No Longer here (very often)

Due to work load and my Beloved’s constant complaints, I’ve had to reduce my blogging load.  I’ll still be carrying on at TwistedScottishBastard

Thanks to all who have read and hopefully enjoyed some of these posts.

Who knows; I (and you) may return .

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Idiots I have known

I was commenting on ManOfError’s blog recently about how thankful I am that we’re all different.  It stops life from getting too boring, and in 50-odd years I have seen a lot of differences.

Idiots keep us amused.  You can look at someone with a comforting sense of superiority when you know he/she’s done something idiotic.

I saw a lot of that in the Army, in the labs where I worked and in schools.

Here’s a (not comprehensive) list

A Bombardier (Corporal in the Royal Artillery) sticks his hand under the fan belt of a running generator to test if it’s tight enough.  We found his fingers up to 50 metres way.

A technician in a hospital laboratory is performing a paediatric faecal fat analysis, the first step of which is to homogenise the total sample of faeces (about 1.5 kg) in a liquidiser.  He adds all the sample, tops up with boiling hot water (the samples are frozen, and the water helps them melt quickly) and switches on the liquidiser motor.  Unfortunately he had completely forgotten to put the lid back on.  The resultant slurry covered him from head to toe.

A student of inquiring mind wanted to know what would happen if he flicked the voltage regulating switch (110/240v) on the back of an operational computer.  He found out it goes BANG.  He also found out it costs him $800.

A senior Warrant Officer(WO) in the Royal Engineers was ordered by a senior and very wealthy Major to make a duck pond on the Major’s private island, so the Major could shoot ducks from his bedroom window.  (Note that senior and wealthy does not equate to sane).  The WO decided to blow the pond out using about 800 kg of ANFO buried in holes distributed around the area.  The explosion moved about 700 tonnes of earth out of the hole.  Straight up.  It came back down, blocking the drainage ditch which previously existed.  The resultant quagmire went down at least 10 feet (because that was the height of the truck that sunk out of sight when driving over it), and the Major (a man of character if not of good sense) was heard to say that he may not have a duck-shooting pond outside his bedroom window, but he had the finest mudhole in Scotland.

A senior member of a school deciding that politeness was so important that it should be taught and modelled.  He suggested that we take our classes out around the school and demonstrate/instruct them about the proper way to pass through doors, using appropriate greetings as we passed.  It was rumoured that he also wanted the students to walk in pairs (probably holding hands)to and from the demonstration sites.  This is not a primary or middle school.  It is a secondary school.  We’re talking about 16 and 17 year olds here.  Luckily cooler heads intervened before the instructions were carried out, so averting the riot and mayhem which would surely have ensued.

Walking through the subterranean tunnels in a hospital in Glasgow, and being shown the digger in the room.  When the hospital was being built, this digger had been used as a temporary brick elevator, and the room had been built around it.

Watching a laboratory technician suddenly shouting, screaming and starting to foam at the mouth.  He had broken safety protocols and had decided to mouth-pipette some concentrated phosphoric acid being used as part of a reagent.  The pipette picked up an air bubble, and the idiot got a mouthful of the phosphoric acid.  He late told me that the most frightening thing was he could actually hear his teeth fizzing as they dissolved.

Another technician making up a phosphate buffer which contained a very low level of cyanide.  He mis-read the instructions in the lab. manual and used 200 g of KCN, not 200mg as prescribed.  Luckily a senior technician passing smelled the hydrogen cyanide  being evolved and evacuated the building before any fatal effects ensued.

Coming down off a mountain in Wales in winter, freezing and soaking wet.  When we reached our base camp, longing for some dry clothes and hot food and drink, we were met by the expedition leader who decided that what we all needed was a good strong half-hour prayer meeting before anything else.  When we protested that we desperately needed the heat and sustenance, he responded with “The Lord will provide”.  He was right you know, the Lord did provide.  The Lord provided 2 cases of pneumonia, 3 of bronchitis and my left hand still gets cramp when I remember the cold.

Going to a rifle range we found that there was insufficient transport available.  Most of the troops would go in the trucks, but 10 of us volunteered to use our private vehicles.  On the way to the range, we developed a bit of a thirst, and made a slight detour to a well-known pub in Glasgow called the Saracen’s Head.  We were in a hurry, so we only stayed for 20 minutes and 3-4 pints each.  Unfortunately we ran into a police alcohol testing exercise.  When the cops opened the boot (after the driver was found to be way over the limit) they found 3 semi-automatic rifles, 30 magazines, 2000 rounds of 7.62mm ball and a machine gun (LMG).  Our Colonel was not happy.

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Ethnic Education


Teachers in New Zealand are in the middle of an industrial dispute over pay and conditions. The usual back and forth, issuing vague threats through the media, nothing very new, I believe it’ll get sorted out reasonably quickly.
But yesterday a new article appeared in the press and other media regarding Maori achievements. Coming from Dr. Pita Sharples, the co-leader (or is it leader now? not sure) of the Maori Party, and an educator, these words will carry some weight, and are bound to have an effect on teachers and teaching. ERO (the NZ school reviewers and auditors) added that they will now be looking at Maori achievement with emphasis on classroom teaching methodologies.

Now on the surface, both of these are fair comments, but the following has to be considered to make a more balanced judgement.
ERO has had Maori achievement as one of its priorities since at least 2006.
Many schools have undertaken multiple approaches to identifying Maori under-achievement and using Ka Hikitia and the Te Kōtahitanga research tools, and many have already made serious efforts in raising the achievement levels of Maori, especially boys.

Now here’s a funny thing. Our school has been aware of the shortfall in Maori achievement for at least the last 8 years, and we have been making major efforts to raise it. We used the Te Kōtahitanga based approach, which means from my own perspective in increasing the mutual respect shown between students and teacher, and using the idea of progressing together into a learning experience. It works to a certain extent, as some of our less co-operative students wouldn’t show respect to anyone, unless you were grinding the barrel of a Colt .45 into their ear (Yes, I have fantasized this image; more than a few times).
But it increased the Maori achievement levels. We think. Because it also increased the achievement of all students. There is still a gap between Maori, Pakeha (NZ European) and Pacific Island students, but the gap is at a higher level.

I have always treated my students with respect, and try to maintain a good-humoured and positive atmosphere in my classes. I, like many teachers, do not always pontificate and expound as if we were the font of all knowledge, but we try to get the students to use research-based learning methods, converting them from pupils to life-long-learners.

But there is still the Maori achievement gap. Now while Dr. Pita Sharples is an educator, he has (as far as I know) never actually taught in a school, but has always remained in the glorious isolation of academe, and he seems to be dumping on schools and teachers without any valid reason. The main problem is not in the schools, it’s at home. This is recognised by ERO to a certain extent, and they urge closer links between schools and whanau. Education is not valued as much in many Maori families as it is in Pakeha families (and the winners are always the Asian families, who almost always push their kids at education as hard as they can).

I would suggest that Dr. Sharples would be doing his people a greater service if he, and his party, began to push the idea that education is the way forward, to better jobs, more money and more mana, for all Maori.

I know that in class, I treat each student as an individual, not breaking them down to an ethnic stereotype. I was asked recently how many Maori students I had in my Year 11 Computing class. I couldn’t immediately say. I could see each of their faces in my mind’s eye, but I had to think really hard to make the link to their ethnicity. I care more for J’s ability to ask constructive questions rather than he is Ngāti Porou; I get frustrated with P not because she’s a dumb Maori, but because she won’t try; “It’s too difficult”, is the wail.

I completely agree with carefull analysis of the student achievement, we have to know what’s going well, and what needs fixed, but don’t blame the teachers or the schools. The real problem (like many other faults dumped on schools) is in our society, and it’s society’s attitude and values which needs attention, not the schools in isolation.

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Guilty


After reading ManOfError’s recent posts regarding history, and also reading Steve Braunias in the Star Time I must confess.

I have been guilty in the past.

I stole a chocolate biscuit from a sweet shop beside my primary school when I was 8. I couldn’t sleep for several nights and then confessed to my Mum.

She took me back to the shop, where I apologised to the nice old lady who ran it, gave her the money owed (I think it was 3d, for those who remember L,S,D, (the currency not the psychodelic drug)) and felt much better.

I gave an order for a James Bond book to a notorious shop-lifter in my form class when I was in S2. I knew he was going to steal it, but I just wanted the book. I still felt guilty, but not too much. Getting a book had a virtue which counteracted any evil or guilt.

I changed the price tickets on a rechargeable Skil Saw, so I paid less than the full price. Still guilty, but not too much.
I still payed back the money to a charity, my conscience just nagged and nagged.

Most of my other guilty actions were not really memorable. Pretty petty really.

Except one.

I cannot tell the details.

I do not want to go to prison for 8 – 12 years.

I was very, very careful, no forensic clues were left.

No one will really be missed, and no one else was hurt in any way.

I would not repeat the action, even though I didn’t think I was doing anything really wrong. At that age (about 30) I should have known better, but I rationalised it.

I really learned my lesson, and when I’m confronted by a student who has made a serious mistake, I try to apply a rule of commonsense to the alleged breach of rules. If it’s obviously a one-off, then I will try and be not too judgemental. Everyone should get a second chance.

The little bastards who just want to create continuous mayhem, regardless of their home environment, should get shot, or at least excluded.

They should make sure they don’t get caught.

Like me.
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Am I a good Teacher?

I tend to be a bit arrogant.
No, no, don’t be hesitant, tell me.


I know it.

I do not suffer fools gladly. I am happy to help anyone overcome a problem, but if I give someone an answer, I expect them to remember the solution. I don’t like repeating the whole thing again, and certainly not for a third time.
Except with the kids.

I’ve found that I can repeat myself almost ad infinitum with my pupils. If they’ve got a problem, I’ll try again and again to explain it in different terms and examples. I very rarely show any annoyance (one exception was one nice but slow lad, who had to have the concept of a formula in a spreadsheet explained about 11 times. I did sigh in exasperation on the 12th request, and immediately felt guilty. It wasn’t the kid’s fault, I obviously hadn’t explained it adequately.

But am I a good teacher?
I don’t know.

According to Anne Tolley, a good teacher is one who gets good results in NCEA .
But what about B**, the nice but slow student in my 11 Computing class. He tries really hard, he doesn’t really muck about (no more than any other 15-year-old. If you think “yeah, right”, can you remember what you were like at 15? I know that I wagged off a couple of hours to play snooker when I was 15, plus nipping behind the cycle sheds for a quick, guilty, superbly satisfying cigarette.
B** will succeed, but it will take him longer than the norm. Every kid is an individual, who need individual approaches and learning plans. Will they achieve more than they would do without me?
I don’t know.
I hope so.
I hope that I make a difference, but I cannot really prove it.

I remember a few years ago, an American research institute put some indestructible computers in some extremely deprived areas in a major Indian city. No instruction manual, just a touch sensitive screen. Within 6 months most of the kids who were using it were literate, some were een programming the computer, so by their methodology, no teachers were needed.

Teachers get continuously observed, by our students, and occasionally by our peers. But it is difficult to get accurate feedback, so we don’t really know if we’re a good teacher, an indifferent teacher or a completely useless bastard.

I enjoy teaching, I enjoy getting to know the kids, but I DON”T KNOW IF I’M ANY GOOD.

Have a nice day.

The following has absolutely nothing to do with teaching, but it’s a cool picture.
Think.
Beware.

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Teacher Training

I’ve been a teacher for over 13 years, so my recollections of my own experiences in teacher training college in Scotland are a bit hazy and vague.

I remember;
working in groups with a tutor, breaking down the curriculum into manageable bits. 
working on lesson plans, based on a template, trying to envisage instigating the plan in front of a class.
writing essays on various esoteric areas of education (“The European Component of Scottish Education” stands out for some reason).
getting the worst marks I ever received (D-) because my essay just gave facts, not opinions.
accumulating a giant binder, packed with notes and lecture handouts, that I studied assiduously until after the final exam, when it was unceremoniously dumped in a bin.

Everything seems vague now. Until the first school experience. We had 4 placements in the Scottish system;
a quick 1 week familiarization, to let you see what a school looks like from the inside, and to bring your memories of being a pupil many years ago (in my case) up to date with modern reality.
an initial 6 week placement
a second 6 week placement
a final 8 week placement

each of the 3 main placements was assessed, and the student teacher had to show progression through each stage, and we had to be able to reach a minimum level of “professional competence” by the end of the final practice.
These placements do stand out in my memories, because they were real. Some of the coursework was good, especially the planning and curriculum stuff, but most of the rest was just a waste of time. We really learned to be teachers by watching experienced teachers teach, by observing the modern generation of students, by starting to take lessons in front of a class.

I do remember the sheer terror before I took my first class on my own. What if the little sods revolted? Could I exert control over 36 adolescents and get them interested in the intricacies of Spreadsheets and Formulae?

I can still vividly remember that class in a city centre school in Fife.
I can still see their faces, although their names have faded.
I can still remember the student in a three piece suit sitting with an adult in the front row (It turns out the student in the suit had a severe case of Asbergers, and he now had a full time “minder” because he had expressed his displeasure with a previous teacher by throwing an Apple Macintosh computer and keyboard out a convenient (closed) window.
I can still remember introducing myself to the class. The usual stuff, married, 2 kids, life experience, qualifications etc. Just as I had finished telling them about my qualifications, BSc(Honours) in Microbiology, MSc in Applied Computing, I was challenged by one of the unwashed.
He actually put up his hand first, and when I said “Yes Thomas?” (I had a seating plan given to me by their usual teacher, who was hovering nervously in the background) he asked a critical question.
“Dis that mean you think you’re smarter than us?”
I was aware their usual teacher (and also the Head of Department) had suddenly frozen, and was giving me his full attention. My answer to this challenge was critical. It would set the class attitude for the rest of my school practicum. It could make the difference between passing and failing the entire teaching training course.
Fortunately I didn’t try to prevaricate. Kids are very quick in sensing “bullshit”, honesty is almost always the best policy.

“No Thomas,” I replied,”It just means that I’ve tried as hard as I can to learn as much as possible, so I can be the best teacher for you.”
For a couple of seconds there was absolute silence; then Thomas gave a wee nod of his head and grunted “Aye”, and the class relaxed. I was in (for the moment anyway, there would be plenty of other challenges in the future ), the pack leader had accepted me as “OK”, and the lesson progressed.

This whole post was triggered by a student teacher last week.
We were really short of relievers, and when I was approached by one of our Deputy Principals to quickly get cover for her next class, there was no-one available except me. She is definitely one of the “good guys” and I knew she had had an unexpected meeting assigned to her at the last minute, so I didn’t mind. She said that a student teacher would actually be taking the class, and i was there just to supervise as the law requires.
It was a small Year 10 Science class, and I knew quite a few of the students by sight and by teaching some of them.
I checked tha the student teacher (ST) was in the class (he wasn’t) so I took the roll. The ST arrived and I stepped back to let him teach his class.
What followed could have been made into an instruction film in “how not to teach”.
The lesson was on calculation of power, work and cost. Pretty basic stuff that I remembered from my own distant school days.
But.
He didn’t try to organise the class
He didn’t start fo about 10 minutes while he got ready
He ignored the increasingly loud chatter of the kids.
He ignored kids moving into other pupil groupings

When he started, I knew it was not going to be good. He asked for quiet, and as the sound started to diminish he started the lesson. He had to raise his voice over the background chatter, as he had not waited for complete quiet. It was obvious that the ST really cared for the kids. i know this because he told the kids this fact every 5 minutes. “Why don’t you be quiet?” he pleaded, “I really want you to learn this”, said in a sort of squeaky I want you all to give me a hug voice.
The next 40 minutes were not fun. I did what i could, but if I stepped in completely, the ST would lose what little authority he had over the class.

We had a chat after the class had left and it was clear the ST wanted to succeed, and he knew that the lesson had not gone well. We discussed various strategies that he could use, seating plans amongst them, then I left to get back to my own classes.

I saw the ST the next day and he approached me. He was worried what would happen if he tried to impose a seating plan on that class. He foresaw a mutiny, and he was probably correct. We discussed the various strategies he could use to make sure he didn’t lose complete control and as I went of to my other duties, he finished with “Thanks, I’ll use those, thanks again for your help”
He was really grateful that some-one was trying to help to become a good teacher.

ST will not succeed. He will not succeed because he want the pupils to like him, and he wants to be friends with the pupils. Teachers can be friendly. They can make good relationships with their students. But friends? NO
I hope that ST learns this, as he’s a really nice guy, but I don’t think so. He has a “weak” core and I suspect that if he passes his next observed assessment (unlikely from my observation) and actually progresses into teaching full-time, he will either have a nervous breakdown or end up turning into a vicious sadistic bastard who takes out his frustration by bullying the weaker elements in his classes.
Just like the rest of us.

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