Thursday, January 31, 2013

So it goes!

I know that you will not be surprised to read that I am typing this while a dozen hapless pupils worry their way through yet another examination.  Not surprised, certainly – but shocked beyond measure at the sheer unprofessionalism of my typing while an exam is taking place – even if I can touch type. 

After a Herculean effort over the weekend I am at least examination script free to start the week and even more fortunately I have a “free” period after this class so that I can start the process of working my way through the paper I will have to mark.  Before the next set looms ahead of me.  As it will in a few days time.  Again.

However, I am determined to use the examinations to force me to work on the next tutor marked assignment and at least get a rough draft completed by the end of the week.

I am going to choose the Creative Writing option and have decided to write some form of sonnet as my finished piece of work and I will have to rely on my persuasiveness to make whatever I produce sound convincing in the reflective piece which follows it!

I vividly remember an economics essay that I wrote in school during the A Level course, which was so badly done, that the teacher took the step of going through the essay with each of us individually.  When it came to my turn, my glib justifications for what I had and hadn’t written were so convincing that he actually changed the grade!  A rare success in that benighted subject!  Thank god we also did an economic history paper – my salvation in the drear world of graphs and eventually diminishing returns in the other!

It had obviously rained earlier this morning or last night, but the day has turned into one of sunshine though with a blustery element which, as it is not raining is fine by me.

The Pauls, fired by my descriptions of days without rain, have suggested appearing some time over the Easter holidays.  Paul 1 will have had his Inspection by then and will be looking for some way to relieve the tension.  Again.  As I am quite sure that the memory will be washed away in copious amounts of alcohol immediately after the event!  But here we might even have that most precious of experiences so lacking in my native land, sunshine.  And that, as all know, is the true balm for troubled minds!

Days have passed again and sheer exhaustion has triumphed over intellectual effort.  But at least I have an annotated draft of the “sonnet” that I propose to submit as part of my next tutor marked assignment.  I have asked a couple of colleagues to read through and I have adopted one or two changes that they suggested!

I have now read through the details of the assignment and have to look through the course book that we are using and find justifications for the process that I went through to produce this piece!  Possibly the wrong way round, but it works for me!

This is one of my “long” days when I actually have to be here when the morass of parentage splurges towards their offspring and grasps them warmly to the parental bosom.  To do this they obviously need to double and triple park so that at the end of the day I am hemmed in by many cars in many configurations.  I am told that trying to get away from the School on the Hill at the time we chuck out the kids is good for the soul – I have yet to reach this state of Zen bliss!

I did managed to drag my weary body to the pool for a swim and almost slept my way through my mandatory twenty minutes.  The theory is that one sort of tiredness cancels out the other; so schoolwork depredations are ameliorated by physical exertion.  The theory is good, but the practical application in my case is not always foolproof.

The pseudo-sonnet is now written and I have to find explanations for the process by which it was created.  As I analyse the “poem” more, using my critic-type hat rather than my creative one, I am truly amazed by the complexity of my thought!  To be absolutely fair I think that this has more to do with the way my critical mind works, sniffing about for all sorts of unlikely links and profundities rather than for the purity of intellectual endeavour that produced the “poem” in the first place.

The next few days will see me delving into the course books to find the OU justification for what I have done – such is the world of academia!

My next course, starting in May, is now sorted out and I have bowed to the inevitable and decided to do the Foundation course in the Arts so that my future degree can be entitled “Humanities with Art History” – this means that next year I will be doing the 60 credit AA100 and that will take me to the next stage when I will be doing courses which are designed to stretch me more and which are more clearly directed towards Art.  So that is the next six years sorted!  I imagine that after a while the OU becomes a way of life!

Toni’s course has now “started” with a series of orientation exercises using the Internet.  So, from the middle of next month we will both be studying.  I should imagine that the desk on The Third Floor is going to be the scene of some fraught exchanges as our endeavours intermingle!

But now a new day.  A short period of reflection for my first class and then planning the rest of my time to ensure that I manage to get the extra out-of-school tasks done!

And it’s one of my “short days” so not everything is bad with the world!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

What else is there but marking?

A paraphrase of Henry Reed’s most famous line came back to me today when the pile of marking seemed to threaten to overwhelm, “Today, today we have marking of scripts”.

I have just looked it up to re-read “Naming of Parts” and as an added bonus for my interest discovered a recording of Dylan Thomas reciting the poem.  His attempted common accent for the gun demonstrator emphasised the fragility of his own and his wayward emphasis added to the comedy of the piece.  It is surely one of the best poems to come out of World War II and, while I can stumble my way through many poems from World War I, “Naming of Parts” is the only one of the later war that sticks in my memory with complete lines resounding there.

At least the marking is done; only the irritation of transferring the marks to the computer is left to do and then probably putting those marks somewhere else as a stage in the pointlessly endless pilgrimage of assessment leaving behind a litter of numerical offerings like votive candles at various electronic shrines (and having just about the same effectiveness) that the School on the Hill regards as
course, while I am preparing for my second tutor marked assignment.  As this one is creative writing it should play to my strength while my two efforts as a result of the Internet tutorial are now receiving comments from the rest of the tutor group

Ah well, count the months; this all must have a stop – and the week before the end of June is when I bow to my final juvenile audience!

At the end of this month Toni starts his “orientation” for his IT and I will have sent off my next assignment.

And tomorrow the rest of my classes sit yet more examinations.

And it’s a full day!  Just one damn thing after another!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Does the learning never end?

From Building 4 one only gets the most tantalizing glimpses of the sunrise (if you happen to be in school at the ungodly hour of the morning which gives you the opportunity) which today appears almost ridiculously artificial.  The sky is a deep, comically vulgar orange which is changing as I type to a broken yellow with artistically arranged clouds to give a slight verisimilitude to the scene.  It is hardly the sort of artistic stimulation that needs the abrupt mood breaking contrast of the stark reality of having to teach kids!

Ah, well, that was yesterday and yesterday (in the new dispensation) is a “short” day, one of the you-can-make-it-to-June days that give me the impetus not to despair and to be able to take the day-to-day grind of education!

Although I am up to date with my OU work, it is mildly worrying that the next TMA is due in the dearly days of February and we are now in the last week of January.  In some ways this piece of tutor marked work should be one of the easier ones for me, as it demands that I do some creative writing and then produce an evaluation of the work with a discussion of the process of the writing.  As I intend to write a sonnet I really should be thinking seriously of what I have to do now and not wait for the actual week that we are given to consider our options before submitting.

This evening I will have to crack on and make careful note of what processes and techniques the OU emphasises so that my piece of work can exemplify them.  If nothing else I should have learnt that from the experience of writing the Wiki with the rest (the remains!) of the group.  Sticking to the remit of the task is one of the most important aspects which will ensure a successful completion.  And I am writing this to remind myself of the approach that I need to take.

I am still waiting for someone to get in touch from the Gustav Holst Museum about the first draft of the Spring Rice poem used for the “I vow” hymn but I am not holding my breath.  Though I am still interested in the details of the process of production and hope that there may be an opportunity to finish the “research” that I did for the first TMA which was ruthlessly cut away for the final version submitted!

Today is a full day with the period before my last designated for boring marking.  By the time I finish I will be truly looking forward to my end-of-day swim!

The swim was good but more tiring that it should have been.  But that is something which is natural when one has been a whole day in school!

Today, Thursday, has been one of those days when you truly wonder why you are still in education.  Nothing to do with the kids, however chatty they have been, but more to do with the vulnerability of someone who lives miles away from work which is only reasonably reachable by using the motorway system.  A motorway system that is susceptible to the mind-bending tedium of traffic delay.

There is something intolerable in any traffic delay but there is something much worse in delays which are in darkness.  I have told myself that I have noticed a definite lightening of the mornings, but I am aware that I am basically kidding myself and when I am setting off for the School on the Hill it could just as well be the middle of the night.  So there I was, sitting stationary in a long line of traffic cursing whatever gods might be that I was so early there was no chance whatsoever of my arriving late for my lessons.  And I didn’t.  Though I did, barely, have time for my cup of tea which was more than I managed on Monday!

Today however is one of my shorter days when I fully intend to be as Boojum-like as possible as soon as this class ends.

What happened to Friday?  Admittedly I did a runner and had the afternoon in Castelldefels rather than in the School on the Hill.  A truly excellent lunch on the street leading up to the church and I even managed to do some marking in the evening thus ensuring, in the way of these things, that I will do some other marking during the weekend.

Saturday meant an “early” start at nine, which meant that was two and a half hours later than my normal time for rising!

The new computer gave me a fright, as it seemed to deny that it had an operating system that the Elluminate system that the OU uses for its long distance tutorials actually recognized.  Everything worked out well, however and a generally stimulating time was had by all – in spite of the usual technical problems that best each attempt to get all of us in touch with each other.  I fear than many of these so-called technical faults are nothing to do with the equipment and everything to do with the incompetence of the individuals using it.

The content of the tutorial was good and stimulated me to producing in short order the “follow-on” work that we are supposed to do.  I am sure that the piece of “creative writing” that we had to produce and which I have now posted on line, will not have endeared me to my fellow students but I have to admit that producing it was more attractive than doing the pile of marking which is still waiting for me – with more to follow next week when our students having just completed a multi-examination Mock will face further test, all of which will have to be marked.  This is so we can get these examinations out of the way to make space for the examinations they will be facing soon after they return from the White Week.  Lunacy wealds a red pen!

However, to take my mind off he horrors of yet more marking, I wrote a poem based on another aspect of the tutorial this morning and promptly posted it on-line for my fellow students to critique.  Academic nastiness knows no bounds when it is part of displacement activity!

However much I prevaricate the marking which is upstairs on the Third Floor will have to be done before Monday. 

So roll on Sunday!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Good intentions!

Saturday morning was taken up in a confusion of intentions.  My lunchtime appointment in the centre of Barcelona took a number of attempts before I was safely on my way.

Arrangements are the very devil when reality tries to frustrate them.  I was supposed to meet Julie and John on the train from Sitges and join them for the journey into Barcelona and our meal.  After having received no telephone call to finalize the arrangements, and after I had discovered the original (lost) email which started the Arrangements I panicked into setting out almost at once.  To me “mediodia” means midday (though I later discovered that just because the words can be translated like that it doesn’t necessarily mean it) and I was therefore catapulted into action a couple of hours before I was ready.

By the time I had reached the station Arrangement had caught up with me and a closer definition of mediodia mean that I could return to the house while calling into the supermarket to get the little delicacies that I would normally have bought to take to a meal.

We did finally meet up and it was a relief to get onto the train and escape from the thoroughly unwelcome rain that had irritated me throughout the morning.  After a brisk walk and some indecision we arrived at our destination.

The flat in the centre of Barcelona on a very fashionable street was exactly like some of the more opulent residences that you see on the television and this one was packed with art, sculpture and other nice things.  Some the nice things I would very much like to have had.  But my breeding got the better of me, that and the fact that there were far too many witnesses!

The meal was very enjoyable, but stressful at the same time as much of the conversation was in Spanish.  I tried my best but it is impossible for me to be anything like my normal self in a foreign language.  I know it is my fault that I have not made more of an effort to be fluent given the amount of time that I have now spent in Spain – but there it is.  And I think I exploit my status as “false beginner” to an extraordinary degree.  And as soon as I learn a few more tenses and a few more verbs to go with them, there will be no stopping me.

I returned with Julie and John on the train, as they were off to spend their first night in the new Sitges flat.  Toni and I cannot wait to see exactly what they have done with it.

Maybe it’s the weather, or perhaps it was the amount of walking in the rain that I did, but my legs were hurting by the time I got home and I was grateful for my bed.

Sunday was going to be a restful day, but The Family appeared at lunchtime and I retired to the Third Floor to get some OU work done and brood.

I realized today that the weekend should also have been a time when some much-needed work should have been done, as Monday morning was something of a nightmare.

Put not your trust in machines.  What should have been a simple operation of getting a document form one computer to another via a memory stick turned into an epic struggle of failure as all aspects of my attempted transfer (apart from the computer) failed to work.  Perhaps it was just a sort of mechanistic grin that allowed the document that I wanted to work with to be so clearly displayed as, without a cup of tea, I set to work in the early morning night-time.  The computer in the odd little pseudo-classroom that I use for the 1ESO doesn’t link to anything – including the Internet most of the time.  It refused to recognize my memory stick and left me fuming and impotent.

I was eventually helped by a fast speaking Catalan whose dexterity on the computer keyboard both mystifies and frustrates me.  He eventually got things moving but not soon enough to be of any real use to me.

Having switched to Plan B I worked at a frantic pace to get the work done for a colleague and then found myself stymied by the whole of the school Internet system crashing yet again!

Still without my cup of tea I walked down to the other building and set about getting results transferred to a central data base (or stapled photocopied sheets) and then discovered that one set of papers appears to have gone missing.  I did what any sane person would do given the amount of work waiting for me to do and systems crashing right, left and centre: I pretended that everything was alright!

With a lurching sense of unease (having completed the examination setting work I had to do) I realized that I had not designed and made the folder for the Drama workshops I take.  Ten hysterical minutes later and the folder was complete and eventually, while waiting in fuming impotence for a charming colleague to finish her interminable photocopying, I had the necessary numbers of folders for my next class.

And so the day progressed, wobbling from one unsatisfactory work linked experience to another.  Although wearing to the soul, I did actually get quite a lot done.

This week sees the second part of my Puppet Project in Drama.  This is a three-week experiment to get the kids in Year 7 to write and design a short, filmed production using the simplest forms of puppets and backgrounds.  It will be interesting to see what comes of it.  And what will be more interesting is to see what I will do next.  I have a completely free hand in what I do in these four lessons a week and I intend to take full advantage of such an opportunity and make the most of them.  The only thing that I am determined not to do is to mount four dramatic productions at the end of the year to which parents are invited.  I have seen with mine own eyes just how much extra work this entails and I am determined to have none of it!

Tomorrow is an ESAEF day (Early Start and Early Finish) by which means I think it possible that I might get to the end of the year without terminal harm!

We shall see.