The things they didn’t mention during teacher training – no.21, the long range school trip

I wrote this a few weeks ago, but in the chaos and confusion of the week that followed I forgot to post it.

I did my training to be a teacher quite a while back. I enjoyed it and learnt a whole load of useful things that I still make use of and a few completely useless things. I can remember a lot of the workshops, presentations, seminars, reports and exams like they were yesterday. What I also realize now is that there are many things that feature in education that never got a mention and yet are, in terms of my own perception of things, pretty big issues one way or another.

I’m about to embark on a five day school trip. I know that the week ahead will feature a few such experiences. Let me start with the traveling in the bus experience.

We are traveling with about 115 pupils, aged 11-13. We are setting off at 6.30 in the morning, we’ll be reaching our destination at about 7 in the evening. We’re going to be traveling in two buses starting our journey in the central Netherlands and finishing near Swindon in England. The day also involves an hour and a half on a ferry to cross the channel. Oh yes, we are traveling with a group of nine staff members.

None of the children involved are likely to have made such a trip before, and to say that they are excited, nervous and just generally wound up about it is something of an understatement! Keeping a lid on the excitement is kind of the order of the day. No energy drinks, only limited sweets during the course of the day and hopefully it will remain bearable for all.

Three hours into the journey and I’m no longer sitting next to one of my colleagues, I’m now sitting next to a particularly irritating voice in the bus, half way down the bus amongst the boys to apply a calming influence…..it works up to a point, but it does kind of take the experience of arguing children in the back of the car on a long drive to a whole new level. Only another nine hours to go before we reach our destination.

Ahead is a week of sleep deprivation. Calming 115 children down and getting them to go to sleep at the end of the day isn’t for the faint hearted! Shepherding them as a group through the Oxford town centre in the early evening rush hour isn’t either really. Dealing with the homesick children, the lost telephones, the occasional breakages of this and that, the little conflicts between increasingly tired children as the week goes on all can be added to the list.

It’s fair to say that this is fairly extreme educational experience. 16-18 hour working days for a week are pretty demanding, physically, emotionally and intellectually. Looking back it’s perhaps not so strange that nobody ever mentioned this during teacher training!

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Classes with split personalities

It is no secret in education that a class at the start of the day is often a different proposition to a class at the end of the day. My timetable this year has thrown up, for me at least, one of the clearest examples of this that I’ve had in fifteen years of teaching. I thought about changing the name of the class to give them some anonymity, but let’s not, its V3S. They know who they are, they also know already that I see them as something of a schizophrenic bunch (in the nicest possible way of course!).

splitclasses

I should perhaps start by saying that it is a class I like teaching a lot, twenty-seven fourteen and fifteen year olds. They are sociable, they are interested in more than just themselves, they are as a class really quite creative and able, and have a good feeling for humour. In fact, there haven’t been many classes that I’ve laughed so much with. All really enjoyable character traits for a class, especially for one that is actually built up of several quite distinctive ‘groups’, groups where the interaction between them is fairly modest.

But having said all that, the difference in the mind-set of the class for my last lesson of the day on a Thursday afternoon and then when I see them again for the first lesson on Friday is regularly quite huge. Friday morning can feel like being in a public library, Thursday afternoon like teaching in a market place on a Saturday afternoon.

It almost feels like I have two different classes, conscientious hard workers and a disorganised rabble. Part of my task as a teacher is obviously to try and ensure that in both modes V3S continue to be productive. Generally, I can achieve this, although if I was to stop to analyse it a carefully I’m sure I’d discover that more was being produced in that second lesson, but that has to be weighed against the verbal language production in the first one.

I mention the verbal production point because as well as the art content of my lessons, verbal language production is also important. I am after all an art teacher teaching my lessons in English to help these Dutch pupils to develop and improve their English. With this in mind I am reluctant to impose silence in the classroom, especially when it is a class where we have carefully cultivated the use of English as being the absolute norm and the class has responded so well in playing their part in this.

But oh, the chatter on a Thursday afternoon can at times be quite baffling. I recently complimented one of the boys for managing to talk continuously in English throughout the lesson, not straying into Dutch on a single occasion. He was, if I can be a little critical for a moment, talking absolute nonsense, and doing it nonstop for sixty minutes, but he was doing it in English!

The factors that come together to produce this sort of apparently split personality class are varied, the timetable has thrown up art followed by physical education on a Thursday afternoon, this generates a sort of ‘release’ after a morning of more ‘academic’ lessons in the morning. They are perhaps a little tired, and when I see them again at 8.20 on a Friday morning dare I say that they are still a little dozy?

All in all, it’s not too much of a big deal for me, however it does perhaps highlight the educational issue of good timetabling. Someone of course has to teach the difficult classes last thing on a Friday afternoon, just as long as they are not teaching the same group at the end of Wednesday and Thursday too!