Well the New Year’s resolution is going well – half term misspent on another short story – this school is becoming peopled with characters all their own – all imagined I promise!
Nick Driscoll’s wife always looked forward to inspection weeks, it meant that he got up early and made her coffee. She could luxuriate for half an hour in an empty, but still warm, bed and then have the shower to herself before she wandered down to a hot and strong coffee. Nick would be at the table papers spread out, laptop down, second cup of coffee on the go and his unassailable instinct to win kicking in to create the greatest lesson plan of all time, just call him the Tenacious D of teaching!
Nick had been an outstanding teacher for five years, every inspector either from another department in the school (they perpetuated their own paranoid versions of how to second guess the inspection process) or from Ofsted rated him outstanding. In all these inspections Nick Driscoll aced it, of course this did not make him popular. In fact, recently, there had been a move to make the grading system anonymous: grades would be known indirectly only to Heads of Department and not directly related to the teacher, but to the general level of teaching in the department. Nick Driscoll had opposed this, it was the kind of thing, he said, that bought teachers a bad reputation. Teachers who were not able to face up to their own inadequacy and face humiliation, if they had to, in order to improve. Teachers should be accountable if they could not teach a lesson. Time was coming, he said, when this new guy, Wilshaw, would make sure that teachers were judged on their performance, no room for ‘requires improvement’. No it didn’t bother Nick Driscoll that everyone knew he was outstanding.
However it did bring its own pressures. Whenever the team were in and walking the floor, it was almost inevitable he would get looked at, even if it was only on a ‘learning walk” an unexpected drop in measure, that meant the entire week had to be devoted to active learning, sod the essential exam practice or the watching of that documentary or heaven forefend a test, all of it had to be exciting and interesting, so that when the inspectors “dropped in” they would see an engaged class, enjoying an original and exciting lesson, just in time to hear some pupil say ‘What’s this got to do with our exam?’.
But Nick Driscoll had that covered, Nick Driscoll had rearranged his entire scheme of work to make sure that the inspectors saw the best snapshot they could and not the real one. However this was the last day of inspection and he had not been seen yet and his reputation was such that he would be seen, he was sure, probably for the full monty. ‘Nailed it!’ he said as his wife got up to pour herself another cup of coffee. ‘Everything from equality and diversity to differentiation nailed on every class today, tracking data, pen portraits the lot. Bring it on baby! Bring it on! ‘ He beckoned Matrix style and shut down lap top.
It was period three, Year 10, not his first choice, but generally they were an easy class, nice, if anything a bit too easy, they cooperated but they were not inclined to think. They would not volunteer information, now would challenge or discuss, all they wanted was to be told. In fact one bright spark at parents’ evening and announced that last year she had had a ‘good’ teacher who had just put PowerPoints up and let them copy down the slides so that they knew what they should say in the exam. Well he knew who that was, and he was not about to let then PowerPoint rule the day, it would be group work for this lot, followed by plenary discussion and feedback to Mind Genius on the whiteboard, (inspectors liked that, most of them were so ignorant of digital apps that they did not realise how piss easy most of it was, they seemed to think it was difficult and who was he to enlighten them?) If things were going well he might even let the students up and use the whiteboard, mind you he had to watch timings and he might need a bit of targeted questioning to get them going. Inspectors liked that too, probably because it proved he knew their names…. or had a seating plan.
He was there prompt, the inspectors were there already and the kids, to their credit, were lined up smart and quiet. His predecessor, Angus Clarkson, left the classroom, a look of palpable relief on his face, it seemed he had escaped. Nick went in, checked that all was in order, yep Angus was a considerate teacher. The computer was logged off but the screen was on, Driscoll logged on and went to the door to invite the pupils in to the classroom. They filed in, obedient and quiet, positively moribund, nobody tried anything on the seating plan, they all sat where they should. He greeted them each with a smile, and commented on the untucked shirt of Marcus Stefano, other than that, all was in order. The inspectors, a man a woman and a senior member of the school staff filed in, he handed them each a copy of his lesson plan and then stepped to the desk to take the register. They were all present, he could tick that box then, a hundred percent attendance, one hurdle leapt to outstanding.
He introduced the lesson with stunning clarity, lesson objectives clear, lesson outcomes explained, the first activity launched with one PowerPoint slide and a brief handout, with room for notes, no worries if people were without books, paper of even pens, he could fix that. Pen and paper also kept hands on the table and away from ‘phones, no one gets an outstanding if the pupils take to phoning a friend. He went round the back of them counting 1,2,3 in rotation, all the ones were to get in a huddle, all the twos in another huddle and all the threes, that broke up friendship groups, proved to the inspectors that he wasn’t dependent on the seating plan for names and established he had authority. He had also noted on the lesson plan that it helped with differentiation allowing different abilities to extend their contact with each other.
They started their group work, obediently filling out their forms, discussing the topic in a focussed manner, and demonstrating that they had learned something in previous lessons, that provided him with opportunities for some informal assessment. He checked they were all on task, prompted Richard Ellis with some questioning, checked that Felicity knew what day it was and headed back to the board, to pull up the mind map. He held his breath while he logged on. IT in the school was not as reliable as the space shuttle, and it had been foggy that morning, an excuse frequently offered for the system being out of its ‘tree’. However, not today, all was working smoothly, no need for the paper back up and the variety of coloured pens he had in his drawer, good use of ILT coming up. It was going swimmingly, what could go wrong?
Nothing, really, nothing at all, at least not for the pupils, not for the teaching, not for the learning, but for the inspectors, ah the inspectors.
Meryl Anderson spoke, this in itself was a very good thing, for Nick Driscoll’s pen portrait would state that Meryl had never spoken in the past, in fact it had been his long stated objective to get Meryl Anderson to contribute in class before the academic year was out and now she had. Which was a good thing, because he had not been going to target her. He was happy to target question Peter Livesey or Alexandra Cummins, but not Meryl, something in her silence told him that to target her would not elicit a good answer, she was painfully shy, or damaged, or afraid. He had not cared to investigate too closely with her, mainly because her written work was second to none and he had no doubt that she would succeed, academically, although if she never spoke he was not sure about her ability to get a job, but there was a limit to what he could teach her. He was there to teach her the parameters of his subject not turn her into an automaton for industry. In addition to that there was never any evidence of parents at parents’ evening, and her tutor rumoured darkly of a disturbed childhood, best to leave well alone.
The trouble was, once the barrier had dropped there was no stopping her and by some strange conspiracy, the other pupils stepped aside, so that as he posed each question for feedback, Meryl’s hand went up. It seems she had had a breakthrough and what a breakthrough, much to his chagrin now, she could barely resist calling out even if it wasn’t here group’s turn. He filled out the chart on the Mind Genius mind map and she called out a mistype even as he was correcting it. He asked for volunteers and she was there, enthusiastically using the whiteboard keys in front of the entire class as if she were Bruce Springsteen at Wembley. What was this about? Had the class had a caucus and decided to revert to their normal behaviour for fun? Had he underestimated them that much? He looked round at their curious faces, no, it seemed to him that they were as bemused as he was by Meryl’s new found articulation, and they were only going along with it because they did not know what else to do. He targeted some questions, they cooperated but as soon as she could she was back with another astounding contribution. He was now in a dilemma, if he stopped her contributing he could nip in the bud a much hoped for impulse to speak in public that should be encouraged, if only because she thought she was doing the right thing, helping him, so that he would do well in the inspection. If he let her dominate the classroom, even though, they knew and he knew that this had never happened before and probably never would again, if he did that he would probably loose his ‘outstanding’ score, because his lesson was unbalanced.
It took every ounce of Nick Driscoll’s strength to suppress his instinct for competition, to relegate his egotistical desire to dominate the staff room. It took every ounce of integrity he had (and there wasn’t much) to suppress the temptation to ignore Meryl’s hand and her voice so that he could rebalance the lesson and tick that box, the balance box or whatever box it was and get back his perfect and outstanding lesson. But he was enough of a teacher to know that the pupils came first and that that should be what made him outstanding, so he did suppress his ego. He did let go of that much treasured status, a status that sustained him through the lousy pay and the endless vilification from government, he did let Meryl raise her hand once more and provide the class with the benefit of her genuinely impressive insights. He did that because tomorrow the inspectors would be gone, and he would only have to suffer a “very good” and some patronising clap trap about making sure that all pupils were given equal opportunity, although of course they understood that it was just ‘snapshot ‘ and it was not a reflection on him really, but they must just judge him on what they saw – bullshit! He knew he must put up with all that, because tomorrow would be just another day for him and he would get over it, but for Meryl it would be a new day, a new start, and in her words and as she trotted past him flushed with her success, convinced that she had demonstrated her support for her favourite teacher, in her words tomorrow would be ‘outstanding’ just not for him.
© All rights reserved by Judith Gunn 2012
Soooo if you like this (and let’s assume you do) there are other short stories under the Short Story category (original!). There is almost a whole exciting novel on this blog, soon to be completed! Click here for Chapter One.