The circle game

Today was a day of wondering what the point was.

If, for example, there is a student who wags most of every day, and smokes at school, and is every now and then pretty rude to teachers, and never, ever shows up to a detention whether it is a teacher, dean or deputy principal detention, and that student manages, after five weeks to get stood down for two days, and has a meeting with the principal and his family in which conditions are set out, and then on his first day back that student wags lessons… what do you think should happen?  I reckon the kid should be suspended and made to front to the Board of Trustees, and if they do it again within a month they should be shown the door.

Otherwise what happens?  Otherwise that student realises they can do what they want and they can take more kids with them.  Otherwise that student’s teachers, and dean, and deputy principal feel like they have no power and that everything that they do is a meaningless gesture.  Otherwise the dean in this case, when he gets asked to give the student a detention, just laughs.  “What a waste of time”  he thinks.  You would only need to get rid of a couple of students and it would send a message.  Well, a different message to the one we are sending now.

The worst thing is that the example above is not an exception.  How about the boy who was actually suspended, and made a great speech to the Board (he always does), and came back with strict conditions which said if he broke one of them would be back in front of the Board, and on his first day back was standing right outside the front gate of the school having a smoke?  Well  he got put in the room for naughty students for a day.  Wow.  He must have been shaking in his little slip on shoes.

Or how about the boy on daily  report to the Principal who can’t be bothered coming  to school on Monday or Friday?  Consequence?  Not so much as a feeble detention or a call home.

I could go on.  I won’t.

Yesterday we had a staff meeting.  The Principal wants to change how we do Form Class because we have a truancy problem.  Will changing how we run Form Class alter this?   Of course not.  It is silly to think so.  He wants to change it so we will have better House spirit.  Will changing how we run Form Class alter this?  Of course not.  How will changing Form Classes from year level classes, to mixed level classes change anything?  It might, in fact allow the seniors with a culture of truancy to pass on their bad habits with greater rapidity to the junior school.  Truancy might get worse.  School spirit?  “Well done, sonny, you’re in Red House.”  What does that mean?  Nothing. 

I rarely speak at staff meetings  but I felt rather heated.   Please, I said, please let us have a plan.  If we introduce this new Form system please show us a plan of how we are going to combat our culture of truancy over a whole year, and how we are going  to actively go about building  House spirit.  Very well, the Principal declared, come with me to another school and we will look at their Form Classes.

Which, of course, isn’t a plan.

Last year when he introduced this plan and we voted it down I wrote on the feedback sheet that I thought we should plan out what we were going  to do before we did it.  In the staff meeting  afterwards he said that he thought this led to “paralysis through analysis.”

That  little phrase burned itself into my memory.  How can  you have an effective leader who thinks planning is bad?

I despair.

I am genuinely worried about where we are going.

There was a report on the radio that said that parents shouldn’t worry about where they send their kids to school because smart kids will do well anywhere.  The lady who wrote the report said that with the exception of perhaps five to ten percent of schools which were really exceptional most schools were basically the same, and didn’t limit the smart kids.  I thought, “I want to work in a school that is an exceptional school.  I want to work in a place that transforms lives and is a lighthouse in its community.”

A lighthouse.

I have a little post it note on my desk that says “lighthouse or mirror?”  It came from something Lester Flockton said at the start of the year to our school.  “Do you want your school to be a mirror of your community and all of its ills, or do you want it to be a lighthouse?”  I want to work at the lighthouse.

So even though it was a bad day today I sent my email to the Principal saying I wanted to go on the trip to see the other schools and their Form Classes, and that I wanted to help plan how we were going to combat truancy and build House spirit, because if I didn’t volunteer for this I would be a real jerk.  Nobody has a gun to my head.  I can leave my job anytime.  I choose to stay, and if I choose to stay I had better make an effort to make a positive contribution, but somedays…   well, let me tell you, the brandy I had tonight after work really hit the spot.

10 thoughts on “The circle game

  1. All teachers hit their heads against a wall from time to time. The thing that sepearates you from many who do is the fact that you care. Your frustration stems from wanting things to operate better, results to be positive and support from the top down.

    Congratulations for the email you sent to your Principal. It shows that even though you may not work in a lighthouse you refuse to be a mirror.

  2. Is it possible in our education system to ‘hold someone back a year’? That seems like it’d be a pretty effective threat to hold over a teenager: the idea that they’re going to be separated from their peers and stigmatised as immature.

  3. Hey JP you’re welcome any day to visit PC and see our house system … and some pretty ghastly truancy stats!

  4. Michael. Thanks. I will need to have a read of your blog in the weekend. I would say that I feel better after I wrote this and had a sleep, but I have two kids under five and got woken up for various duties at 10.30, 2.30 and 5.30….

    Mr MC – I don’t think I’ve ever heard of this actually being done at a secondary school. Hard to know how it would go. It might work, or it might turn the kid into a hero, or it might have us in court with an angry parent talking about human rights. I would be interested to know if this is actually legally possible though. Maybe it’s an urban myth?

    One outs – Hey. Your school was mentioned actually. It makes you realise that the truancy thing is a community thing. If there is a big proportion of the community who are unemployed, or don’t see school as a way out then they are unlikely to force their kids to school I suppose.

  5. *Face palm*
    Changing form classes won’t help, no one goes to form class anyway (or has that miraculously changed?). Mixed level SSR was an epic failure, why would mixed level form classes be any different?

    “most schools were basically the same, and didn’t limit the smart kids”
    I’ll believe that when I see it.

  6. I love the light-house metaphor. For this year, I’ve basically given up on my school and the rest of my staff and am concentrating on my own classroom. That’s the only part of the school I can control. This is not a good long-term strategy, but I just need a year off from school poltics and staff drama.

    I do think you have to go and visit the other school. I’ve no idea what ‘form’ classes are, but if the principal has another school’s version in mind, that counts as a ‘plan.’ More of a plan would certainly be welcome, true.

  7. Hey Hiddenxxxxxxx, The mixed level SSR classes are much better. Doesn’t mean it will automatically work for form classes though.

  8. CB – a form class is the fifteen minutes of the day when the students come in to get signed off on the register and hear the daily notices before they go to their first lesson of the day. Do you have them?

    Richard – I agree with both points. The reason it worked for SSR was because people didn’t want to talk to each other, which would be the opposite of what our Principal would want for the Form Spell presumably.

  9. Hmm, maybe it was just my SSR class that failed then (whose brilliant idea was it to put SSR in a computer room?).
    Of course when SSR was in form class groups there were only about 5 people who showed up to my SSR class.

  10. I don’t think vertical form classes will make much difference, except to the poor bloody timetabling committee. More complexity.

    As regards xhxixdxdxexnx,
    I had an SSR group in my computer classroom and it worked pretty well I thought. For some of the kids there it was the best time in school. No one telling them what to do, no one bullying them, no real thinking needed. Just read. A couple just wanted to sleep, which was fine (but a bit unprofessional of me)as long as they didn’t start to snore.
    I enjoyed SSR. I got the students (mostly) into a routine, and I passed out lollies now and then. And I could read, which is by favourite pastime. Pity I couldn’t smoke a cigar and have a wee drink of whisky at the same time, but that’d be asking for too much.

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