Saturday, 27 September 2014

Bob's law

Bob's law of DT states that if a project goes on long enough, without frequent reminder of the brief, the probability that a student will produce a design which incorporates their initials increases.

Monday, 17 February 2014

A gripping tale.

We have a PGCE student in our department at the moment on his second school placement. He is taking over some of my classes and teaching the projects that I have been teaching alone for the past two years. It's an unusual experience having to explain the ins and outs of the lessons I have delivered so many times. I am, it is fair to say, less than inspired by some of them these days. The year seven project remains pretty much unchanged since I arrived two years ago. It wasn't that great then. It's a sad state of affairs really.  I work my arse off day in day out and at the holidays and still have never found the time to make it better and more interesting for students and teacher. All of the initiatives, paperwork, spreadsheets, marking and things put in place to make sure that students and teachers progress, take the time away from the most fundamental thing: what I actually teach.

I observe his lessons from the back of the room making notes. He is pretty good. Way better than I was at that stage of my teaching career. However he still has to go through the roller coaster of learning how to control a classroom full of students. Students who's role it is to find your weaknesses and exploit them. I don't envy him. It's god awful. You have to serve your time however and humiliating mistakes have to be made. He'll probably be dreaming of bad lessons and troublesome students for the whole of half term.

One thing that has come to light though is just how annoying the noise of the engineer and wooden vice's in my class are. The metal clanging sound they make as the students twirl them round and drop them is awful. As a teacher you have to tune out lots of annoying noise and most of the time you manage it while in the thick of a lesson (not possible with a hangover mind you).  I spend a lot of my working week telling students not to play with them but they are seemingly irresistible. As an observer however it is too hard to take. It's all I can hear. My observer notes may as well say "VICE".

There is a broken vice which has been on the workbench for ages and should really have been removed as it serves no purpose other than to annoy me. I resolved to take it away the other day while observing but didn't manage to get the time after the lesson (quelle surprise). I'm glad I didn't move it however because one of my year 10 construction students got his finger stuck in it on Thursday. It was hilarious. He is a sort of Victorian chimney sweep of a boy. Very small and incredibly immature and pretty annoying. Not that I have anything against chimney sweeps. Some of my best friends are chimney sweeps etc.

Anyway he had been messing around as per usual. The other students took great pleasure in telling me of his predicament and of course I made a big deal of telling them to fetch me a hacksaw and a chisel etc. He looked suitably scared. Ultimately however he was released from his metallic shackles without the need for amateur surgery but not before we had the following exchange:

Me: "You shouldn't have been sticking your finger in the vice anyway should you?"

Him: "I didn't sir".


On Friday we had the year 7 enrichment fayre. This is kind of like a recruitment drive for after school clubs. I run a DT club on Thursdays after school. I love the idea of having the students come in and make stuff and to nourish their enthusiasm for the subject. Unfortunately it comes after a long hard day/week and I'm pretty tired by that point so recruiting more willing students feels a bit like masochism.

I had limited time to make a poster on Friday morning so came up with this:

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Fix it

Last week was a productive one in terms of fixing stuff for students.

4 x pairs of shoes
1 x watch
1 x laser pen

New sentence

A student asked me today:

"Sir can you laser cut a Rickshaw for me please?"

I reckon that is the first time that sentence has ever been uttered.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Construction gym

Mr. S and I share the teaching of  City and Guilds Construction to year 10's and 11's. It's full of lads who hate all of the rest of school and just want to get on with cutting, smashing up or joining things together. Officially we teach them carpentry, plumbing and painting and decorating. Unofficially we teach them things they need to know about getting jobs and how to be decent blokes in the real world.

There is no exam for this course. It's all practical units but with six hours per week there is scope to take our time teaching things well or going the scenic route now and again. We've taught them for instance one of the most important skills required on any building site. How to make tea. This unit included how to take tea orders, good tea vocabulary, how to make a good strong cup of tea and how often it's required to make it. These lads will go far.

This week Mr. S decided to give them some practice hammering in nails. This then developed into what has become known as Construction Gym. The 20 nail bash head to head race was first. A great competition with some surprising results. Underdogs had a good day and gained loads of confidence. We were practically rolling around on the ground laughing by the end of it.

Yesterday I expanded it with the plywood saw speed test. How many lengths of plywood could they saw in 2 mins with a panel saw. A real arm burner this one. 

Now this is not strictly the safest exercise I have ever done with a class but sometimes you need to relax the rules. So its Friday period five the week is winding down and we are settling down to round two of construction gym. I have a compilation of Rocky training videos on youtube (Getting stronger) on the big screen blaring out to get them in the mood.

The first lad is about to cut and I'm standing there with stopwatch when in walks one of the Senior Leadership team. Dangerous competition to violent movie soundtrack doesn't have a great ring to it so I quickly change plan. I decide that the speed element of this cutting task isn't for his eyes and instead I decide that each person is going to cut a practice length and I give them some pointers on good technique etc. This seems to work as he is smiling as he watches. He does seem a bit confused mind. As I usher the second lad up to the workbench he nearly ruins it by saying "But sir I'm watching Rocky fight" rather than taking the saw. 

Eventually he leaves bemused and we are left to finish the competition in peace. I expect there may be some sore arms this morning...

Friday, 31 January 2014

A day in the life

This post was originally written last year in March. I'm not quite sure why I didn't publish it at the time. I think originally i had written far too many details about a students personal story and felt I better edit it.  Well I've only just found and reread it (six am saturday morning baby asleep on my legs) and it seems fine now so here you go. I'm not sure it conveys exactly what I was trying to get across but hope it gives some insight into the day of a teacher.  

I finished year nine parents evening last night at 8pm, went back to my classroom and tidied up the days mess so I could get straight to work this morning when I arrived at school.  I've got a big meeting/assessment on Friday and I had allocated myself an hour and a half before work today to give it some serious thought.

Packed up and out the door by 8:30pm and home after 9 making it an even 15 hour day. Nice.

I'm up at 5 as normal and in work by 6:30am. My plan was to work till 8am on Fridays assessment then in my free first period sort out resources and materials for my period three year 11 class (marking yesterdays work, photcopying, printing images of their work from my phone, making a set of powerpoint slides to emphasise a piece of work that they were working on). All of this work is done at a sprint pace in between answering emails and I find myself jogging across the playground back from the reprographics dept.

First lesson was at 9:30. Year 7's. Decent class but as always at this stage of the project really needy with their work. One girl arrives late. She has a note as there has been an incident. It turns out she's been cyber bullied. She's obviously upset so I have a decent chat with her about it and she seems a bit better afterwards.

In the lesson I'm circling around the room helping them with their sawing and filing and replacing Coping saw blades as fast as they can break them. Two students cut their fingers (hilariously minor cuts) but they want plasters. I stop the class and say that nobody is allowed to cut themselves anymore. It's now banned. This is a nice bunch of kids and they get the joke and laugh.

Break time is half an hour and in that time I have to tidy away the year seven stuff, finish sorting out my year 11 work and lay out their folders, print my lesson observation forms, answer the half dozen emails I've had in the last hour, check with my NQT (Newly Qualified teacher) who I will be observing period four to see she has all she needs, make a coffee and sort out cover for my period four lesson. I'm starving but no time to get to the canteen. I get back to my room with coffee as the pips go and my year 11's arrive like a scene from a George Romero film.

This lesson is a serious drain on my energy levels. I'm having to drag them all kicking and screaming towards the end of the course. I'm around the room constantly cajoling, pushing, helping, being Mr. Enthusiastic. I've talked about this lot previously in this blog and although their behaviour has improved, it's fair to say they are not well endowed with creativity. Trying to push creativity is hard work.

12:08pm and I finish period 3 with a tidy up and sort out of my room as a cover teacher is using the room to take my year seven class. It's not great leaving anything out that I don't want to lose during a cover lesson. I'm conducting a formal observation of my colleague five minutes ago so sprint upstairs with the forms. I watch a great lesson, taking extensive notes to be properly written up and discussed later.

1:08pm Lunch. In the 30 minutes we get for lunch I need to tidy up my room after the cover lesson, lay out the students work and get some extra wood for their project, answer my emails, make a coffee and get some wood for the after school DT club that happens on a Wednesday and have a brief meeting with another teacher about whether or not they should go for a head of department job. I run to the kitchen to microwave some lasagne brought from home while the kettle boils. I'm on top of things enough to manage to check my phone for messages while I eat my lasagne with a spoon.

Period five with another year seven class is a struggle. Sadly the lunchtime coffee hasn't made a dent. I'm getting tired. I get through it but not before losing my rag at the end of the class when the kids make a shocking attempt at clearing up and try to take the piss. Before the lesson is even over I have a student waiting for after school club at the door. Not even time to have a piss.

For the past few weeks I've been making a stage set for drama with this one really keen year 9 student. A fireplace on one side, a chest of drawers on the other and a moveable door frame. I've got quite into it and the student has become pretty good. It's looking excellent but it's been hard work and I can't just leave him to get on with it as I'm teaching him every step of the way.

I have 8 students in today and they all want things. So I'm helping them while also making this door frame. I feel like I'm going to die if I don't get a coffee but I can't really leave to make one.

I send the younger ones out at 4pm and a year 10 student of mine and the year nine lad stay till 4:50 when I send the year nine lad home as I need to check my emails and think about the next day.

The year 10 boy is in my classes and he is really talented in the subject. He arrived  from Afghanistan with no English but now can speak pretty well. He is genuinely one of the nicest people you could meet. I ended up chatting with him for half an hour about how he came to the UK.

It's quite an unbelievable tale and I felt myself close to tears speaking to him. I'm not going to go into it on here but essentially he arrived clinging under a truck after a four month journey.  He hasn't seen his mum or his brothers since. As he is leaving he says "Sir my face looks like a boy but inside I am an old man"

He leaves and I realise I had to have my car into the garage by 5:30 to have an MOT done tomorrow. I have my bike in the boot to cycle home. I pack up and sprint to my car and race to get there but in the normal five minute journey there is loads of traffic and by the time I get there it's shut.

I look at my phone and there are about a thousand messages.

I didn't get all that I needed to do today done and so I'll add that to my list for tomorrow.

Alarm set for 5am.


At around about 3pm today I found myself, as I often do on a Friday afternoon, staring at something uncomprehendingly. In this case it was my keys.

***Backstory alert***

The process of uprooting a department like mine and moving years of accumulated tools, resources, materials, projects, folders and assorted piles of shite is complicated, chaotic, stressful and confusing. Add in the fact that the new facilities we have moved into are half finished and some of the stuff works, but you have to just get on with teaching anyway as they build around you, then you can get an idea of what January has been like. To make things extra confusing I have been handed an obscene amount of keys. The handover of the new building from the construction company in charge and the negotiations for alterations has been tense and bad tempered and clearly fitting a single key barrel for a department is beyond the abilities of those concerned. For my classroom alone I have eight separate keys. Eight. Then you include my office, the dt and art team base, the two technicians room keys, the construction workshop, the catering kitchen x 2, the textiles rooms, the cad room, the graphics room, not to mention machine keys, coshh cupboards and so on and so on and zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

***end of backstory***

So generally at the end of the week I am frazzled mentally. School has a particular way of making your brain dull and fuzzy that I have rarely experienced sober. I've asked and other teachers feel the same. It's as if the interaction with the constant white noise of teenage student activity and behaviour, eventually polishes your synapses as smooth as a pebble in the Mediterranean sea.

At 3pm I'm looking at this in my hand:

I'm staring at it for a good while...

Then I realise that I'm not actually trying to figure out which one I need. I am instead actually trying to figure out what they are.

The weekend my friends has come in the nick of time.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

More language

Some new phrases have popped up since I last posted here.

"Certy" or "Certified" is quite common at the moment for things that are guaranteed good.

"Ham" I can't quite believe this one is real but apparently if something is ham then its good.

I also love the words used to describe skunk or really strong weed as compared to bush or standard strength grass:

"Loud" as opposed to "mute".

As in "man you've got the red eye" "Yeh bruv been smokin that loud."

Language note.

Just before the last holidays I was chatting to a year 11 student and asked what he was up to over Christmas and new year.

"Sir I'm going to sleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep"

This is generally the reaction of a lot of the kids about the holidays. They are knackered and they want to sleep for a very long time. This particular way of saying it though cracked me up. The kids at my school have pretty poor literacy levels as English is often their second or third language. We recently got some shocking statistics about the low reading ages of our key stage 4 students (7-8 years old anyone?) This manifests itself in little tricks or cheats to explain things without using actual words.

By extending the word sleep to about 20 seconds it signifies just how tired he is and how long he will be in bed without needing any extra adjectives or any other words for that matter. Needless to say myself and my colleague Mr.S have appropriated this into our daily banter.

"I need a cofeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee" being a fairly regular cry.


Stupid amounts of time has passed since I wrote anything on this blog.

Obscene amounts of things have happened.

I am now a head of department.

My department moved into temporary buildings for a year and are now back in to proper classrooms and new facilities.

I am also now a dad.

All of these things mean that writing anything in my spare time has become a challenge.

I don't have any spare time.

Why am I writing with this annoying spacing of lines? Who knows. I'll stop now. So how to sum up the experience of being a head of department in a secondary school. Well it's a dreadful, dreadful thing. The role of the so called middle leader, as far as I can see it, is to cram two full time jobs into one and spend your time adding things to your to-do list. A list that, even if I work an eleven/twelve hour day (most days), I find has grown in size rather than shrunk. Every single day.

It's mostly meetings and bullshit passed down from up on high by those who no longer teach much at all but need to be seen to be coming up with new initiatives to justify their fat pay cheques. I'm not going to whine about it any more though. That's yer lot.

The truth of the matter is that I actually really love it. I love being head of department and I love being a teacher. I just don't like having to do both at once.

I'm stretched so thin you can see through me. I may tear. Watch this space.

All in a days work

More images of the contents of my pockets after a hard days graft.