The Eaton Diary of London    2001  

The Dismissal

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Friday March 30, 2001

I've had an interesting day today. I got dismissed from a school before lunch, - a new experience. It was a new Community school in East London. They've only got Yr 7s so far - 300 of them, and some alternative type philosophy and program which wasn't explained and I obviously still haven't figured out. There are no bells or buzzers to make the lesson changes - the students are supposed to be responsible for their own organization. I began the day with a 'Tutor Group' trying to fit in as best I could with their system of co-tutoring. I was with a permanent teacher. She just took over and I just helped where appropriate, as the students made a farewell card to the teacher I was replacing for the day. This was a helpful introduction to the usual ways of this school, because I learned that the way to keep students on task and working quietly is to constantly shout directions and sarcastic comments in a very loud voice. I'll need to work much harder to perfect that technique. The other thing she taught me was not to bother wasting time finding out your co-tutors name or introducing him to the students - they'll get the picture if you just occasionally involve him with comments like, "SIR will be handing out the scissors." I don't know whether she just hates supply teachers in general or just Australians or whether she was just hoping for someone eligible and a little younger. Anyway I left when by the clock I could see I was responsible for Dining Room supervision. (They don't have yard duty, because groups just take turns for their breaks in the Dining Room. I figure this is because they got tired of applying a "Wet Weather" policy to 90% of the school year.)

After the break I was given an English class to supervise - no co-tutor this time. They had work to go on with, which was ok, except for one boy who was absent last English lesson so he didn't have the work and was being a bit difficult. He was the same boy I'd spoken to for throwing things in the Dining Room. Maybe that was my first mistake because none of the other supervising teachers seemed to interfere with the students' behaviour - maybe the school philosophy includes self-regulation in that area as well. My second mistake was probably when, after some time of trying to get this boy to copy the work he'd missed from the boy next to him, I let him out of the classroom to get the source book for the work. He came back soon afterwards without any book. I suspect he went and complained about this hopeless supply teacher.

In the meantime, there was a bit of exchange between some black girls and boys across the room, but I settled them down. The class was certainly no noisier than other classes down the hallway and quite happy and pleasant compared to some I've been in lately. Most were working ok.

Then I saw a dark boy (Pakistani) throw something towards a black girl on the other side of the room, so I asked him what was the usual punishment for throwing things in class. Others volunteered "5 mins time-out." As I was considering my options, he reacted and said the girl had made a racist remark, and 2 or 3 other boys then chimed in about the racist remark, so I asked the girl to stand in the hallway outside the classroom and I would be out to get her side of the story. I then was asking the boys to resume their seats and let me deal with it.

But no such luck, because the Head, whom I had not met, then waltzed in and said to me, "Right I'll take over from here, you'd better go downstairs."

15 mins later he called me into his office and without any discussion at all, said to me "We have very high standards of behaviour in this school, and your handling of that class was not acceptable, so I think it best we said Goodbye."

"Fine" I said, but attempted to say some things in my defence. He was not interested in my side of the story. I asked him about the school's handling of racial issues and he just mumbled that they have a referral room to deal with such things but no one in that class would need that. I sensed the school is struggling to offer an alternative solution to the very volatile situation in London schools, and the Head's short fuse with me was his way to keep a tight lid on some suppressed tensions in the place. So I left.

The previous day in another school, I overheard another supply teacher say that you can't survive in this business if you take things personally. It's taking me many years to learn that lesson, but experiences like the last two weeks are accelerating the process somewhat.

So I'm now gathering a list of schools I won't be going back to. I'll take the weekend off to prepare to jump back on the horse.

Teaching in London makes Australian schools seem wonderful. I just have one more week of Supply teaching to survive, before I can hopefully start enjoying teaching a full term of music at Queen Elizabeth Boys Grammar. We know that all experiences work together for our good, so I'm sure I'm learning heaps through these experiences.  

So it's not all doom and gloom - I'm sure the sun will shine eventually...

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Copyright 2001 H Grant Eaton  Contact: