Second Impressions and the 5Ws

For next year, I am inheriting a class that I know very well. The downside of this is that they also know me very well. Too well.

Back in the bleary-eyed days of my training year, they were my Key Stage 1 placement class. They exhausted me with their incessant ‘being 6 years old’ style behaviour, which I was clueless about, and seeing them around school has served as a reminder of the emotional vulnerability of the Spring 2012 term. These little critters were the ones who read the panic in my eyes as we handled newly hatched chicks which both mesmerised and terrified them. They saw my behaviour management breakdown which was triggered by my  inability to get them to collect their coats at the end of the school day.

This past year, I have taught many of them but as their literacy or maths teacher, not as their class teacher. They learn well and they like me but this too has its perils. Our merry rapport is predicated on my joviality and sense of humour, which has been on the wane due to lack of sleep of late. I have allowed myself to teach them as ‘the real me’, or ‘The Summer Term Me’, which is fairly warts and all. We’ve seen each other become tired and sunburned. We’ve become frustrated together when the work isn’t good enough. We’ve motivated each other too and we’ve become excited about our lessons together.

The fact is that many members of my new class, on reflection, have seen a fairly authentic version of me which would kind of undo the traditional ‘September Dragon’ that most teachers attempt to fashion with a new class.

There is a distinct possibility that they would see though my words on September the 5th when I assure them about the bounteous merits of the Star Chart; they know too well that when it comes to giving out gold stars, I have about as much of a regular and firm consistency as school custard. They’ve seen the lumpiness of my reward systems which is at times gloopy, often clotted and occasionally transparent.

The solution would be for me to fix myself and ‘up my game’ of course, but wanting to do something is not always enough to guarantee I will do something. With so much else going on, I can’t promise myself that I’ll be able to stick to the star chart as regularly as would be ideal, no matter how much I want to. Adults are fallible – that is consistent. No matter how hard we try, and continue to try.

Anyway, I have gone in for our vaguely amusing ‘Meet the Teacher’ session on this level-headed and self-aware level (“For those who don’t know me, which is none of you, I am Mr Walker”). I have put together a class vision which is something for us all to work at, and which will hopefully serve as a buffer between what they think of me now and I of them, and what we shall all hopefully become over the course of this year. 

We will be class 5W next year, and our lives will be cloaked in our vision of the 5 Ws – the vision of that which we will become.

Wise Witty Wordy Worldly Workers

Wise

We will respect the importance of learning, and always try to make sensible, logical decisions.

Witty

We will value the importance of good humour and the ability to express ideas.

Wordy

We will be playful and nerdy with language, and will be proud of our wide vocabulary.

Worldly

We will pay attention to current affairs, and will show concern about the lives of others.

Workers

We will not accept poor effort and presentation, and we are proud to work hard to achieve.

I do not have that contentious luxury of a ‘blank slate’. I know what this class is like (or at least, I know what they have been like thus far) so I want to develop their strengths and replace their weaknesses with wisdom, wit, a nerdy approach  to elevated vocabulary, a knowledge of current affairs and a rock solid work ethic. Is that so much to ask?

This being said, I cannot expect my children to become ‘philosopher kids’, to steal Martin Robinson’s concept from Trivium 21C (read it now). I can’t expect this to happen if they have a teacher with the enthusiasm of Steve McDonald, the energy of Peter Griffin and the self-presentation of Baldrick.

For 2014-15 to be as successful as possible, I need to do some serious self-maintenance. Some relate to the 5Ws but I’ll first address the ones that don’t.

I have developed a stomach this year that rivals that of my pregnant colleagues. Being six foot two, I am fortunate that I remain slim-looking long after most binge-eaters have become rotund. That is now coming to an end, as I have slowly come to resemble a bespectacled foetus. I am going to cycle every day to work, and I am going to encourage my pupils next year to get healthy with me so we can all grow together (or rather, shrink). 

In terms of my own work towards the 5Ws, I have much to be getting on with too.

WISE – In terms of intellectual wisdom, I shall be writing my Masters thesis next year, which will require not only the academic rigour to smash out a 20,000 word essay but the sensibility to be able to mange my time well enough to be a full time teacher, coordinator of two subjects and a Masters student. Hopefully the kids will be able to learn from my example in this area… hopefully.

WITTY – Absolutely no concerns here, my wit is untouchable.

WORDY – If my children are going to become passionate about new words, and about the pleasure of vocabulary, then I need to be able to show that. I need not only to introduce them to new words, but I need to model it in my day to day life. Absolutely, having a ‘Walker’s Word Wall’ will see my children describing the mellifluous nature of my singing voice and the perspicacity of their own thinking, but I need to be showering them in flowery prose for no other reason than because communicating can be an artform, and a restricted vocabulary is like Painting-by-Numbers. 

WORLDLY – I, like most people, consider myself to be someone who cares about what goes on in the world. I want to deepen this though. I am wearing a Free Palestine loomband made by one of my social-entrepreneurial pupils but I do not understand the complex history of the Israel-Palestine conflict. In the age of internet activism, where people feel they have done their bit for global change because they have changed their display picture or sent a motivational tweet, caring is not enough. Knowledge plus care can make a difference, but each one, without the other, is not likely to incite anything other than apathy. I want to set up a branch of the Fabian Society in Newham, for one thing, but in terms of my class, I want my kids to have access to the news every day and I want us to have time to talk about it. I want my kids to be the ones calling out other people when they are misinformed about an issue. I want them to be like a pint-sized Al-Jazaeera.

WORKERS – Very clearly, I cannot expect hard work from my kids if I am not putting it in myself. I know I have worked hard this year, but i also know that I did so in a counter-productive way that had, by about mid-June, left me absolutely chronically drained. The quality of my teaching has slipped and it is not because of laziness – I’m spending 11 hours in school, then going home to work until I sleep during the week. The problem has been my complete lack of self-care. In order for me to work hard in a way that benefits all of us, I seriously need to get a life, and one that includes relaxation, drinking of water, eating of fruit and spending far less time in Greggs. 

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