Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Big School

Yesterday, I led the English taster sessions for the Year 6s who are coming to the school in September. This involved coralling over 100 students through activities with exciting names like 'Attention!' and 'Frankenstein's Monster' and 'Desert Island Dinners' and 'One At a Time', in boiling hot weather, whilst trying to balance a smiley 'welcome-to-the-school' demeanour with an ever-so-slightly-kind-but-stands- no-nonsense glint in my eye.

Oh, and trying not to scratch the vicious insect bite I sustained on my thigh at the allotment the previous evening which grew from the size of a gooseberry to the size of a grapefruit in the space of 3 hours. (I kid you not - it's a whopper! In fact, I don't think it was an insect that bit me at all - more like a vampire bat, or killer frog).

And what struck me during the day was that as the years come and go, they bring with them children that may have different faces, but who all fall into the same sort of categories.

Without fail, every year you see:

1) Tuggers - these are students who have no awareness of personal body space and will attract your attention by bopping you on the arm or yanking at your sleeve. You have to resist the urge to leap backwards shouting 'Don't touch me!' when they do this.

2) Class clowns - generally boys with hair that dangles on their shoulders in wavy, blonde locks, or is styled hedgehog-fashion. Think they can get away with shouting comments, making fart noises and telling extremely bad jokes as long as they accompany them with a beaming dimpled smile. Note them down as potentials for the drama club and do not be sucked into their apparent charm. Class clowns ALWAYS need chasing for coursework. They're not so funny, then.

3) Keeny-beanies - usually girls erring on the slightly plumpish size and with hair/clothes/ shoes rigidly chosen by their mums. They stare at you intently whilst you are talking to them, and smile wildly, and complete everything you ask them to do in VERY neat handwriting with VERY detailed drawings. They can always be relied upon to tidy up everything that they use, and everything everyone else uses for that matter. And they will hang around after the session to tell you all about the latest book they are reading. Usually Jacqueline Wilson or Harry Potter.

4) Oooh-oohs! - the students who are there, at the front of the class, their arms shooting rigidly into the air, and almost up your nose, in response to questions, accompanied by a loud 'OOOOOOH!' and often a spot of subsidiary grunting with the effort of it all. You learn to divert their attention by giving them other 'important' jobs to do, like writing ideas on the whiteboard, or giving out exercise books.

5) Jack 'n' Jills the lads 'n' girls - thankfully few on the ground, but these are the students who are too cool for school and have been for the last 4 years. These are the ones you just know are going to resist you every step of the way for the next 5 years of their English education. They look at you dismissively from 'neath scowly brows. They grunt and shrug. They think they look hard; what they don't realise is that they are nothing new, nothing original. They just make us teachers sigh wearily.

6) The Needies - worry permanently etched on their brows. Most likely to burst into tears at the slighest suggestion of criticism. I saw the saddest example of a Needy yesterday - a little boy, sobbing non-stop - and his mother clinging to him and sobbing non-stop, too. You kind of expect it at the start of primary school, but secondary????

7) The Avoid Eye Contacts - students who have blended into the wallpaper for their entire school life so far and are determined to continue so at their next school. They will force a smile, they will shrug in response to questions, they will look like rabbits caught in the headlights, they will not say boo to a goose. They're nice children, but oooooh, sometimes you just want to shake a bit of energy and enthusiasm into 'em!

8) The Born Forties - although only eleven years old, they will tut at the silliness of their peers and take life very seriously. However, they will ALWAYS do their homework, ALWAYS remember their pencil cases and planners and ALWAYS do their best. On the downside, they can be overly honest e.g 'Are you SURE that skirt suits you, Miss? Isn't it a bit 'young' for you?'

9) Tell-tales - very keen to snitch on classmates. Good sources of information if you are trying to get to the bottom of who punched who in the corridor, but experience has shown that tell-tales never really grow out of their habit and thus make many enemies along the way and never get invited to work dos when they're adults.

Yesterday's bunch were just the same. But then, when they went home at the end of the day, and their parents said, 'So, how was the new school? What were the teachers like?' they probably said, 'Well, there was one who was funny, one who smelled of coffee and cigarettes, one who shouted a lot and one who kept looking at us over the top of her glasses in a smiley firm-but-will - stand- no-nonsense kind of way...'

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