Fascinating places

I didn’t think I’d feel the need to write and reflect after the first day of term but now I feel like having a stiff drink to go with it. Last time I wrote in this state was my (in)famous goosebump story years ago in a different school.

This morning, I got punched in the face by a student, a teen. This one. Not the first time I got hit in my work but never before in the face. An expletive or two and a fake swipe that actually connected with my chin was enough to cross the line. A big line.

Reactions of kids were a study into themselves. They ranged from “No man, you don’t hit Tomaz!” to “What are you complaining about, he didn’t even hit you hard, you were leaning a bit anwyay. You are not going to report him for that are you?”. The former is a result of some desirable moral compass mixed with trust we built over the year, the latter a result of the world of violence, abuse, eye-for-an-eye and bullying of all kinds that many of these kids live in daily. Not ideal, not desirable but it just is. I filed an incident report, police were called in since this does constitute an assault on a public officer and the kid is going to be expelled on School Directors request. Where to for the kid? I fear to ask.

Kids and colleagues came up to me to check, had to calm everyone down and state that I am OK and I am happy to stay for the day, business as usual. Not a good start to the term I thought …

Watching the teens (mostly) increasingly restless with out new school drive towards vocational courses and going down the traditional school pathway they escaped from in mainstream school (more on that another time), I wondered what are we going to do after lunch. The often dreaded 90 minutes before leaving for home.

What we need is a challenge!

Colleague and I went loosely by the idea of the ‘Scrapheap Challenge‘ TV show (two teams using whatever they find to complete the task). The first challenge to the two teams of about six teens was to “get the ball as far as you can from the starting line without your body directly throwing or kicking it.” My group mulled between a hit with a steel pipe, a rigid, lever catapult and a slingshot only for the pipe and hit to win. Neat, simple solution that looked like a teeball. The other group went for a slingshot with a chair on rollers.

Good idea too
Good idea too

The next challenge was “launch a piece of paper (and nothing else) from the balcony as far away as you can.” Paper aeroplanes (great way to search the internet *winks*), weird looking tubes, slingshots with all kinds of paper projectiles, paper balls. Winner? Our opponents this time, who cleverly scrunched the paper, wet it and made it into an almost solid, rock like object that was easy to throw very far.

You should have seen the kids go for it! ‘Learning outcomes’ anyone? We had science, social skills, maths, communication skills, problem solving, humour, persistence, engagement … the list of desirables goes on. It was simply awesome and done by kids who’d otherwise be hanging off the rafters or rolling their eyes in boredom, largely baulking at the stuff ‘curriculum’ throws at them.

We’ll do it again!

Now, this is not (all) about successful classroom strategies or science or discovery, even ‘learning’. It is about how schools, these strangely fascinating places, inscribe and code people to become in different ways. Teachers as controlling, ‘knowledge-holders’ and students as complying, ‘knowledge seekers’. How we become through what we learn. Not just how we store ‘being punched’ and ‘working it out with mates’ but what do those things do to us. And just how do we disrupt, re-code, re-purpose, subvert and negotiate.

It’s a fascination that will hopefully last and sustain me on my PhD journey over the next three years from July onwards (barring a major obstacle). Yes, I am leaving the classroom at the end of this term after just over a decade of teaching. It’s not (just) that I don’t want to be punched in the face anymore – I want to dig deeper.

And yes, I will have that beer now thanks.

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