't be sick. I've got four-on. The year 12s - I've got both classes today - need to get their third Creating and Presenting SAC topic. The Bobsies will ruin the substitute teacher's day. The writing class has got work due in. And it's parent-teacher night on Thursday and I won't get their work marked in time. And we've got to do the change over for the second SAC marking. The year 8s will be all right. They can just go on with English Basics. And I was going to miss last period anyway because I'm going to the Skin Cancer Foundation to get this BCC off my face. The year 12s can just start preparing their next SAC. What are the writing class going to do? Journal writing? They're getting sick of that. Geez, my guts hurt. Doubles up in pain before staggering off to the smallest room, grabbing yesterday's "M" along the way.

Curiously, no matter how ill I am, I still have to read. I usually put the newspaper, book or magazine down when heaving, of course, but it's generally there on standby. A trip to the toilet without a text is a wasted opportunity. At times, caught short, I'll even 'delay' until some tolerant family member can fling some reading material - junk mail, anything - through a crack in the door. In desperation, I've even read the back of my watch. Actually, the iPhone has made staying in camping grounds so much more amenable. It fits discreetly into a pocket. So much reading material.

Where was I?

Will I or won't I? Seven-thirty-three. Decision is made. I can't work today. That's it. Why do I feel so guilty? I leave an apologetic message on the school's answering machine, adding that I'll email my lesson plans before school starts. This is obligatory at our school, for what it's worth. The kids never do the work anyway, but it looks good in the marketing. On occasions, I've been at the computer making up vague plans for my classes, with a bucket handy at my side. Today, I'm hunched over the laptop, hugging my abdomen as I tap out four lesson plans with one finger. Never get a return email thanking me for sending plans through.

The upside? By about 10.24 I'm still in bed but feeling a bit hungry. Showered, I definitely feel better. The sun's breaking through the clouds, and having worked on Saturday, I have no marking to sully the remains of the day. An unexpected plus? I'm at home when my twenty-four year old son gets a phone call telling him he's got his first professional job. Whoo hoo.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Behold! For I am Fraudster, queen of procrastinators!

Saturday, eight am. Wake up and spend about twenty minutes' side-splitting time reading David Sedaris’ Naked. Back to bed for...first pile of marking of several discrepant Creating and Presenting SACs. Riveting.

Next, cheap home hair dye to make me less like someone who should be advertising Australian Pensioners Home Insurance. My old man assists with the back of the head so I don’t end up looking like a greying Blondie. With gummed up hair, flying around my house in a protective plastic cape, get first load of washing in.

Call to my mum to arrange her eightieth birthday bash. “Oops! Gotta go, mother. Gotta rinse.”

Not a bad dye job, but, interestingly, think I’d still get the APIA gig; perhaps even more so.

The old man cheerfully accepts that he’ll be doing the Saturday shop alone, cos Fraud’s got marking, as per usual. Off he goes as I settle to start the batch of thirty-eight ‘analyses’ - I wish; most were summaries - of the language use in a Mark Seymour piece from last year’s Age. Click. That’s the washing machine door telling me the first load of washing is done. Delighted, I spring up from my desk to hang it out and get the next one in. Gives me a welcome break from the marking I haven’t yet begun. Find myself inspecting the laden apple tree while I’m out there. Using the legs of a pair of pegged up jeans as a bird hide, for about ten minutes I study a couple of king parrots eating the apples. Bit of a dawdle around the back garden. Still haven’t marked a paper, but I confess to having actually picked up the red pen and removed the lid, before replacing it, and drifting through my autumn house into the bathroom for a quick eyebrow inspection.

I’m not one for obsessive eyebrow plucking, but it seemed an opportune time to peer at them. Have to get up really close due to special combo short and long-sightedness. I have perfect visual acuity, without the aid of contact lenses or spectacles, provided whatever I want to look at is exactly four inches from my eyes. That is, my left eye. My right eye is, well, fucked. Consequently, only the left eyebrow got plucked. God knows what’s happening on the right side of my face.

Back to the marking. Think I assessed about three papers before replacing the dangling deodoriser in the dunny. Seemed like a good idea. Yes, the eyebrows were still there. Well, one of them. I checked. Really must get stuck into the marking.

The old man returns with the shopping and I’ve barely started.

And thus I proceed through my day, desperate to sweep up leaves on my back porch, to inspect grouting, to weed pot plants, to clean out the fly zapper, to read Sedaris – fluent, witty, correctly spelt and punctuated, as opposed to my students’ labours. And they really have tried hard. Their efforts exude from their awkwardly expressed convoluted prose as they dip inappropriately into their thesauruses. There are some who’ve nailed it, and I sail through these. It’s the others that take their toll. (Hey, I’m full of clich├ęs too.)

Marking is the curse of the English teacher, but for me it’s worse because I am the queen of procrastinators. If I’d just got on with it, I’d have finished it in three hours. Instead, I took about nine.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Me and John Proctor

In 1973, when I completed my HSC, I had a brief respite from mediocrity during my English classes, and, happily in the final exam. I’ve had several shining moments since, in terms of writing, but quite often I struggle because I just can’t take it seriously enough; can apply neither the intellect, nor the endurance – one of the many reasons I consider myself to be a fraud.

It’s probably why I have a couple of recurring dreams. In one, somehow I’ve slept through an alarm, or forgotten to turn up on the first day of school. I flap around under the shower, usually fully clothed, trying vainly to rinse suds out of my hair. I stumble late into a room packed with year 12 students and unsuccessfully attempt to wing the lesson. (Actually, this isn’t far from the reality on occasions, but I usually manage to divest myself of my clothes while showering.) In the other dream, I’m sitting in a silent exam hall doing my year 12 English exam. And I’m caught out. I can’t do it. Consequently, my life is a sham. I simply fluked it back in ‘73, and I shouldn’t even have been admitted to my lesser Melbourne State College B. Ed. course; shouldn’t even have got in by the back door, which is what my father pronounced when I didn’t get into Melbourne University – for which I hadn’t even applied, by the way. My acceptance into La Trobe didn’t impress him at all. It was common knowledge that you could get in there if you could play three chords on a guitar.

Which is all a rather rambling lead up to me trying unsuccessfully to write an imaginative response to a prompt for that part of VCE Units 3 and 4 English called Creating and Presenting. Our Context, with a capital C, is Encountering Conflict. (I’ve been doing a bit of that lately. I like to think I’m John Proctor from The Crucible, but I’m not sure I’d die to save my name.)

This is the prompt. Think it’s from the 2008 exam. “In times of conflict ordinary people can act in extraordinary ways.” And this is what happened, and why, once again, I’m the fraud who’s been up the front of the classroom for thirty-one and a quarter years.

John Proctor languishes in gaol, awaiting execution. I’m trying to capture the tone of Proctor’s thoughts back in 1692. Here goes:

Their lying, their pretence, has conjured a demon. Though it be invisible, though it be wrought from the girls’ demented minds, it has risen up and has taken men’s senses. They quake in fear as that whore cries witch. Though I believe not in these incubi and succubi I see that something has taken hold in Salem. It be not born of goodness. It be born of fear, lies and vengeance. (Thought that wasn’t too bad, then ensued my own descent into the pit.)

In Salem we were a hardworking community, not given to idleness. Not three months gone we were united. Aye, one had not time nor strength for aught else. How did such mayhem arise from such mischief?

Indeed. How? Fucked if I know what Proctor was thinking when he sacrificed himself. Extraordinary indeed. He had nothing left but his name, and, as he said, ‘leave me my name...I cannot have another’. What drove him to such lengths? Would anyone fall on the sword like this? Evidently not. Ordinary people meld into the group. Reminds me of those Arctic or Antarctic penguins flocking together against the cold, occasionally taking their turn on the outside but nonetheless clinging to the warm mass. To leave the group is sure death. But that’s penguins and we aren’t really concerned with the behaviour of the ‘animal kingdom’.

I don’t find humans surprising at all. I find them very predictable. A percentage will show altruism, will give of themselves and bequeath extraordinary gifts to humankind. I recall an episode on Australian Story. A young Australian girl adopted a number of homeless Cambodian children, raised funds and ran her own orphanage and school. It’s as if there are certain people who are wired in some way to commit these extraordinary acts when they see a need. Were such people ever ordinary?

John Proctor, from the outset, struck me as different. By being his own true self, he inadvertently made others, the Parrises and Putnams, feel their inadequacy. Or perhaps, like my students, I’m just confusing the ‘novel’, as they say, with the ‘movie’. Perhaps I just like the look of Daniel Day Lewis with his twinkling eye/teeth combo, striding across the fields, no grim reaper, in his baggy britches.

I rest my case.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

My ongoing relationship with Lockie Leonard, Human Torpedo

Last year, I began my crusade to have Lockie Leonard, Human Torpedo, removed from our book list. I've 'taught' the text for the last ten or so years. In some ways, it's kept me young. I put it down to being immersed, for a couple of hours each week, in the fug of pubescent hormones emanating from twenty-five excited students. I should be grateful. It's evidently helping me to ward off osteoporosis, facial hair, night sweats and the other scourges of the menopausal.

I'm not bothered that Lockie and Vicky get sexy. I'm more concerned that Winton gets preachy. There's one line in the text where Lockie tells the Sarge, his dad, that the Sarge could never be a teacher because he's got too much going for him. Really hate reading that line. Every year I hate it.

I also dislike Winton's stereotyping of rich kids and their parents, of the kids at the church youth group, the bogans, and yes, the teachers. However, it usually leads to worthwhile discussion about the positives and negatives of stereotyping.

Almost every year that I was coordinator, I received complaints from parents, concerned about their precious children reading about sex. One poor kid, forbidden from participating in any class on Lockie, had to suffer the ignominy of sitting in my office, wading through The Sun on the Stubble - a novel of which his mother, a rabid Christian, approved. Interestingly, she thereby guaranteed that Jimmy, a bright and curious kid, read all three Lockie Leonard books, perhaps with a torch under his bedsheets.

So why is Lockie still doing us, despite the protestations of an oldish former English Coordinator who wouldn't mind aging gracefully?

Basically, most students love it. I even received a petition from one group last year who'd heard from their loose-lipped teacher that we were considering dropping it. So Lockie stayed. Can't fight that.

My students read Lockie aloud in a sort of 'readers' theatre'. One person reads the 'narrator' and other students take the various parts. There's great competition to read the 'rude' bits. This year, two boys desperately wanted to read the first nipple section. With a coin toss, we sorted out who would read. 'Fair enough,' conceded the losing contender, after another had tossed a dollar into the air and called heads. He was crest-fallen but placated by my promise that he could read the next rude bit.

I teach my year 8s in the period before lunch each day. A couple of weeks ago, so enthralled were they with what they were reading, they begged to be allowed to stay in at lunchtime to finish the chapter. I kid you not. They stayed in for seven minutes, and even though I had a full teaching day, I didn't care because I don't think that's happened before. Engagement with reading is what it's all about for us English teachers. I felt really good.

It's been interesting observing my students this year. They're more sophisticated than last year's group. They pick up lots of unintended innuendo. They cracked up at the men holding their sausages in the water-skiing scene. Neither have I received any complaints. I suppose I am teaching in the world of Two and a Half Men.

I do wonder though, what Winton thinks of Lockie Leonard, Human Torpedo from the perspective of twenty years. Wonder if he cringes. Wish I'd written it.

Saturday, February 26, 2011


"Finally read your blog." That's Reggie, older sister talking. "All it'd take is one phone call," she says, warning. "It'd be a spectacularly mucky end to a brilliant teaching career. Is that how you want to be remembered?"

Of course she won't make that call. But someone else might, out of the goodness of its heart, in my school's best interest, naturally. And perhaps because I'm a smart-arse who's had it coming and they've been waiting for just this opportunity.

I've been sobered - well, not literally - and sphincter-clenching since I read a brief report in this week's Age about Natalie Munroe who was suspended from teaching because of her blog. Of course, this was in the US, and in Oz we're a bit more relaxed, but I just got this feeling. Sounded like her blog was remarkably similar to my own, perhaps minus the expletives, which I thoroughly enjoying writing. (Oh-oh. Done it again.) Munroe got hung out to dry for far less, from what I can tell.

I've also noticed that one of my followers (and you know who you are, my witty friend!) is only a couple of clicks away from inadvertently betraying my precious anonymity. Thought I'd get done a few years back when one of my posts was published in a national teaching magazine. Happily, no one twigged to that one and my secret remained safe.

As I've said before, blogging is therapy and writing all that nasty stuff and turning it blackly humorous is illicitly thrilling - graffiti taggers get the same thrill, I'm told, as they darkly dart around defacing our burbs with their stupid black scrawl. That's not a bad analogy, actually, because while I'm venting, I'm also betraying my colleagues. And okay, they sort of deserve it, but I'd be mortified, and probably sacked, if I hurt such well-meaning, albeit boring people by lampooning them for my own psycho-therapeutic purposes.

So, unlike Hamlet, I've made a decision. I've deleted the blogs that could get me sent down. I dare say there will be others, cos the teaching world keeps throwing shit my way, and I have to deal with it somehow.

I'm not ready for retirement yet, dear sister Reggie. I'd miss the cut and thrust which abounds at my school.

And for anyone who cares to trawl back through the archives, there's still some stuff there, and if a certain person reads it and recognises his/herself therein, perhaps he/she will finally get the message and piss off.