August 28, 2008

‘I Do My Best to Contain the Noise, to No Avail’

Diary of a supply teacher

So far, I have tended to regard a day of maths as about the worst that can happen, but today it's music. It's a popular subject, as it tends to involve practical work, but with a supply teacher this is not possible, and results in a lot of grumbling.

The Year 8 groups have a worksheet about reggae. Anyone who has satisfactorily completed the work sheet is allowed to use a keyboard, but only with headphones so there's no disturbance. The morning passes relatively peacefully.

However, I realise that the afternoon will bring a difficult set of Year 9s. I voice my concerns in the staffroom, and the drama teacher comes to my aid. They are working on a production of Heat, and she has a DVD that I could show them. This sounds like a far more attractive proposition than a worksheet on Elvis, and I am duly grateful. She even has an alternative, should they claim they have already seen Heat.

Though I was never a boy scout, I am learning the value of "be prepared", so I check that the music room actually has a DVD player. There's only a video player; I return to the drama teacher. Miraculously, she has videos as well, and I begin to feel that things are actually going my way.

The class arrives with the customary groans that their teacher is absent. "The bad news is that you have to put up with me instead, but the good news is that we're going to watch Heat. Who knows how to work the video?" This produces a gaggle of volunteers, but unfortunately no success. We are unable to conjure up anything but static, and someone goes for a technician. She is similarly bemused, pointing out that she works with computers, not televisions. We are 10 minutes into the lesson, there's no chance that they'll contemplate a worksheet on Elvis, so I apologise for the lack of entertainment and suggest that they see if they can come up with masterpieces of their own using keyboards and headsets. Anyone who feels they have a composition worth listening to may perform it at the end of the lesson. But this is not a group to be so easily fobbed off.

In addition to the keyboards, there are various instruments around the room, many percussion but some others. The noise is phenomenal, and I do my best to contain it, to no avail. I decide that the priority is to prevent damage to the more vulnerable instruments, and apart from that, I eventually leave them to it. If someone comes to complain, so be it.

Gradually, they become aware that I am not paying attention. The fun of causing havoc is reduced, and they revert to their normal leisure pursuits of huddling round mobile phones and iPods. One or two wander over to chat to me, as being ignored does not seem to be part of their experience. Individually, they are reasonable if not particularly articulate, and I point out that I have better things to do with my voice than yell at them.

At the end of the lesson, they leave peacefully and I restore order. Nothing has been broken, no one seems to have been disturbed, and there have been no injuries. I think it could be called a lowering of sights.

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