Saturday, March 31, 2007


I saw a young man reading one of the Tim Berners-Lee quotes on my 'quotes about IT' display, and disagreeing with it out loud, to his friend, who argued back.

A girl who started the year full of angry incomprehension at A-level work came to my class, in her breaktime, and handed in a complete coursework project, a day early.

I saw a kid open a door for a teacher overburdened with a box of marking.

Two young women, who had been withdrawn by their parents from an event I organised that was designed to promote religious tolerance, told me that when they had kids of their own, they would make sure that they went to events like that.

You feel you're getting somewhere.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

How to make the shortlist

OK, I have pontificated on previous occasions about how to deliver a good sample lesson when attending an interview. But you can spare yourself the ordeal of that sample lesson by failing to get invited for an interview.

Firstly, remember it doesn't really matter if you don't fill in the application form. We understand how busy you are: just send us a printout of your 10 page CV (listing every INSET you have ever attended) and we will cross reference it ourselves. It's not like we're busy.

Spelling, grammar and capitalisation errors are great. They show how happy-go-lucky you are and what a casual, easy-going approach you take to the written word and the process of checking over your work. They are really good indicators of how you will approach marking, planning and writing resources!

Illegibility and poor handwriting don't matter. Crossings out are not a problem. This is the era of the computer; you don't need to be able to write clearly to be a teacher.

If you are applying for an IT job (or if you mention your effective use of IT anywhere on your application) it's rather witty to back up your claims of being a well skilled in word-processing with an absolutely hopeless desk-top publishing job. Random font changes, embarrassing spell-checking errors, inconsistent indentation, inappropriate fonts... I know you're just showing me how aware you are of the commonest flaws in our students' work. And we love MS Word CV templates. They're so....unique.

Seriously, folks, it's not rocket science. If you can't be bothered to take care over an application form which I am duty bound to read from beginning to end, do you really think we will trust you with a teaching post? With, you know, real kids writing real essays and all that?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Some of the things I say to my students are true

Whenever I teach the Data Protection Act, I expend much energy communicating that knowing about the DPA could be one day prove very beneficial to them (unlike a lot of things they learn). The DPA is widely misunderstood; and it is hugely useful, for example if you should find yourself in the position of being unexpectedly turned down for credit.

Now to this we can also add the fact that the DPA could one day help you out if you become a Doctor and your application for a job is turned down after electronic processing by the infamous MTAS system. This is the story of Dr Palak Trivedi, who used the powers of the DPA to enquire as to why... and got an interview.

Further MTAS horror stories can be found elsewhere on the good Dr Crippen's blog.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


I'm sorry my posting is so moribund. I am quite low at the moment.

It's not my management - unusually for the blogosphere, I like my managers and I may not always agree with them but they do a good job.

It's the kids.

It feels like I am breaking a terrible taboo to say it, but the kids are getting me down.

Not the lad who - last Monday - was more threatening to me than any kid I've ever taught. Funnily enough, that encounter left me shaky but sound; I discovered that after 10+ years, my instincts served me well and I think I dealt with it effectively. By the end of our encounter he had apologised completely and sincerely, and I admired him for not running off and leaving us both in an intractable position.

No, it's the default teenage attitude to everything. It's the 'nice' kids. The way that it's my job to help them catch up when they've been off; the way that they will ask for help before they read the instructions, not after, because it's just easier. The fact that the things I used to do as an extra favour, such as lunchtime revision help, are now demanded as a right and complained about if missing. The complete lack of appreciation and gratitude. The absence of any awe, wonder, curiosity and imagination. The yawning, tedious laziness and banality of their approach; the relentless effort needed on my part to summon energy from them. The absolute and complete lack of intellectual curiosity. The profound selfishness of their approach to life. The fact that my energy and enthusiasm is being sucked out of me into the endless black hole of modern youth.

I know that I don't always feel like this. I know that I have been moved and thrilled by teaching young people. I can give you explanations political, historical, sociological and metaphysical as to why teenagers are the way they are.

But at the moment I'm just a bit fed up.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

A tale of two applicants

University applicant A was 12 when her parents first took her to Oxford; as they wandered round the streets, they half-jokingly asked her 'Would you like to study here?'

At 15, she spent a day in Durham, visiting her Mum's godson, who showed her around a few colleges and told her all about student life.

At 18, University applicant A had applied to Cambridge, Durham and a variety of others. Her Mum and Dad had read through her draft UCAS application and made helpful suggestions. She knuckled down to swot for her A-levels, but everyone few weeks she paniced at the thought of what she would do if she didn't get in to Uni. Even worse, she worried what she would do if she did.... But her parents reassured her that she would be fine, and after all, she knew loads of people who had studied at Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Southampton... Why couldn't she?

University applicant B was 17 when a teacher remarked to his tutor that 'he's the most gifted historian I've ever taught, is he applying to Oxbridge?' His tutor, and the history teacher, and the school G&T co-ordinator then began the slow process of encouraging him to apply to Oxford or Cambridge. No-one had ever suggested it to him before.

At 17 and a quarter, he went to Oxford on an Open Day. Everyone he met appeared to him to be upper class, completely intimidating and to have nothing in common with him. He decided not to apply there and then; it was only after a long process of persuasion by his teachers that he changed his mind (and then only because he thought he probably wouldn't get in.)

At 17 and a half, applicant B finally explained to his tutor that the reason he hadn't filled in his University application was that he couldn't understand the Oxford web site. Somewhat annoyed, his tutor spluttered that as a straight A student, he should be able to figure it out. Sheepishly he asked "What's the difference between an undergraduate and a post graduate?" Equally sheepishly, she explained it to him.

At 18, B had applied to Oxford, and been given an offer, but he really thought he wouldn't fit in, and was seriously considering turning it down. Especially as his Mum, who was already worried about the cost of sending him to Oxford, was reassuring him that it would be OK if he stayed at home to go to Uni. If he wasn't going to be happy there, what was the point? After all, there was a university in the town where he lived.

It's not enough to say (especially from our comfortable perspective as successful graduates) that the cleverest students, irrespective of their background, will overcome their own self-doubt and inner demons, and gain places at our best Universities. It's hard enough with a fair wind, parental enthusiasm, and a cohort of peers behind you. Those students from what we euphemistically call 'non-traditional' backgrounds have far bigger obstacles to overcome and I welcome anything that helps them.
Whether this will help I don't know, but it's an idea.

Sunday, March 11, 2007


Take a massively expanded University system; add many new institutions offering similar courses with lower offers. Blend in rising A-level results and the constant pressure to perform. Season liberally with the Internet. Carefully pick out as many seeds of imagination and creativity as you can from young people, using a constant diet of TV, computer games and a restrictive curriculum. Rinse repeatedly from Yr 1 to remove all trace of personal responsibility.

Now get your Lower Sixth cohort to apply to University online.

Bake gently in the ovens of competition and wait for six months. And voila! Students are copying UCAS personal statements off the Internet.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Skills for Life?

Overheard on the corridor today:
"OK, go in, get into pairs and practice oral. I'll be back in a minute"

Wish I taught French.