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2003-01-06Is this very late or very early for the next one?

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(Yes, this has to do with the rest of the school experience I've completely failed to write about for the last... oooh, month or so. You wouldn't guess it by the half dozen or so paragraphs immediately following this, so scroll down if you want to.)

I shouldn't have writers' block when writing a diary. I'm living this, aren't I? (Say 'yes'!) Unfortunately, I'm never in a position to write when things such as composition rise to the forefront of my mind. I'm usually walking up a hill or sitting bored in some utterly inaccessible location.

What I want is a portable dictaphone and transcription device that lives inside my head. For this reason, and because such advances are some way off, I've often considered picking up a cheap Psion... something light enough to carry around in a pocket and still type on. Although, if I had one, I wouldn't carry it around on the grounds it would in due course get crushed, misplaced or stolen. Plus parts are now a sod to find.

Another funny thing is that all recall of events and observations intended to be written about evaporate upon sitting down in front of a keyboard. Having ensconsced myself, there then usually follows some stream-of-consciousness bullshit that needs an editing job like President Mugabe needs assassinating.

A bright point in this otherwise inspiration-free evening is that I bought the Ash best-of album earlier. Two CDs; one singles, one a wide selection of b-sides... 43 tracks aren't bad value for a tenner in the Woolies sale. Much to my surprise, it works. There's a reliance upon the more recent material (most of which I hadn't heard), the band have a back catalogue stretching back longer than you tend to think, and the whole ensemble represents a decent shot at packaging (backed up by Dreamwave art from Pat Lee—what looks vaguely like a Transformer can be seen behind some dodgy cartoons of what purports to be the band. So... inflatable metal and wonky human faces, lots of change there then...)

"Oh yeah...set my mind on fire...burn baby burn...do what you do to me...sometimes..."

Don't let this set you thinking I dislike Dreamwave, by the way. Listening to the fans, they've hired in Simon Furman and Don Figueora for the second Transformers mini-series—The War Within, a creditable 'What If?' origin tale for DW's "new" timeline continuity. Don can draw stuff which is suited to a comic (which doesn't look like a series of posters or waste whole pages on brief clips of the plot), and Simon is turning in an enjoyable story which simultaneously avoids too much messy referencing of either the original comics or animated series whilst still retaining an engaging level of characterisation. Woo, overlong run-on sentence there...

...anyway, enough tangents (for a few paragraphs, at least.) The past month or two has been decidedly eventful, and the wisdom of keeping a concurrent journal placed a conscious second to actually doing stuff. Besides which, apologies for the lateness of these scribblings could equally fill my remaining webspace allocation... so, these are unashamedly selected highlights, and although the process of selection may follow no understandable rhythm or logic they all are included for a reason. Well, it'd be nice to think so, anyway.

(An inescapable fact of writing with reference to other people and events is that it's impolitic to mention everything. Pete knows the sort of thing I mean as we've talked about it. The downside of this is that the paranoid individual is given to read an account and assume conspiracy, doublespeak and demonic possession on the part of the author... well, whatever makes them feel secure in their worldview. Communication is always political; it is always interpretive. Right now, I'm a little conscious that this single entry could easily turn out ten or twenty times as long as all of the others to date, so précis of a kind is probably the key motivating factor for any omissions. The others are, in no particular order: poor memory, a lack of desire to offend, and getting something written and posted by tomorrow. I'll probably end up covering the New Year separately. "Now, on with the show..." —Bill Hicks.)

I suppose I should say a little about the course outline, if for no other reason than the next time someone asks me about it I can direct them here instead of talking their head off late into the evening (hi Craig!) After four weeks in uni learning a variety of things in SEN lectures that we could probably have gleaned more rapidly from books, and pretending to be teenagers in our subject English and Drama seminars (recommended—being prepared to try to see things from the perspective of a typical pupil can only help, can't it?) we were off for the eleven week placement. The first two weeks were principally observation, a practise which slackened off towards the end of the term—if you've successfully convinced the kids that you might belong at the front of a classroom, sitting at the back of one with a folder isn't going to help you next time you teach that group or their friends. The most important observation I think I made was about the way I was observing—to begin with I was paying more attention to the material being taught than the way in which it was being delivered. Having realised that, the observation sessions were definitely more useful. After half-term, it was a useful addition to this process to be able to also observe a block of Drama lessons whilst getting to grips with starting the English teaching.

As far as getting to grips went, the first few lessons were moderate to lousy (at least from my point of view.) I had no idea what sort of level the groups were at. In some cases, a younger class knew terminology and material an older one didn't. Timing veered between over-stuffing of available time and creative expansion of existing tasks. I quickly decided that worksheets are a damn good idea. Whilst you have to be very careful with the phrasing of their questions, they form a very useful reference point since you can scrawl notes all over them. You can also divvy up tasks according to attention span on the day, and get different groups of pupils to work on slightly different tasks... differentiation with subtlety. (Differentiation is a buzzword which means that staff recognise that each pupil's educational experience is individual and needs to be tailored as such. Most differentiation tends to be by outcome... some pupils are simply more able than others. Occasionally you get differentiation by task: ie, Different tasks for less able pupils, you cater specifically for kids with poor eyesight, dyslexia or whatever.)

The department were lovely, which isn't arse-licking but a simple statement of truth. English obviously being a core subject (which every pupil follows to GCSE regardless of their inclination), the department was a decent size (in a school of less than a thousand, some departments only have a single staff member.) This translated into a useful range of approaches and teaching styles to observe, and an equally useful breadth of classes and feedback. :)

"Jack names the planets after you..." (still listening to Ash)

Subject Mentor assessments went reasonably... some targets for me work on are voice projection (related facilitating target: don't catch colds!) and questioning (closed or open depending on the depth of information to be drawn out—there's a tendency to feed more answers into questions when time is short.) The termly University Mentor assessment also passed smoothly enough, and although between flu, a funerary reminder of mortality and standing around freezing my nads off waiting for increasingly delayed trains, it would be fair to say that my health and frame of mind could have been better by the time General Mentor assessment rolled around, though the lesson seemed to go alright even if the plan was more in my head than on paper. I had started off the term with jargonised scripts (which were probably bollocks, even if people were far too polite to say that), but settled on trying to keep things simple. One of the things I also intend to work on is finding a happy medium comprising useful points (content, timing, procedure) and omitting redundancies (possibly cut&pasting such stuff across.)

Other staff were also friendly and helpful, which, considering they were being asked to accomodate eight student teachers in a school of less than a thousand pupils (including sixth formers), who inevitably (if inadvertently) stole their seats, was a rather pleasant surprise. We became regulars at the leisure centre "Retreat" restaurant (QE and Maridunam sandwich the leisure centre between them. I bet I've spelt Maridunam wrong, actually... 'cos whilst Alice, Rowenna and myself were at QE, Mark was at the adjacent secondary.) We were also apparently amongst only a few groups of uni students to poke our noses into The Poplars—a pub close to the school—on a Friday afternoon with some of the younger-minded regular staff. Both nice places: non-sixth -form pupils were ostensibly barred from the Retreat during lunchtime, and the pub staff seemed used to a teaching clientele (the jukebox is really good in there, too. :) )

Dammit, I've just thought: I need to get another pint mug. I've left mine at home. Well, if I act like a sensible and organised person and do that tomorrow, I shan't have to keep getting up so often whilst typing in order to get refills.

"Oh we'd stay up late playing cards, Henri Winterman cigars..." (Girl From Mars)

There was always plenty going on in school, which was a relief as there isn't a staggering amount else to do in Carmarthen (watch films, read books, have a few drinks, dabble with software and games)... if anyone else is thinking of a PGCE, a serious piece of advice: turn out to see whatever's happening. Inset days, open evenings, carol concerts, that sort of thing. They're really fascinating because they involve lots of people you might never otherwise speak more than a few sentences with, and I don't think you can really get a rounded picture of a community unless you see it in more than one environment. By the time we left, I still couldn't put a name to one or two faces in the staffroom, and that's partly because the school day simply doesn't provide the time for people to get together. :|

The last week was really interesting... oddest of all, two of the three timetabled lessons I had went extremely to plan. What with timing changes (facilitating Christmas dinner), an increasingly 'festive' atmosphere and the fact that everyone (staff and kids) were generally feeling a wee bit knackered, I wasn't expecting this. Year 7 took the very unseasonal desert-survival roleplay I was using as my last assessed lesson very responsibly (almost to the extent I had to foster a few arguments for the sake of the discussion exercise), and Year 9 used the different setting of the library to some productive group work... translating Wordsworth's The Tables Turned (an unintentionally ironic setting considering the ballad is about putting down books and getting away into nature), with a bit of Monty Python (specifically The Lumberjack Song) to emphasise that ballads are intended for spoken or sung recital. Year 8... well, I have my suspicion that someone put something into the water a couple of weeks away from the end of term, because I was far from the the only person to notice. On the upside, I'm much more confident now that I can shout.

Voice-raising of another kind was the agenda for the end-of-term bash... starting karoake whilst still sober (Sid's soulful butchering of My Way), although quite what tune a largish group of us were murdering toward the end of the evening eludes me. The karoake guy didn't have any Smokey and The Bandits (click here to download a MIDI of the song we were after. It's pretty good for a MIDI rendition.) People kept wandering off-stage back to their drinks 'til only Jase, a blue screen and myself remained. Then 'twas onto a small club where I eventually tripped over (although was sober enough to recover my coat, meander home and give flatmates Christmas presents, even if the last part is somewhat hazy.) Fun right up until the point at which we awoke the following morning and had to tidy the house before vacating it.

Indeed, 'fun' would be my overall reflection on the first block of teaching practise. Despite a collection of sore throats and the occasional grey hair, everyone seems to have found it an enriching and worthwhile experience. To all those who welcomed or came to accept us, my fellow students (sorry, student teachers, Berichta!), the kids / sixth form (none of whom killed each other or set fire to anything whilst under my supervision), and my family (who haven't yet disowned me for expressing an interest in a profession they have very particular views on, being part of it)... thankyou from the bottom of my heart (the fragment of it which isn't flinty and sarcastic)—you're inspirational; all of you. To anyone otherwise unconnected with this whole education thing, thankyou too for putting up with me talking nonstop about it at times. To anyone who has never met me and who just stumbled, randomly, upon this... erm, hi! :)


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