Friday, 17 July 2009

Farewell Tom, farewell Rick, farewell tables..

'Niccolo Machiavelli must be nodding approvingly
somewhere down in the bowels
of Management Hell.'

Ho for the hols! End of term today, back to reality for a few precious weeks. Le Continent beckons and I cannot resist her siren call. Soon time to hit the road south and put as many miles as possible between ourselves and our home village of Trethickbugga. No you won't find it on the map - it's a made up name. Pity really, but you can't have everything. It's on the outskirts of Smalltown in Midshire (see above).

Alas, today was also time to say goodbye to Tom, my immediate boss of 21 years, and 10 years my senior - the lucky sod's retiring. By far and away one of the most experienced practitioners in his chosen subject, and shamefully overlooked for promotion to a recent senior post. He was duped into applying for the post by the Beak solely in order to create an artificial 'field' of two. Number Two (seems an appropriate pseudonym so I shall stick with it) was some supercilious young pipsqueek with a Phd, a fast track promotion ticket, and no f***ing clue. Just the sort of person the Beak wanted to promote because they would owe their worthless existence to the Beak, and not to any worthwhile teaching experience or long slow climb up the promotion ladder. Niccolo Machiavelli must be nodding approvingly somewhere down in the bowels of Management Hell.

Enough of Number Two, for now.

It's fair to say that mine and Tom's working relationship has been a bit like a successful arranged marriage - we were thrown together by circumstance and were very different personalities but we made it work. The vast majority of the time we've got on well. On a few occasions there's been clashes of style and aspirations and each of us has been guilty of sulking. However, although we've both sometimes grumbled to others we've never had a head on confrontation about anything in over two decades. That's not bad. I've lost count of how many head on confrontations I've had with the Beak since their arrival, but that's another story, and another, and others still to unfold.. You get my drift. We bade Tom goodbye around morning break, gave him his retirement gift, and ate goodbye cake. Later I shook his hand, thanked him and told him I thought the good bit of my career was now over. It was all very brief and male (ie no wailing and gnashing of teeth) but it was sad to think he won't be back. He left a year earlier than planned because of the rising tide of Beak Bullshit. In fact one of the more spectacular morsels of Beak Bullshit is 'a rising tide raises all ships'. Given that the tide rises and falls twice daily I couldn't think of a better metaphor for our state education system, riddled as it is with endless government initiatives and counter initiatives. Similarly, a rising tide doesn't make a sod of difference if the ship is full of holes and sinking. Retiring earlier than planned has become a recurring motif among our more senior staff members - there have been five such cases in the last twelve months, all valued and experienced professionals.

I also bade goodbye to Rick, who's driven into work and back with Tom since time immemorial. Rick is a decent straight down the line guy, in good shape for his age due to his obsession (and impressive competitive performance) with his chosen sport. Unfortunately Rick leads a subject who's performance statistics are of great importance to the Beak, and has thus been put under the steely gaze of internal monitoring and inspection to make sure the stats were right. The pressure did him in - a physically healthy guy taking time off for stress, and buckling under the relentless nose poking, bullying, meddling and half-cocked recommendations of his senior managers. He retired earlier than planned and goes to another job with a lot less pressure. Good luck Rick, and good move. Take my deep envy as read.

As for tables.. in a final burst of term end insanity the Beak declared war on tables in my classroom. (Gollum Mode: Dirty filthy disease ridden tableses - all must die! :End Gollum Mode). Well around half of them anyway. Seriously, half my classroom tables will be removed. My subject involves the use of equipment that is arranged on benches around the room, so where there are no more tables let them use benches instead quoth the Beak. Needless to say I (once again) found myself differing with this latest barking mad Beak edict, committed my numerous thoughts on the topic to e-mail, and fired it up the food chain, but it was predictably vetoed before the apex predator got a sniff of it.

Why must my tables go? Why can my classes no longer all sit facing the front of the room for some parts of my lessons? Two words - group work. Group work is this month's fad in the state education sector. Group work prepares the students for working in teams in the real world of commerce and industry. Group work will be audited on inspection so group work must happen. Everywhere, at all times. That is the Law. Group work is what we see at the supermarket checkout when Kelly-Marie the assistant's barcode reader won't scan the bag of mixed lettuce and she waves it in the air at a nearby supervisor and shouts 'How much is bag of mixed lettuce Doreen?' When Doreen soundlessly mouths 'F**k knows' back at Kelly-Marie that's group work. Vital stuff for oiling the wheels of commerce you see?

Apparently removing tables encourages group work, possibly because the students have to now sit on each others' knees to find table space for their folders. I'm intrigued to know how many tables most go in order to result in the most group work - 50%? 33%? 75%? All of them? What is the magic formula? Only the Beak appears to know the answer, and the Beak gives little away, especially common sense reasoning. As far as I'm concerned the Beak can remove all the tables, and the benches, and the equipment, brick up the windows and disconnect the lights. The resulting pitch black dungeon would be absolutely superb for group work - the students would have to co-operate from the moment they stumbled blindly into the room, simply to avoid tripping over each other. Eventually they could organise search parties to grope around in the dark and see if any work had been left or if the teacher was indeed present in the room. Then they could gather their collected resources to create light and warmth - mobile phones, ciggie lighters, important school letters intended for parents, all would be grist to the group work mill. By the end of the lesson they'd be sitting around a roaring fire of important school letters texting each other by LCD light, smoking and singing community songs to raise their spirits in the interminable gloom. That's real group work so why stop at just the tables?

You couldn't make this up could you?

I know I haven't.

And that is why I blog.

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Thursday, 16 July 2009

jctvysg7xe is watching you..


No, I haven't collapsed face down on my keyboard - apparently by including the above morsel of random code in a post I help my Blog get noticed by Isn't technology wonderful?

The fact that two of the letters are my initials, three others appear in my full name, and the number is my month of birth is just coincidence.

I hope..

Now we are Fifty..

"I suspect this trend
to be the by-product of a certain
middle-aged obstinacy as it becomes
increasingly obvious that your job and
workplace are going to Hell in a handcart
and you want to make the most of your
remaining chances to say so"

Fifty eh? Landmark birthday. Half a century. The first bit is over, now it's time to chronicle the last bit for all posteriority - that's no spelling mistake by the way, I'm referring to the arse end of my time here. I live in the hopeless conceit that anyone out there will give damn for my musings, especially as I don't usually have time to read others' blogs, but what the hell, here it is warts and all.

The first 13 and the last 26 years have been spent in state education - initially as a snotty, later spotty student and latterly as a high school teacher. Over quarter of a century at the chalkface and no remission for good behaviour. I hope I have no more than 5 years to go in my current occupation but who knows what tricks the recession still has up its pinstriped sleeve as those merchant bankers (rhyming slang) of the money markets play their silly games with others' billions.

I can't think of a better illustration of one's career being finished at fifty than today. On my fiftieth birthday yesterday my manager handed me a report outlining future recommendations for my subject in our hallowed institution. I spent three hours of my birthday typing out my less than complimentary response - I had to get it out of my system before I returned to the real world of home and hearth to enjoy a celebratory evening out. We were so keen to get out we didn't have time to put the candles on the cake. When we returned we were too full to even think about cake let alone light it. As I write the cake still sits pristine on the kitchen counter, its box unopened, its icing unpunctured by candle holders and its Star Wars Clone Trooper figure blisfully unaware of the battle damage soon to follow when we eventually lay into it like crazed Jedi with our cake sabres.

Enough of cake.

Today I had a meeting with my boss, the Beak. The Beak was flanked by two lower bosses (Beaklets?) for protection. Or comfort. Classic management tactic for heated meetings, also favoured by Gangland bosses - enough said. Three against one. (Fantasy Mode: C'maaaaaan ya bastards! All at once or one at a time! I don't care, I'm f***in' mental me! :End Fantasy Mode) Have you ever had those meetings? They've become increasingly common for me since the Beak took over and no mistake. I suspect this trend to be the by-product of a certain middle-aged obstinacy as it becomes increasingly obvious that your job and workplace are going to Hell in a handcart and you want to make the most of your remaining chances to say so. A last despairing yell before you smell the burning rubber of the tyres, and wish that Aldi had had a special promo on fire retardant handcarts when you decided to buy yours.

Anyway there I was in my smouldering handcart, Hellward bound with the Beak and Beaklets turning up the heat. I won't bore you with the details but once all the arguing was over the outcome of the meeting was this:

  • You will continue to teach the brand new subject that you think is utter crap after a thankless year spent struggling to make sense of it.

  • You will forget any previous high standards you have worked towards in earlier incarnations of your subject - those days are gone.

  • You will lower your standards ("recalibrate my expectations" to quote the report - priceless) to the abysmal level required for your students to pass this new subject.

  • You will believe all the marketing claims of the subject's purveyors because they are objective and true, and not in the least bit related to the substantial fees they receive up front for providing the course materials.

  • You will rejoice in the fact that more students will be seen to pass as a consequence of these low standards, and this will be your sole motivation for teaching the subject.

  • You will not worry your little head with the morality of all this - it is irrelevant in today's world of target-driven education.

  • You will not pass judgement on the overall quality of the subject you teach - it is not your place as a mere experienced education professional to do so.

  • The Beak's word is law. Resistance is futile, you will be assimilated.

And there are people out there who think state educators have no notion of what it's like to work in a business environment.

I am so glad my kids are out of secondary education.

I'm already envying retired people, and I'm only 50. And a day.

Thanks for your attention. Now tidy your books up, put your chairs under and go quietly back to your lives.

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