Friday, 21 September 2012

The big wave

A new school year. A new term. Three weeks old. Summer a distant dream. A dream time when I was a real person. A human being. A time when time itself stretched out endlessly in front of me. No need to rush. No need to do anything at all. Gone. No more.

I'm sitting in my workshop with my colleague surveying the scene of destruction after the week. Woodshavings everywhere, paper strewn around, mangled pencils and dust covering everything. We sit staring into space trying to make sense of it all. Ruined. Chewed up and spat out.

This weekly moment, I realise, is like surviving a tsunami. Your home is destroyed and your family washed to sea and you are left sitting on the beach in the rubble and debris.

Two days to recover it all before it starts again.

Thursday, 26 April 2012


I'm having a terrible time with my year 10 class this year. Not sure how much of this I have mentioned so far in this blog but there is a critical mass of what I refer to as "arseholes" in the group.

It doesn't take many of these "aresholes" to tip the balance from a manageable and pleasant atmosphere to a decidedly unpleasant one. If I could wave a wand and remove four or five of them then I think it would be ok. The dynamic would change. But as it is I try something to improve the situation then I have another bad lesson or two. I try another technique and push hard to change things yet again and have it spat back in my face. It does feel like that too. Rudeness, aggression and minimal effort is the norm.

I think however that the complete lack of humour in the lessons is the hardest to take. I don't mind if they aren't all that smart (and lord know's they aren't) or even if they can't be arsed (they are teenagers at the end of the day) but the fact that each lesson is devoid of even the slightest amusement. They are all out to fuck each other (and me) over at any given opportunity.

Anyway today's incident doesn't really concern one of the five main aresholes but it does give a general feel of the kind of day to day, smash my head onto a desk in despair vibe of the class.

The class are doing some research into furniture designers. The key point of the lesson is to analyse famous designer's furniture then try to take inspiration from it and make some sketches of ideas they could incorporate into their own designs.

You join us oh I dunno...half an hour into an hour lesson?

I have explained the task at least five times so far and I'm circling the room repeating myself at each table as successive waves of them decide to finally engage with what the lesson is actually about and decide that they need a pencil or they haven't got the worksheet or sir I don't get this.

I repeat this is half way through the lesson.

Their worksheet has different boxed areas to try and make things simpler for them.

And so to the reason I have logged into this blog this evening...

I'm standing by a table of four boys.

Student: "Sir what are you meant to write in this box?

Me: " Well you need to analyse the designers work and try to decide what the key elements of their style are....."

As I have started to talk the student has stopped listening to me and turned to have a conversation with his friend beside him. He is simultaneously taking a Pritt Stick (which I just handed out) and is crushing it in an engineers vice attached to the workbench.

I catch the eye of the student who the boy has turned to talk to who gives me a weak smile (as if slightly embarrassed by his mate).

"Unbelievable" I say to the boy.

Student (snapping out of his conversation): "What sir?"

Me: "Did you even realise that you did that there?"

Student: "Did what sir?"

Me: "You asked me a question and as I started to answer you turned away and started a different conversation. "

Student: "I didn't even realise I did that sir. What did I ask you?"

Me: "You asked me what you had to write in that box."

Student: "Which box?"

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Apology letter

A letter received by a friend of mine who is the head of year at her school.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

A student just came into my room an hour after the school day had finished and kind of sums up the Jekyll and Hyde nature of kids at this school

She is a real handful in class: 100% attitude all the time. Questions everything you say, disputes any piece of information you give out, answers back to any requests for her to obey rules, that sort of thing.

She kisses her teeth so much I'm surprised she has any left.

Anyway she walks into my room unannounced and without request and says:

"Sorry I missed the lesson on Monday sir I was ill."

"Ok. No problem." I say a little bit confused.

"I'll do the homework whenever I feel like it."

Then left.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Yin Yang

A simple and beautiful piece of symmetry.

Half term

It's finally here. That sweet moment when the holidays arrive. Part of the reason that we started to be teachers in the first place. That promise of a week off here, a couple of weeks off there. Sweet joy.

Well it is indeed sweet but generally I arrive at this point like a broken man. A bedraggled lost soul returning from war. Today is no different, although I ended the term on a high note. I had a brilliant final lesson with a lovely year seven class and got lots of loose ends tied up.

This half term doesn't promise much in the way of a holiday mind. I have a stack of books home to mark which I estimate will take 30 hours if I go at them in a professional manner. It's basically a working week but at least I can get some sleep and non contact time always recharges the batteries.

The last few weeks has been intense. Trying to drag year 10's and 11's towards project their hair sometimes. Things have been going well though. Constant calls for them to come to after school sessions to work on their coursework finally filtered in and for the past two weeks and every afternoon after registration, before I could even have a cup of tea, my room would be packed with them all sawing and hammering and constantly asking for shit. Be careful for what you wish for. My working day now starts at 6:30 and ends 12 hours later.

The stuff they write down on their coursework is a damn disgrace though. Total gibberish on the whole. Shocking and painful and worrying and laughably hilarious all at the same time.

Myself and my colleague did end the day creasing ourselves at a drawing from one of our year 11 students. The sort of the insane giggles you get when you are sleep deprived and on the edge.

The piece is a classic image from a bygone era. An era I remember well. A simpler time.

A time when peoples heads were perfectly round and could be drawn with a pair of compasses.

Monday, 6 February 2012


Sometimes when a lesson is in full swing interactions happen as if you had scripted them. These are the moments that I need to try and hang on to with this blog because they come in the middle of a maelstrom and more often than not they are forgotten.

Yesterday last period with my year nines the students were creating a template, then using Coping saws to cut out a shape from a piece of Pine. The class was going well and the normally very boisterous lot were working well and enjoying themselves. I was properly teaching them things. This might seem a silly thing to say from a teacher but quite often it feels like you spend the majority of your week pouring water onto a well oiled Duck.

One boy who I will call Teddy is quite an interesting lad. I don't know him that well but he is quite funny and has his own sort of unusual attitude to lessons and learning. He refuses to do either but somehow does that in an amusing slightly endearing way. Hard to express that in writing.

Yesterday this manifested itself in him saying "sir I can't draw this shape" and "sir I can't cut that out". I helped him with some things and told him that actually he could do those things. I left him for a bit then he came back with the same lines again.

I was attempting get a girl to do some work (she was holding an ice pack to her hand because she had punched a wall at lunchtime) but i was having a laugh and a joke with her. Teddy shouts across the noisy, busy workshop "Sir I can't do this cutting bit"

I decided to take a different approach and sort of more to his table and the girl I was talking to said "Teddy the amount of times I have heard you say the word 'can't' today is ridiculous! 'I can't do this' and you 'can't do that'. I think that actually you CAN do the things you are complaining about you just can't be bothered. I don't want to hear you say you 'can't' anymore"

Teddy (still fiddling with the saw and not really looking at me) "I can't hear what you are saying sir"

The girl and me and most of Teddy's table burst out laughing.

Sunday, 29 January 2012


Teaching a class on Friday and it wasn't going very well. It's was pretty flat and the kids weren't really adding much to the discussions or questions we were having. Those lessons are hard work especially when you have already taught the same lesson three times that week and had better results.

The kids are writing a design specification for a mobile phone holder. The section in question was on the aesthetics of their product. It's pretty much laid on a plate for them so the first section says:

"The shape of the backboard of my mobile phone holder will be..."

I look at one boys booklet and he has written "Dad". I chuckle a bit and say "are you going to make your phone holder the shape of your dad?" The rest of the kids at the table burst out laughing at the thought of this and the boy is quick to stop them.

"No, no, no, not the shape of my dad I'm going to spell out the word dad in big letters and cut that out!"

"Oh right" I say. We have a bit of a laugh at the table and I think that maybe the lesson isn't going to be dry as a stick after all.

A few minutes later the class have stopped working and I am asking them what they have done. Another boy who is right next to the boy I have just talked about puts his hand up and says "sir I have an idea for my backboard!"

"Oh" I say, "is it the shape of your dad?"  A vain attempt to resurrect a pretty lame joke.

The boy goes totally silent and the rest of the class go "OHHHHHH!"

Suddenly a little unsure what's going on I ask him what his idea is.

He just looks at me then his eyes well up and the tears start.

"Sir his dad just died" the class tell me from all directions.

Ground swallow me up now.

Awful moment. Just awful. The boy now has his head on his hands on the desk and is crying and to compound the agony the rest of the class keep coming up to me one by one to tell me that his dad has died.

"Ok can everyone get on with their work and leave him alone he's really upset."

I apologised to the boy saying that I didn't know and that it was a crappy joke.


I've always been really careful when talking about the kids home lives. I never assume that they have a mum and dad at home or anyone really. I always say things like "whoever looks after you at home" or things like that.   The one time I forget and do something totally random like that and it goes massively wrong.

What. A. Clanger.


I'm going to fire off a few random answers that kids have given me of late. Every day there are loads of things like this but it's only when I get a second to write them down at the end of a lesson that they stay in my mind. So much happens over the course of a day.


Students in year seven are creating a moodboard based on their own identities. Stuff they like to do and are interested in. It's nice to get to know them a bit although it can be a bit depressing when you find out.

We discuss the idea of identity and what makes us who we are and some things that they might like to have in their moodboards. Most kids love the exercise and fill their page up with their favourite sports or music or food. Nando's incidentally is a firm favourite.

Some boys, who remember are 11 years old, tell me that they are into "guns, money and girls".

Some say they don't like anything. I have to really coax things out of them. One boy claimed that he genuinely didn't like anything. No types of food, no music, no-one in his family or anything. The only thing he liked was water.

Turns out he is bang into swimming and that's all he likes. It's interesting that he would come at his passion for one thing by saying that doesn't like anything else at all.

One boy said the only things he liked were football, the Xbox, his family and smelling nice.


Q: What might you find in a kitchen?

A: Your wife



This one could run and run...

Q: Where is Silicon Valley?

A: Uxbridge Road, Hanwell, London

Friday, 27 January 2012


Marking students written work is boring and it can be quite depressing at times (most of the time).  The standard of writing I see every day is absolutely appalling. I genuinely have students who misspell their own names. For many English is their second or third language and so some of it can be blamed on that. However often it just comes down to lack of effort. Particularly with homework. It's all rushed and done in two minutes, often at break before coming into the classroom. I remember doing that.

Sometimes however marking work can provide a chuckle or two. I really should do it more...

A recent homework assignment was to do with electronics. The kids had to do some research into Silicon valley and answer four questions. The answers I had back from various kids had me doing a google search myself just to try and figure out what the hell they are on about. I'm still none the wiser.

The question was "Why is it called Silicon valley?"

I had the following responses:

"The father of silicon valley is called silicon valley"

"In 1971 the name was used for the first time and used a couple more times etc"

"For religion reasons"

 and the most perplexing contribution

"A japanese man couldn't find New England on the map"

Monday, 23 January 2012

Who's counting?

I take strange satisfaction in the fact that I now wear a classic blue techie teacher jacket while I'm teaching practical lessons. I wear quite smart clothes to work in general; shirt (no tie), trousers and brogues so I quite like to don the jacket and get stuck in when there is work to be done. I wear it around school with the collar turned up. I don't think I would have done that a few years ago. It's one part pride in what I teach and one part confidence in maturity (or "I don't give a shit what you think") .

Anyway it has deep pockets and as I am going through the day inevitably things accumulate in them. It's chaotic helping kids make shit. Things just slide their way in there and I'm never really sure how it happens. 

Sometimes I go to put a pencil behind my ear and there is already one there. 

In afternoon registration I play a game with one of my year 11 form class. She has to guess how many items are in my pockets. It's often quite a surprising number. I was inspired to take a couple of snaps on a couple of good days just before Christmas.


In his relentless drive to become the most popular politician in schools up and down the land, Michael Gove has made another vote winning contribution.

Foreign object


Someone has done a poo in the school swimming pool. Sources say that there was one in the pool and another on the side of the pool.

The culprit remains at large.

Saturday, 21 January 2012


Striking while the iron is hot is the name of the game. Ride that wave. Go for the burn. Push the envelope. Write two blog posts in a year.

My year seven classes have been weird in my new school. My previous experience of this age group (new to secondary, age 11 or 12) has been of either really cute, easy to manage and highly enjoyable classes where you get to try and teach in the completely correct textbook way or on the flipside completely needy, childish groups of annoyance.

My new groups this year are really small with around 14-16 kids in each one. This is amazing as a teacher. A real luxury and one where you can concentrate on kids who need extra help. The thing that is weird is that they all seem to be really inappropriately sexualised. They are right filthy minded little buggers.

My demonstrations on using Coping saws or files or any other woodwork tools suddenly has become, in their eyes laced with innuendo. It's pretty shocking to be honest. I will be sawing a piece of wood with a Tenon saw and no word of a lie they will start to make sexual noises to each movement of the saw.

It really puts me off my stroke.

I'm not sure if this is an issue that is so much worse in modern times and whether or not they are exposed to pornography on the internet rather than finding a jazz mag in a bush as it was when I were a lad. Or whether or not my peers were like that when I was 12. I am keen however to avoid notions that the world is going to hell in a handbasket or handcart or any kind of hand held device. Stuff moves on, things change, humans cope and adapt, we always think things were better when we were young and each generation will do the same.... repeat to fade.

It doesn't change the fact that it's inappropriate for the technology classroom and I am at pains to remind my students of this.

Now I am going to relate an anecdote but first you must watch a video and perhaps read some lyrics. It's by LMFAO and it's called "I'm sexy and I know it". It's been all over the radio for a good while in case you don't keep up with such things.

Anyway I have one boy who I will call Alfie. He is very small even for a year seven and he's a really nice little lad but he can't really control his actions very well. He is ADHD and prone to shouting out or getting in a massive strop and having to take a time out to calm himself down. He's got lots of support in the school and is taken care of but it's pretty disruptive in the class a lot of the time.

Just before Christmas I was teaching his class and they were making mobile phone holders from pine. Towards the end of a practical project it can be pretty hectic if people are at different stages. Hard to manage as a teacher. So this day some students were using the bandfacer, some were using handsaws, some were using sandpaper, some were painting, everyone was moving around the room and I was moving around helping people. If you can imagine helping someone cut a piece of wood and explaining the technique while 14 kids all crowd round you saying  "sir sir sir sir sir sir sir sir sir sir sir" and some are tugging at your coat then you begin to get the picture. You need a hatful of patience to deal with it. A big hat.

You have to tune some of it out too or your head would explode. You keep telling the kids that they shouldn't be rude and wait for their turn and that pulling your coat just isn't cool but they still do it to a certain extent. They are excited and want to do their work. That's brilliant as far as I'm concerned.

So I'm helping Amir fixing his piece of pine into a vice and showing him how to file it and I start to become aware through the melee of a constant and loud and insistent shouting out:


I look up and it's Alfie.

Alfie there are lots of people in front of you looking for help and can't you see that right now I'm helping Amir. Wait your turn.


So I start to think that maybe it's something more serious and I stop what I'm doing and go over. What is it Alfie?

Alfie get's this massive cheeky grin on his face and with everyone watching starts thrusting his hips wildly, while swinging his arms backwards and forwards and making what i can only describe as a sex face shouts out:


Thursday, 19 January 2012

Where to begin...

So it's been a while since I made a blog post about teaching Design and Technology to school kids. About a year and a half it seems according to the Blogger dashboard. In that time I've been round the world on a bit of a jolly, lived in the country for a few months and now I'm back in London and teaching for what seems like an eternity. Long enough in fact for all that other shit to seem like I watched it on the telly.

I could tell you exactly how long its been but I am so tired I can barely see (in fact the word "see" doesn't seem right and now as I type it and I'm doubting it's spelling). This is how it feels during term time. Having to pay a gas bill seems like climbing the north face of the Eiger. Having to spell three letter words is a physical challenge.

I have been meaning to get back into this blog business since I started again in October, but there lies the rub; teaching and extra curricular activity of pretty much every type don't really get along.

I am now teaching in a different part of London. The demographic of the new school is super diverse. I could provide statistics of just how diverse it is but then I may give away which school it is and I don't want to do that. I'd have to kill you. Not in a "i'm a psychotic teacher on the rampage" kind of way. Just in a "quietly taking care of business" type thing.

The kids are working class, multi-ethnic and attend a state school. They are very similar to my last school in Newham. I like them. Mostly. The lingo has moved on a bit but not massively. " Everything is still "long" and they still say "why'd you do that for?" but now the call each other "fam" to express kinship and say things like "I am not entertainin' that" .

My new school is well run and my department is really cool. It was good to get a job here.

Can I stop summarising now?


Ok so why have I started writing again today? I'm not sure really. I've been back from the xmas holidays for almost two weeks and have been in school at 6:30 am every day (that's my alarm going off at 5am folks) and haven't left before five in the evening yet. I've been trying hard to be Mr. Superorganised and I have to admit it's been going pretty well but the dawning realisation that I am still way behind with all of the stuff that I am meant to be doing is hitting home. It's basically impossible.

Today was a bad day. Not in a classroom discipline, kids being bastards kind of day just things didn't really work out and I found myself chasing my tail and getting nowhere. However I did discover one of the less often used behaviour management tricks. I have today dubbed it the Mallet of Justice.

I told my wife about this when I got home and she was a bit horrified but I think it was a valid thing to do. Before you call the police no I didn't bludgeon and kids to death in a horrendous fit of blood letting. I'll explain....

I have just taken on a new set of classes (we have a carousel system in technology where classes rotate to each of the individual subjects). It happens three times a year. The first couple of encounters with a new class are crucial to establish a pattern of behaviour and determine who controls the room. Obviously it needs to be me, but less experienced teachers often make the mistake of being too easy too soon. I have made this mistake many a time too and it's irreversible. Once you have lost them they are gone.

So week one went well. It was tedious as I outlined my expectations and rules and such like for every lesson for the week but vitally important. All the classes were good as gold. This is normal. They are sizing you up. Garnering info on their new adversary for later use. Week two I thought may reveal some more challenging behaviour but it took until period 5 on Thursday for this to present itself.

My year nines came in and were clearly hyped up and ready to royally fuck about for an hour on the new teachers watch. Now I had had a pretty shitty day up until that point and was not in the mood to take it and so knowing that it was crucial to get control I asked for calm and for them to sit down and get on with the lesson. This fell totally on deaf ears and the noise and rowdiness continued. Now on other occasions I may have stood there and waited for calm for a long time, or raised my voice increasingly loudly or sent some students out of the room or threatened detentions or all that other stuff. Today however I knew that I had to nip it in the bud straight away with an attention grabbing action. Bring out the big guns if you will.

So I calmly walked over to the tool cupboard and took out my keys and opened up. Then I reached inside and pulled out the large wooden mallet normally using for chiselling. It's quite a comedy looking thing really.

I calmly walked back to the front of the room where my demonstration table is and without saying anything I smashed it down on the table as hard as I possibly could creating the biggest, most almighty bang imaginable.

I swear some of the students were actually lifted out of their seats.

Let's be clear that this is not normal for my lessons and nor is it a sustainable tactic for behaviour management. That class however are not going to try it on for a while and we can get on with the important things that need to be done. You know.... like learning shit.

Towards the end of the lesson I had a good laugh with them and they got loads done. The mallet of justice prevailed.

So that's about all for now. I have broken my silence and hopefully will make this a bit more regular. I would just like to close by saying one more thing.  Michael Gove is a cunt.