Beginning of the End

Teaching consists of looking at current events, saying that this is not a normal year and that next year will be better, and repeating until you retire.

Spotted on Facebook. If I find it again, I’ll credit the post (and get the words right)

Well, another half-term starts in England and many of us are thinking “Well, I did not expect 2020 to go this way”. To be fair, if you did think 2020 was going to go the way it has, you could have warned us!!!!! (Yes, 5 exclamation marks, Terry Pratchett was right). And, as someone else on Facebook pointed out, we were all way off the mark when we answered those “where do you see yourselves in 5 years time?” questions at interview back in 2015.

I can’t help but wonder what else this year is going to throw our way. Vesuvius is probably due to erupt. Yellowstone certainly is due to erupt, if it’s not overdue. The magnetic north pole is wandering, and we’re about due a flip of the earth’s magnetic poles and field, which would be fun. The USA and Canada have their murder hornets, so it can’t be long before they turn up in Richmond Park. So what are we going to have? Death seagulls? Killer grass? Mass food poisoning from the newly re-opened McDonalds? (Seriously, Peterborough, 6 of them? 6?). The sun is looking magnetically active again, we’re probably due a massive solar flare that knocks out telecoms, the power grid, and takes the ISS out of orbit and crashing into an orphanage. One of the world’s dictators – Putin, KJI, Bolsanero, Trump – is bound to push something regrettable before too much longer… The list is depressingly long. It’s as if each month is trying to out-do the one before it in a cycle of Four Yorkshiremen-esque “You think you had it tough in May, right then. Hold my beer and watch this…” October in the Chair reimagined by Clive Barker and then directed by Quentin Tarantino.

This lockdown has made me appreciate a lot of things. The technology that allows me to do my job every day, hooking me up with colleagues over videoconferencing kit in our homes that, until recently, was the domain of high-end tech in dedicated rooms of big businesses and colleges. 10 years ago I was working in the UHI as they developed their videoconferencing estate – near-identical rooms across all institutions so it almost looked like you were in the same room. Oh, and the PS3s because “it was the cheapest way to get a BluRay player” and nothing to do with network gaming at all, honest! It’s made me appreciate the ease of ordering what you need online, be it from Amazon or from a wonderful stationary shop in Bath. It’s made me appreciate just how damn good our local butcher’s sausages are. And it’s definitely made me appreciate my local village shop, that man and his staff are legendary.

But it’s highlighted problems. We’ve got a government that doesn’t believe it’s own lies. A government who is prepared to throw any profession under the bus if it will save their careers. May 20th marked the day our Prime Minister started blaming the doctors for the problems we’ve been having in care homes. While I do want to get back into the classroom and get back to teaching my students, I don’t appreciate the way teachers have been painted by the government and the media. How anyone can stomach to read the Daily Mail is beyond me. HMGov is developing Shroedinger’s Track and Trace app – simultaneously essential for controlling the virus and not necessary at all. Oh, and they’re going about it in ways that, technologically, just won’t work and run the risk of huge breaches of their own Data Protection Act. The data stored is technically anonymous but it’s not exactly rocket science to take this unique identifying number here and connect it to the phone it was logged from. And the less said about DC, the better.

It’s highlighted inequalities. The majority of the kids I teach don’t have access to their own computer. They can’t do the work I need them to do, they need software we have installed at school to be able to do it. And they all need to be able to do it otherwise it’s potentially giving an unfair advantage to those who have. I know the government claims to be doing things to level this playing field, but those promised laptops haven’t arrived yet, haven’t been configured, haven’t had appropriate software installed, haven’t been distributed…

We’re apparently bringing years 10 and 12 back into school so they’ve got a month of face-to-face time with their class teachers before the summer break. But only 25% of them at a time. My school is working damn hard to try and find a way to make this work but here at the code face there’s no information yet. This is not a criticism of my school, they’re an amazing bunch doing everything they can but when the government are changing the guidelines several times a day (41 times in the week before primary schools were due to go back 1st June) you can’t expect anything concrete until the last minute and I’m just going to roll with it.

Who knows what the next few weeks will bring.

May you live in interesting times.


All I learned at school was how to bend, not break, the rules

Being an irregular column in the life of an ICT teacher.

So. New term, new school, new kids, new colleagues. Just under a month in post and I had my first complaint.  Well, second.  The first was about the tone of my emails. “Could I not send emails like that to the IT helpdesk?”

You know the conversations. A member of SLT pops into your classroom for “a little chat”. Anyone who’s been involved with management in any shape or form will know the shit sandwich. Praise / problem / praise. And this was a finely crafted example – ensuring I was settling in well, assuring me that good things were being said. But there was just one thing that had been raised.

A fellow staff member (with whom I have presumably interacted in some way) has taken offence at my choice of neckwear. Another man in school has actually gone to the headmistress and put in a formal complaint about my choice of ties. (don’t shoot the messenger!)  I’m not setting the right example.  It’s not smart.

Y’see, for the last 5 years or do I’ve taken great pleasure in wearing an increasingly diverse and fun range of bootlace ties, collecting the neck pieces at steampunk festivals and making them into ties myself. They’re a talking point! A way to spark conversations with students, to begin building those all-important relationships.

But, according to the complainant, it’s not a tie.  And despite what the Wikipedia article on neck ties says, what the OED says, and what the staff uniform policy says (it’s vague to the point where I am clearly and definitely obeying it), it isn’t a tie.  So could I wear a “real” tie.

Now.  Take a look around the staffroom the next time there’s an all-staff meeting.  You’ll see a wide variety of “ties” tied with a wide variety of competence.  You’ll see the tie with a fat knot to conceal the fact that the collar isn’t fastened.  You’ll see what I can only describe as the “letter of the law” or “it’ll do” that, if worn that way by a pupil would cause uniform concerns to be raised.  And you’ll see some very smart, very tidy, ties.  But they will almost certainly be the same knot.  The knot they learned when they were at school.  One that takes seconds to tie and does the job.  If someone’s been to a fancy school, you might catch sight of a Windsor knot.  But that just scrapes the surface of what’s out there…  So I set myself a little challenge.

Every school day I would wear a different knot.  The more outrageous and flamboyant, the better.  “Wear a tie”, you said.  So I am.  The uniform  policy says wear a tie.  It does not say how to tie it.  It also does not say whether it should be tasteful or not…  Game on.

Since that day I’ve done over 50 knots.  I’ve done full Windsors, helix, shuttle, vampire, prince, Edison, aperture…  For the full list, look me up on Twitter – @dogbombs is the username, #TiesForTeacher the hashtag I’ve been using.  I’ve used two YouTube channels primarily for this as their instruction videos are brilliant – Linwood at @WhoSeesThis mirrors his videos to make them easier to follow, Patrick Novotny doesn’t but if you swap “youtube” for “mirrorthevideo” in the url it does it automagically.  And I’m going to continue to do it.  There are more knots out there for me to try, more ties for me to try them on.  My only problem is, as a taller gentleman, I need extra-long ties to be able to tie these things and look good, and for some of them I’d need extra-extra-long ties, which I just can’t find.  So 2020 might just be the year I learn how to make a necktie myself.

Has this improved my teaching ability?  No.  Has it improved my relationships with the kids?  Actually, yes.  Especially in the 6th form.  They spotted that I wasn’t wearing a bootlace the very next lesson and asked why.  So, I told them the story in full.  And the very next day, one of them had a Trinity knot, one was trying the Merovingian…  They’re learning new skills and, in the words of Madness, they’re learning how to bend, not break, the rules.

And, perhaps even more amazingly, I only got 2 ties for Christmas.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to work out what knot I’m wearing for day 1 back at school tomorrow.  I’m thinking the V-trix