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Life in an Inner City Primary - Chapter 4: Liveredge Middle School

by flock1 

Posted: 15 July 2006
Word Count: 972
Summary: Starting my First Teaching Practice

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Content Warning
This piece and/or subsequent comments may contain strong language.

Chapter 4 - Liveredge Middle School

A WEEK LATER, I met up with Phil Jackson and Nick Kenyon to compare war stories. I was pleased to learn they had endured similar experiences to me. Nick mentioned that one child had told him to fuck off. “But that wasn’t the worst of it,” he added grinning. “I was on playground duty with another teacher and we caught two kids shagging in the bushes!”
“Shagging?” said Phil, almost spilling his pint. “You’re joking! How old were they?”
“Thirteen. Year 8. They both got expelled.”
“Jesus,” I said. It made Faheem seem almost innocent.
Things changed gear once more. The hellish four-week First Teaching Practise was due to happen after Christmas. Less than a month away. In it, we’d have to teach fifty percent of lessons to the whole class - by ourselves. To receive more information, I was told to visit my Teaching Practice Tutor, a lady by the name of Mrs Sharp. From the moment I met her, I could tell she didn’t really like me. I regarded the woman opposite.
Mrs Sharpe had long brown hair and was about forty. The thing that struck me most was her expression. It was a look of total annoyance. Wondering what I’d done, I sat down.
“Right then, Jason,” said Mrs Sharpe, glancing at a folder on her desk. “You’ll be with a Year 5 class at Liveredge Middle. Let’s hope it goes better than your last foray into a classroom.”
I felt my face go red. Jenny O’Hara and I had already been debriefed about the disaster at Hartfield First School. Faheem would be etched on my mind forever.
“Every week,” the tutor continued. “I’ll be visiting your school to observe you teaching. And I’ll want to see lesson plans, evaluations, and all your assessments. They’d better be top notch or I’ll be pulling you out of school. I make no bones about it. I’ve done it before. I’ll do it again.”
I looked down, wondering why I’d been assigned the Tutor from Hell.

At ten past eight on a freezing January morning, after negotiating two buses and a hefty walk up an ice-laden hill, I finally found Liveredge Middle School. It was an old Victorian building nestled in the middle of a large council estate. I headed for the entrance, shivering all the way.
Ten minutes later, I was taken to a classroom. The male teacher, aged about forty, turned around and came over. As he did so, I examined his dropping moustache. He looked like a Mexican bandit. “Hello, I’m Ken,” he said in strong Yorkshire tones. “How much teaching have you done?”
“Two lessons,” I admitted. “To be honest, though, they didn’t go very well.”
Ken considered this then smiled. “Don’t worry. We’ve all been there. I know I have.” After wandering to a shelf with lots of folders, Ken brought one over. “Here,” he said. “Have a scan. I’m just nipping out for a cig.”
When he was gone, I sat down and opened the folder. It seemed to be some sort of class record book. The first page contained thirty small black and white photographs of various children, rather like police mugshots. Underneath each was a bizarre set of numbers. Rebecca’s photo, for instance, read 7.3. The next child along, Owen, had the number 6.12. Confused, I turned the page, coming to a section entitled ILP’s.
Having no idea what ILP stood for, I withdrew a few pieces of paper from a plastic wallet. Looking at the first page, I saw a child’s name at the top, followed by a date of birth. Beneath, was a section describing problems the child suffered from. Adam, I read, suffered from learning difficulties and poor concentration skills. He also disrupted others if he became frustrated. On occasions he even lashed out at fellow pupils. Nice kid. Returning the ILP to its relevant section, I wondered what this information was for. Counting twelve separate ILP’s in the file, they were obviously important for something.
“Having fun?” asked Ken Jones.
I nodded, turning back to the first page. “Can I just ask what the numbers under the photos mean?”
Ken peered over my shoulder. “They’re the reading ages. Each child has to read a set of words. And depending on how many they get right, they get a reading age. If, say, one child reads twenty-two words, they’ll get a reading age of 7.8. That’s equivalent to someone seven years and eight months of age.”
“Ah,” I said, things making sense. “So 6.12 means a reading age of six years and twelve months?”
Now that I understood them, the reading ages of Ken Jones’s Year 5 class (nine and ten-year-olds) appeared rather poor. Virtually every child’s reading age was below their actual age.
To back up this point, Ken pointed to one of the photos. It merely read 6-. “This means he can’t even read one word on the list. Not one. It’s not as if they’re difficult words either. The first five are: milk, egg, bun, frog and school.”
Ken looked at his watch and quickly told me his plan of action for the day. All morning I would watch from the back while he taught the class. Then, after lunch, depending on my reserves of steel, I could take over myself. Trying not to think of the Faheem debacle, I told him it sounded like a good plan. Five minutes later, I heard Class 5J coming in. It sounded like an invasion.

NOTE: ILP’s (Individual Learning Plans) are written for children deemed to have problems that may affect their learning. These could be learning difficulties or behavioural problems, but could also include medical ailments. In later years, ILP changed name to IEP, standing for Individual Education Plans. Same thing; different name.

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Comments by other Members

Richard Brown at 16:08 on 19 July 2006  Report this post
Like an adventure story - gripping stuff! The cruel tutor and the kindly Ken!

Only one thing seemed amiss (though I may have misunderstood) - wouldn't a reading age of 6 years and 12 months more sensibly be 7? Or 7.0...?

More please - I'm still agog to know how you learned to take control.


flock1 at 16:41 on 19 July 2006  Report this post

I am pleased you're enjoying my tale about teaching. And yes, I do ultimately gain control, even becoming a teacher other teachers watched for my behaviour strategies! But all that comes later!

And you are quite correct. 6.12 should be 7.0. I can't believe it escaped my attention.

I have one other question for you, or anyone else reading this, and it is whether there will be an audience for my book? I ask this because I recently sent my opening chapter to a writing critique firm, and they replied with some free advise. Basically they said they couldn't see the intended audience for my book, therefore, in their opinion, publishers would be loathe to take it on.

The opening chapter hasn't been posted on this memoirs section, but it is in the general archive.

Any inout would be greatly appreciated as I don't feel like slogging over a heavy edit if no one will ever read it anyway.



Richard Brown at 20:25 on 20 July 2006  Report this post

It is sadly true that in general the market for memoirs is not a healthy one. The received opinion seems to be that there has to be a liberal sprinkling of celebs or scandal to make autobiography commercially viable. Even something as engagingly written as your memoir will struggle. The inevitable question 'What's the market?' you have already encountered.

But there are no absolute rules at all. 'A Year in Provence' was just a slice of life (not a very appealing one in my estimation) but it sold zillions.

One option, of course, is self publishing vie print-on-demand. I did a book this way about skiing in Scotland and sold over 1000 copies. Mind you, there was a clear target market for that book but maybe you have one in the shape of the hundreds of thousands of teachers. I can guess, though, that this might not work entirely to your advantage because so many teachers aspire to be writers and some might think 'why him?'There'll also be those who think that their own pedagogic journey is more interesting I suppose.

Anyway, if you go for self publishing it won't be true that nobodywill read it - you are sure to shift some copies and you never know! - there have been several instances of self-published books which have done well and then been taken up by publishers.

I guess the answer is to be realistic about prospects but to believe in what you are doing. I hope you do press on - I for one am much enjoying the tale.


crazylady at 09:04 on 19 August 2006  Report this post
You're keeping the tension going nicely Jason, like the cliff hanger at the end of a soap episode., I shall rush on to chapter 5.

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