Wednesday, November 30, 2011

More of the same!

A day of marking, meetings and misery.

A day never starts well when you hear that you have lost a free period.  Especially when you are trying to get a set of examination papers marked and the results fed into the computer to get some sort of idea about how the class has done.

Today was the changeover day when the groups that we have had for the first term now change.  This has buggered up all my calculations about what should have been completed by this stage and some kids are now unable to complete their presentations.  Ah well!

I’m sure that somewhere in my voluminous email there is some indication that this was going to be the day, but I didn’t see it.  Perhaps I will be better informed about the end of the next lot.

I had a “chat” with the Powers That Be about my teaching.  This is part of the on-going evaluation of members of staff which has started with the interviewing of the entire working population of the school: office staff, caretakers, teachers, everybody.

It will be interesting to see how far this approach, which is quite new for the school, actually goes – observation is the next step.  We will see.

I am still carrying a sleep-debt, so I think that it will be an early night tonight.

And an early start tomorrow!  Again!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Time is pressing!

One doesn’t like to go on and on about it but, the loss of Saturday morning to the viciously pointless three hour twenty minute meeting in school affected the whole of the weekend.  The rest of the weekend was not as relaxing as it should have been and the cleansing dynamics of a normal two days off were twisted.

And so back in school where the convulsive Examination Season (yes, yet another of them) is in full swing and the papers to mark are already piling up.  I was hoping that the 1ESO papers which were sat in the penultimate lesson on Friday afternoon would have been waiting for me so that I could do the mechanics of preparing the papers for marking before the start of school.  But they are nowhere to be seen.

If I don’t get those papers out of the way then they will be met by the mock examinations that the equivalent of the second year sixth will be taking today and then the 3ESO are taking an examination tomorrow.  So, unless I do something today, by tomorrow I will be snowed under and I will be in that position where there is so much to do that I will do nothing!

This typing is displacement activity because I have just been told that the papers are probably waiting for me in my tray in the other building.

They were and were duly marked.  As were two other sets of examination papers and a couple of sets of books from ordinary lessons.

My return home was something of an escape to tranquillity!

Mondays in Castelldefels seem to have the same value as Wednesdays in Britain as many of the shops appear to take that day for early closing.  As indeed did the restaurant which we had decided to patronize.

Desultory walking through the streets eventually meant that we patronized a fairly expensive restaurant which also serves pinchos.

Our meal of three tapas and a few pinchos with a glass of Coke and a glass of beer was expensive almost €37 – which is a little more than one would like to pay for a casual meal out of an evening!  They were tasty and well served, but not enough to justify the high price.

Very often indulgence only needs the slightest encouragement and that encouragement was given to me yesterday by the unprompted admission by Tina that she thinks that the payment for past catalogue of the BBC is money well spent.

I think it was trying not to listen to another shouty sports programme on Catalan television where each participant was, in a way which is totally in keeping with the prevailing culture of debate in this country, putting forward a personal point of view at the same time as everybody else.  And, of course, at the highest possible volume, that I made the sudden and executive decision to pay whatever the BBC asked for some decent programming.

It was ironic that the first of the back catalogue programmes that I watched featured Brian Blessed as King Richard IV in an early episode of Black Adder – one could not hope to find a more definitively shouty performer than he.  I have to be fair he was perfectly cast, as this version of history demanded an over-the-top gung-ho character to fill the role!

With the memory of the polished episodes of Black Adder, especially those set in World War I, most clearly in my mind, it was something of a shock to see the young and as yet largely unformed character of Black Adder on the screen, crude and with little of the superior withering contempt that became such a feature of the man.


Today has been a feat of dislocated classes and frantic marking.  The rush is on to stay at least partially ahead of the mass of papers which are beginning to accumulate in unwanted drifts around each member of staff.

I should not complain too much because my actual marking is quite limited as my various bits and pieces do not have examinations as such and I am well through most of the duty marking that I have to do.

Tomorrow the meeting with Management to discuss my teaching.  This is going to be an interesting meeting in all sorts of ways, and I need to give it some thought as it draws closer.  What I thought of saying I will now not say and I am sure that they are not going to ask any searching questions to which they might expect honest answers!

And so to bed.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Crimes Against Humanity


In yet another first in my exciting life, I am typing this while sitting in the passenger seat of my car outside the front gate of the school on a Saturday morning.

As I might have mentioned in passing, my cretinous school has decided that the 40 hours that we spend in the place is insufficient time to arrange a pointless meeting, so, in their infinite stupidity they have arranged a meeting for Saturday morning.

As I am programmed to wake up to be ready to leap from my bed at 6.30 am to miss the horrendous traffic that I could encounter each day, it was a luxury for me to lie-in for an extra thirty minutes because of the later start of the PM (Pointless Meeting).

When I arrived – not having been held up by non-existent traffic - I was hailed by a colleague from her car, who informed me that everything was locked up and we would not be able to get in, and, further if we made any attempt we would probably set off the alarm.

So, we are now sitting in our respective cars, pondering on the futility of promptitude!  Our other colleagues are obviously timing it so that they arrive on time rather that in time.  It would be a perfect example of the difference of those phrasal verbs which we are, at present, teaching to 3ESO.

The temperature is 9C and, although the sun is shining it is cold and now the Powers That Be have arrived to open up the school properly.  I shall give them time to unlock everything and then I will waltz in later to make my cup of tea.

To soften the blow of actually being in school on a Saturday we have been provided with croissants.  Croissants!  As if a fat infused piece of bread can compensate for being in school on a Saturday!  Just in case anyone is labouring under the delusion that it can, I state, emphatically, that it can’t.  Ever!

The Blitz Spirit is now imbuing the staff with the same rugged, self-satisfied determination that made the chirpy Cockneys smile in times of crisis as their city was bombed to smithereens around them.  Lack of imagination I call it!

I am now in the meeting and have managed to separate myself from the rest of the participants telling the Chair that my computer is running out of power.  I am therefore seated behind the talkers and attached to a power source.  I have also lost the will to live.

All my colleagues seem to have put the fact that this meeting is being held on a Saturday behind them and are all enjoying the sound of their own voices.  As they are all speaking in Spanish or Catalan – I do not share their enjoyment.  Not that I would even if I could perfectly understand the trivia that they are mouthing.

We have now been here for an hour and a quarter and we are still on the first class in 1BXT.  This is disaster beyond feeling.  And they do not shut up!  And they all speak at once!  This is almost perfect torture!

The meeting lasted for three and a quarter hours.  Three and a quarter hours!  On a Saturday morning!  There are some cultural differences that, try as you might, you cannot understand or forgive.

We went out to lunch almost as soon as my simmering self had returned to Castelldefels.  I had an excellent fideua starter and a mediocre piece of fish for the main with a healthy finish with fresh melon.  All washed down with vino tinto y Casera.  Toni now has indigestion to add to his flu and bad knee, so his meal was a little more circumspect and morose.

To try and lighten my mood of resentment we went to Alcampo to buy a book.  The fact that Toni fell in with this plan perhaps indicates the level of disgruntlement that I was still feeling!

No buyable books caught my eye, but we did do two pieces of Christmas shopping – in late November: a feat not matched since the days when I used to spend a year buying the contents of Rhys and Gwen’s Christmas stockings!


The day started well with clear blue skies, but they have soon clouded over and we are now back to that strange default position of Catalan weather of being “brightly dull”.  The other default position of course is that the curs next door (canine rather than human, but there again . . . ) have started their usual morning bay with the crippled dog doing his usual “on the second every second” yelp which is perfectly judged by the mangy beast to set neighbours’ nerves on edge.

An uneasy quiet has descended on the menagerie next door.  One can take no pleasure in the silence because one is constantly waiting for it to be broken.  Where O where are hardpad and distempter when you need them!

After the totally unjustifiable stealing of a weekend morning from teachers who had already been in school for 41·25 hours our thoughts turn, inevitably to the nearest holidays. 

The actual Christmas holidays seem hopelessly distant so we have turned our expectant gaze towards the second week in December which will take us into a bizarre week when we have a sort of week’s holiday but we have to come in on the Wednesday and Friday! 

This sort of idiocy is par for the course and we are praying that students, and more importantly students’ parents treat what I call “Stupid Week” with the contempt that it deserves and stay away for all five days. 

It does seem, to any normal person, like an open invitation to truancy, but our parents are notoriously given to the flinging of their precious dears at us at every opportunity in order to transfer the responsibility for their care, so it is almost guaranteed that there will be just a sufficient number of pupils to ruin our two days of possible peace!  After all school only run efficiently and pleasantly when there are no students in them!

Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I have been delving into the pleasures of literature that is “life + 70 years” copyright expired.

My latest indulgence was an offering by S S Van Dine called “The ‘Canary´Murder Case.  This is set in America in New York and, in an not exactly original way, has an wealthy amateur detective as the main intellectual character. 

Vane, as he is called, is a remarkable construction much given to a cod English use of the apostrophe and a way of speaking which is overwhelmingly camp.  He is “artistic” and litters his speech with an array of references to high art.  French and Latin phrases abound and casual references to the Classics pepper his drawling observations. 

The novel, no Detective Story, was written in 1927 and gives something of a sepia tinted view of a completely different way of life.  This is something more than pulp, but not much more.  I loved it!  And have downloaded a variety of other works by The Master all of which start with the definite article and end with “Murder Case”.  S S Van Dine now has the largest number of individual works in one of my virtual libraries!  Not many English Teachers with a shred of intellectual vanity left in their souls can say that!

At least reading these books drives from my mind the hurt of the lost weekend morning!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Hours to misery!

Bright sunlight and a gained free period – who could want more?  And getting towards the weekend.

But wait!  The Day of Shame approaches.  A tedious, mind-bendingly boring meeting scheduled (and actually going to happen!) on a Saturday morning!

I have confidently been expecting the meeting to be changed to a Friday evening.  This is a shocking hope, I know, but it just shows how twisted academic life is here if you can even begin to think of a extended meeting on a Friday evening after school as some sort of triumph!

But even this sad compromise is not to be.  The meeting has been confirmed for Saturday.  Which is bad.  What is worse is the jokingly fatalistic attitude of my colleagues who even josh each other about how hard done by they are!

I am, of course, as who would expect otherwise, totally appalled by the idea and am bitterly and inwardly convulsed with disgust at the whole concept.  Mindless educational tedium during my weekend!  My gorge rises at the mere thought!

However, I will be there.  Unsmiling and glowering, but I will be there.

It will be also the last time that I go to such a meeting.  My head of department will be informed of this at the end of the fiasco.  There is another one scheduled for next year.  I will not, emphatically not be there.  Let the consequences be what they will!

Things appear to be moving to some sort of climax as far as the educational world is concerned.  The government has discovered that the only money it can easily save is that which is paid to its workers.  There’s a surprise!

Now that we have a right wing government, it is only a matter of time before our right wing leaders let us know what they are actually going to do with the power that they have gained.  The leader of the right wing party was particularly carefully to say bugger all about what he might be thinking of doing as his response to the financial crisis as it begins (!) to engulf the country as we march relentlessly downhill after feckless, irresponsible Italy.

The first mutterings about financial savings have been directed towards civil servants.  That term has a slightly different meaning in this country where even some teachers fall into the category.  Our school is a foundation (whatever that means here, I suspect it is merely a way of getting tax exemptions) and our status is nearest to a grant maintained school in Britain.

Although we charge parents for each child that crosses into our demesne, the government pays for the teachers in Primary and Secondary.  Why?  No idea.  The teachers in the foetal section of the school who teach the Very Small People and those who teach the equivalent of the Sixth Form are paid for by the Foundation.

So I have two cheques each month, one from the Foundation and the other from the Generalitat to reflect the proportions of my teaching which are respectively in each sector.

Last year the Generalitat cut the money it gave to the school by 5%, but the school (The Foundation) decided to make up the money so that no teacher (whatever the proportion of money actually stopped) had less than s/he had before.

The Generalitat is thinking (has decided) to cut civil servants (i.e. our, in spite of the fact that we are not proper civil servants) pay further and it is unlikely that this extra cut will be ameliorated by the largesse of the Foundation. 

I will then have to consider my position, as I am emphatically not a registered charity.  And certainly not for the benefit of children of the same wealthy parents who probably helped precipitate the crisis in the first place!

I am truly shocked by how little colleagues seem to know about what is going to happen to their livelihoods.  They have only the haziest notion of how their salaries are going to be affected by the unfolding political and economic situation.  And if they truly care then they are managing to hide it well from me!

I bet I am the only person to have approached the bursar in the school and asked if The Foundation has taken any decisions about how to approach the possible reductions in pay.  I was told that as the governments, both national and local, have not made any finalized decisions themselves then the Foundation has not been able to formulate its response.  But I was also informed that it would probably be unlikely that the whole of the cost of the reduction in wages would be covered by the Foundation itself. 

So, with our wages frozen since 2009 and the year-on-year inflation not being reflected in a pay rise and the prospect of an actual cut in the salary, I am too depressed to even attempt to calculate the actual and real percentage drop in the value of the money that I take home each month!

Hard times indeed.  And added to that is the expectation that the pay freeze will be extended by at least another year!

I am no economist, and cordially loathed the economic theory that I had to pretend that I had assimilated for my A Level, but I fail to see how an economy can be stimulated by the punitive reducing of the wages of a substantial proportion of the working population of a country.  Inflation does not appear to have been tackled in any meaningful way and everyone can see quite clearly that prices are rising while the ability to compensate for these increases is being eroded by diminishing pay.

I will be very interested to see the figures for the spending during the Christmas period.  I know that there is a particular form of specifically Christmas moral blackmail which prompts parents to spend much more than they can actually afford, but that is true for each Christmas.

Perhaps there will be a Giffen Good effect (one of the few economic concepts that stay with me) where it describes the counter intuitive phenomenon of the rising in the price of a good actually causing an increase in its demand.  I think that this was first observed with cheap staple goods when the rise in something like bread for the very poor would mean that they give up other things to have more of the staple; so they no longer buy meat because they have limited funds left after the increase in the price of bread so they buy more bread with the small amount of money that they have left after they have bought bread because it is not enough to buy a reasonable amount of meat.

And that explanation probably demonstrates in as clear a way as possible the reason that I didn’t pursue economic studies once the A Level was safely out of the way!

So, according to my analysis parents will spend more on a festival with a high moral blackmail constant, by spending less on others with a slightly lower.

A child in Catalonia has three distinct opportunities for being spoilt in the Christmas period.  There is obviously Christmas Day itself, but in Catalonia it is Christmas Eve which is traditionally the time for presents to be exchanged.  There is also Epiphany or Kings in early January when a great fuss is made of the arrival of the Three Kings with parades and sweet throwing and present giving.  There is therefore, an opportunity for parents (if they haven’t already) to amalgamate all three celebrations into one and make their chosen one more extravagant than the spread of expected expenditure.

The trick, I suppose, is not to over-compensate and find yourself paying more on one than you would for the three.  Although the more I think about it the less like Giffen Goods the whole situation seems to be.  So much for my A Level!

The latest news on the governmental cuts to education is that the government is slightly backtracking.  They (or more properly “it”) are talking about taking away some of the perks that civil servants expect as part of their jobs, for example, lunch tickets.  This sounds suspiciously like emptying the ashtrays on a 747 to decrease the weight – and yes, I do know that there is no smoking on flights nowadays and that is part of the point.

The real expenses in terms of civil servants are chronic overstaffing, ludicrously generous pensions; free private health services; general corruption and the job-for-life attitude which characterizes the life style that functionarios have become accustomed to. 

Changing the fundamental and expensive elements that the government has to tackle is going to cause ructions and change the face of Spain.  If the government decides to do something about it.  If!  Let me emphasise yet again that although we are classed as some sort of civil servant in the way that we are funded, we are not classed as the sort of civil servant that is entitled to the generous financial packages that our more privileged colleagues (some of whom are teachers, but they have passed professional examinations to gain the title of functionario) enjoy.

I will wait, without holding my breath, to listen to the echoes of outraged loss for the targeted group.   Am far more likely to hear the rumble of retreating footsteps from the politicians appalled by the negative howls of anguish from their affronted employees!  At least I hope so, because their cause will become ours.

It looks more and more likely that the notorious “extra” pays will be the target for the government.  The idea that there will be 14 payments during the year does not mean that there are any extras there.  It is just the fact that two tranches of money which you have earned are not paid to you in monthly instalments.  And now they are under attack.  If, of course they had been integrated into the normal monthly salary then they would not have been able to pick it off so easily.

The “plans” are not fully formulated and therefore there is still hope before the money is “untim’ly ripped” from our less than inspiring wage!  We teach the kids that the difference between “wage” and “salary” is that the latter is paid monthly and the former weekly, but with the amount that I get I do not think that it qualifies as a professional sum at all and therefore the more homely term of “wage” seems to fit it better!

The lesson is coming to an end.  I have been able to type in it because, strange to relate, the kids are taking an exam!  Well, there’s a thing!

This is my “early” leave for home so that I can ponder the fact that, in spite of it being a Friday I still have another morning of school to look forward to tomorrow.

“Shame!” I hear myself scream.  And scream again.