Wednesday, March 31, 2010

today: wake me up when it's all over

I know I said I wasn't going to write about the election but this is, I have convinced myself, meta-election talk, and not direct discussion of politics. So the rules have changed (I know, cos I changed 'em). I am now allowed to discuss elections, as a general topic, as long as I don't get caught up in the election.

The problem with being someone who reads the news, follows the issues and is generally politically minded but not a rabid political junkie, is that when elections come around, it gets very boring. I wish I could muster a youthful obsessive enthusiasm, a blogosphere-style excitement over the daily minutiae of Westminster machinations. But I cannot. I've pretty much thought out my position on the issues and the chances of my vote being swayed are zero at best.

2010 is a pretty boring election too. The incumbent government isn't absolutely despised, like the Thatcher/Major bunch were. Neither are any of the candidates inspirational, like Blair or Obama were. There is almost nothing to vote for or against - this especially true when all parties face trying economic times with very little money or room for big policy shifts. (They could be bold and brave and do it anyway - they could try and solve the recession and transform society at the same time - but they won't even try. Boldness is not a characteristic any cadidate government has in 2010).

I also wish I could get angry. Not that I'm not angry about a whole raft of injustices and foolish political decisions, but I just don't possess the energy or motivation to leap up in outrage each time I disagree with someone. My anger is more of a slow burn. Which is in keeping with my general opinion that politics is not really a short term business, but operates in decades rather than weeks.

This is why I am already bored with the election campaign - some days before it even officially starts. Claim and counter-claim. Accusation and counter accusation, smear and counter smear. The game is pointlessly repetitive - like really dull basketball. And it's noisy, fiddly and hard to follow - like an undending game of squash.

So, unless something big happens I shall be trying hard to duck the endless election nonsense. Wake me up when it's all over.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

today : music to smile to

Glad to see that Stockport Council have finaly taken action against the management of Sam Linton's School (see yesterday's post)

Anyway, everything is a bit depressing at the end of the winter. So here's some music to inject some pep into the proceedings and turn any frown upside down. This Fyfe Dangerfield song COULD be a lumpen ELO rip-off, but instead has that indefinable thing that makes it into a sweeping, uplifting, stirring romantic delight.

and this clever little song by Eliza Doolittle COULD be annoying and novelty-esque but manages to be summery, witty and engaging.

Both cheered me up when I heard them on the radio recently.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

today : accidents waiting to happen

I cannot help but feel desperately sorry for the parents of Sam Linton, the boy who died of asthma at school due to, to quote the family's lawyer :

"the lack of training, lack of communication between staff, lack of record keeping and a complete absence of common sense" inside his school.

But I also feel sorry for the school staff involved. Lots of teachers, including myself, know what it's like to operate without training, communication and decent record keeping. As for common sense - well there's no excuse. Maybe she was just useless, but if the teacher involved was struggling with time, workload, weak and incompetent management and the sheer hectic pressure of a difficult teaching day, then it's quite possible that her actions weren't deliberate, venal or even stupid, but her common sense was just trumped by the situation. Anyone can make a bad judgment once the pressure passes a certain point. I wonder if any of the managers in the school or the LEA have lost their jobs as result of this horrible incident?

I've been in several situations where the same thing could've easily happened without me doing anything wrong at all. Left alone with a rowdy group of students, it is always a key decision to leave the classroom, even for a moment, to deal with any situation. It's a judgement call that is pretty much like the toss of a coin. Many is the time I've left the room to sort out a violent incident outside my door, only for the pupils inside to take the chance to be violent themselves. I once had a student knock on my door during a lesson, and when I answered it he threw up and then collapsed off his feet. I was in a situation where I was alone in a classroom where my near colleagues were on non-teaching periods and nowhere to be found. The sight of sometone throwing up had sent my class into that peculiar semi-faked hysteria that poorly behaved students will always embrace in order to cause problems (badly behaved classes become highly skilled at behaving badly. The ringleaders wiill utilise any little thing to undermine classroom discipline - a wasp coming in the window, someone breaking wind, a distant car alarm going off, someone throwing up in the corridor - anything). I sent another pupil to the nearby library to ask the librarian to phone for help. Unable to leave her own class without strictly breaking the rules on supervision, she tried and tried, but nobody answered at reception. The school used walkie talkie radios to call between staff, but they'd been hogged by a few senior staff as macho badges and there wasn't one anywhere nearby. Even when I sent the pupil down to reception there was nobody there due to an admin staff meeting, organised without someone being detailed to cover reception.

It turned out that the student had either eaten some dodgy lunch, or drunk a liquid lunch and he turned out to be fine. But the time it took to organise help could have been crucial.

Supply teachers especially are routinely put in the position where they are placed in front of pupils without any knowledge of special needs, medical issues or any other type of local knowledge - including the names of the students and too often what to teach them. Even as an established member of staff I've been given students with extremely sensitive special needs without being told. One six foot two Sixth Former had a history of mental illness, which meant that, although an excellent student most of the time, without medication he was prone to episodes of extreme violence and self harm - something several of the staff only discovered after we'd wrestled him to the floor, cleaned up the broken glass and stemmed the blood (both his and ours). He'd transferred from another school because they couldn't cope with him, but nobody deigned to tell us why.

Another 13 year old boy needed to be given his Ritalin, as without it he was pretty much out of control. His special needs assistant usually monitored his mood and administered the pills. But when she was sent on a training course, responsibility wasn't transferred (ie her boss never did anything about it) and none of the regular staff were aware. One horrible violent incident and broken arm later (I raise it to protect myself from onrushing attack and the pupil headbutted it), I found out that he'd just not taken his medication, and one pill would have likely stopped him from attacking me. Interestingly, because my arm and hand was in plaster, the Head Teacher's secretary acted as stenographer for me when I filled in the accident forms and pupil violence report. She didn't want me to read what she'd written and I had to insist. Upon reading it I found she'd left out all the salient details that pointed to procedural flaws and even tried to mollify the details of the attack itself, as if it was a tiny fleeting incident with a freak outcome.

I could go on. Experience taught me that I should research the files - checking up on statements and records of special emotional, educational and medical needs for each of the pupils I taught. Starting in a new school I went to the files kept by the special needs co-ordinator. She was pretty obstructive but I thought that was just her being precious in the face of a new staff member. Only I couldn't find the files, only ones from about three years earlier. Of course, for her £8,000 a year extra, she'd done pretty much no work and there were no files. Which is understandable if maybe she herself was not coping. But even if that was the case, he fact that nobody in the school's management had noticed her failure in the past three years meant that pupils were walking around the school with nut allergies, weak hearts and God-knows what else without anybody knowing.

I guess my point is that teachers, like the ones who taught poor Sam Linton, are in a rather vulnerable position. And often they are put there without the basic training and support they need to operate in the best interests of their pupils' safety. This is even before we consider such things as teacher safety (my broken arm is testimony to this) and the actual processes of education such as knowing how to tailor teaching style and learning materials to the pupils' individual needs.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

today : on Charlie Gillett

I only occasionally listened to Charlie Gillett who died today, but it was comforting to know that he was there. And like Peel, he was one of those music folks whose influence on me is pretty immeasurable - even when I didn't listen to his radio shows. One way to sum up my life is as a musical journey - discovering new things all the time, moving across genre and nation as I go. Like Charlie and John, I seem never to be sated for new sounds. and they both helped immeasurably in feeding my addiction.

When I was delving into history, discovering soul and Motown and their precedents, it was Charlie Gillett's book, the Sound of the City that drove me in many a direction. Behind the scenes at the time, Gillett was one of the people whom, whilst Peel mainly gave voice to British musicians, started travelling around the world for new aural excitement and fascination. Would my playlist include Tinarewen, Amadou and Mariam, Amalia Rodriguez or any of the many non-Western musicians whose brilliance has genuinely increased the quality of my life in recent years? Maybe these musicians would have come to prominence anyway, but Gillett's support of them must have helped raise their profile.

Who'd've thunk that blues existed in the Sahara?

Friday, March 12, 2010

today : a wise man once said...

How do you measure cleverness? Am I clever when I can get the answers on my favourite TV quiz, Only Connect, after seeing only one picture or clue, and when I can unravel the wall within a minute? Am I clever because I have read a lot of books (about one a week since the age of maybe 15) on different topics? Is someone clever when they can memorise stuff (I have a pretty flawless memory in some very narrow areas - other areas I can't remember anything however hard I try)?

Here's the thing. I do think I'm cleverer than most people. I think I've reached a level where I know that actually I know almost nothing, and can change my mind with ease on considering an alternative point of view.

But that's as far as it goes. It only really matters when, for example, people seem to be struggling for the solution to some issue at work and you have a credible solution, except they won't listen to you. I sometimes think that my breadth of knowledge counts against me. Nobody likes a know-it-all. It's threatening when you set yourself up as an expert on something and this everyday non-expert can match, or even outdo you.

When I was teaching I never attended a training event where some expert held forth on their area of expertise without discovering that I either learned nothing or I could have corrected a few inaccuracies. But that isn't hard if you endeavour to keep up with your professional field, read the latest papers and books. Many of these 'experts' have a script that doesn't change from year to year and consequently becomes quickly outdated.

But despite believing that I am clever and that I know the limits of that fact, I have no idea whether I am wise. That's a whole different thing. Certainly, an audit of my personal decisions over the years would lead inevitably to the conclusion that I am certainly not wise at all.

Yet, it seems that some people believe I am. Perhaps they mistake cleverness for wisdom, perhaps they mistake disinterest for dispassionate objectivity. Perhaps they are just desperate.

So periodically people seem to call on me for wisdom which I'm not sure I have. Perhaps the truly wise thing to do is to send messages out that I simply don't want the responsibility of dispensing wisdom, which I don't. But at the same time I always foil such a plan by answering peoples' questions and need for guidance with an honest opinion. If someone is desperate enough to seek my counsel, then the least I can do is to lend an ear. Except, occasionally people take the lend, in the way people take it when you 'lend' them a paperback book or a Lyle Lovett CD.

Without being specific, it almost always ends up causing me stress and a measure of work that I never volunteered for. Relationships, kids, marriages, careers - all topics are apparently within the grasp of of my Solomonesque wisdom. Even though I am not married, am single, have no kids and a stalled career. How do they think I know anything about anything?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

today : I find who to blame

I've had a pretty crappy week. I felt ill and ended each day with one of those headaches that's like something is gnawing away at the inside of your sinuses. Today I went to the shops and had to wait ages for a disabled parking spot to come free. The when I got home I had to do the same to park outside my own house (the whole street was jammed with non-residents' cars. It drives us mad). Then I had a nasty letter from the bank.

And if I am to follow the current course of media events - it is Gordon Brown's fault, or Jack Straw's, of Des Brown's, or some other cabinet minister. There must be a minister for parking. The 40 minutes I wasted today waiting for spots to come free were HIS FAULT. My non-specific cold-like headache inducing illness is clearly due to the government ineptly running the NHS. Whomever is Minister of Health, well it's HIS FAULT. They've had ten whole years to foresee the bank sending me a nasty letter and should have dealt with it years ago. They never even thought of pouring research money into a vaccine that could prevent my headaches - all the time spending money on other stuff.

I immediately called for ministerial level meetings where I can tell them what policies to adopt because they, in their expenses-paid flats with their private bar and first class trains, clearly don't understand just how hard it was being me over the last 7 days. I demand action.