18 January 2011


Regular visitors to this blog will recall that back in November, I tiptoed back into the world of teaching as a one-to-one tutor in two Sheffield secondary schools. I agreed to take on four Year 7 pupils in one school and four Y9's in another. The deal was that I would provide each child with ten one hour sessions of intensive English coaching. For readers unfamiliar with the English education system, Y7 = 11/12 yr olds, Y9 = 13/14 yr olds.

In spite of snow closures, school administrative hiccups and the forgetfulness of a couple of my young charges, I am gradually getting to the end of my tutoring obligations so that the decks will soon be clear for me to invade Thailand. I must say, my experience of one-to-one tutoring has generally been delightful. The Year 7 children in School A have been a pleasure to work with. The two girls - Cassie and Florence - are both quite capable so I have been able to move away from the dull basics of literacy. The two boys - Fred and Bobby - certainly have revealed literacy "issues" and particular bad writing habits but they are both lovely boys. I think that for both of them, their main handicap is their awkward handwriting styles - slow and laboured. Where I might take fifteen seconds to write a short sentence, they take a minute. Obviously in future examination rooms, this will have a big impact upon their performances.

Over at crazy School B which seems to be organized by a branch of the Keystone Cops, one of the girls - Kylie - has been what they call in Sheffield, "a right pain", "a mardy bum". From Day One it was "Do I ave to do it on me tod? Can't I ave one of me mates wiv me?" and then later "Me mam sez I can't stay after school" etc.. I certainly won't miss her for she encapsulates the Vicky Pollard spirit of teenage arrogance and that vein of boorish self-obsession that seems to run through certain layers of English youth like the blue mould in Stilton cheese. In contrast, Rosemary has been as sweet as pineapple chunks. Always there, always polite, always trying her best and well-engaged. As with the boys at School A, perhaps Rosemary's main problem is her cumbersome handwriting style. Small case letters are often bigger than her capitals and her uncertainty hangs about her like an aura.

Max is a nice enough lad but a bit of a dolt really. Proudly, he declared that he never reads books and he doesn't like school. Frankly, I'm surprised that School B selected him for the kind of support I have been providing. The old saying that you can take a horse to water but you can't make it drink is very true in Max's case. Conversely, Cody has been a great lad to work with. There's a mischievous twinkle about him, a bit of vitality. Recently we have been working on his scary story "The Lost Schoolgirl" where I have acted like a coach, egging him on and pointing out writing issues as they happen - not hours or days later as is usually the case with English teachers checking their pupils' work. Cody has loved every minute of this experience and feels very proud of the story that has emerged - with all the creative ideas drawn from him.

I doubt I'd want to go back to the asylum that is School B but if I were staying in Sheffield up to the summer, I would have happily taken on a dozen children at School A. Every time I go there I'm met by the smiling Colette, a recently married member of the admin team. She takes me to my office to unlock the door and is my reliable point of contact for emails and organisational matters. In School B, the philosophy has been more "Do It Yourself" with the right arm not knowing what the left arm is doing.


  1. You know not when the seeds you have planted in the lives of those children will spring forth and bear fruit. Yea, even in the lives of the ones who did not want to be there and have treated the experience with disdain.

    I wonder why those children cannot write properly and easily. An unwillingness to learn? Don't care? Lack of instruction and correction at an earlier age? So sad!

  2. Just yesterday this story made the news hereabouts. Tragic, it is, absolutely tragic.

  3. lol
    I am not a lover of children...
    as WC Field said "I couldn't eat a whole one"

  4. YP, my son, who is dyslexic, had problems with handwriting. He loved calligraphy and would turn out some marvelous letters. But stringing letters together into words was a trial. It was a Waldorf teacher who finally recommended having him type instead of write by hand, because the brain doesn't process those physical jobs the same. It worked great. It's still a chore for him to read, but he writes (typing his pieces) very well. It improved his spelling, too, and not just because of spellcheck. It's so wonderful when you can make a breakthrough. I don't know how you do that, though, when you have to battle attitude problems. I'd probably resort to Homer's methods. I don't know how you teachers do it, but thank you!

  5. You're the bloody mardy bum- Vicki Pollard sounds a delight compared with everyone's favourite asylum in N Sheff.

  6. Very nice blog!
    I just got here by another post of yours and ended up finding it a delightful piece of work! :)

    Congratulations on those kids...children these days scare me, funny how they used to amaze me.
    A sign of the times perhaps?

    I'm on http://epills.tumblr.com if you ever want to read what I have just started. (Not as good as yours though!)

  7. PAT ARK Your question about why such children cannot write properly is an apt one - especially after perhaps seven or eight years of schooling. I am afraid I don't fully know the answer.
    RHYMES WITH What I find is that joined up writing is simply quicker even if not all letters are joined. If children no longer learn cursive script they may be handicapped in examinations though it's probably true that handwriting is gradually being phased out of assessment.
    JAN B. The workings of the human mind remain mysterious. The assumption that everyone can and should spell and write accurately is too large an assumption to make. It's the same with numbers, dates or geographical knowledge. We're not all the same. I'm glad that Bob found a path through the jungle.
    BANGKOK BOOBS I thought your degree disseration was called "The Lanky Mardy Bum from Wisewood - A Self Analysis"
    ANDY welcome to the wonderful world of blogging and thank you for dropping by. Momentarily I shall investigate your first footprints.


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