Politics / Science Education / Teaching

Science Teachers and Screaming Jelly Babies

Good news I suppose (I shouldn’t be so cynical – but you’ll see why if you stick with this to the end), earlier this week the Times Educational Supplement featured the following…

There’s real chemistry
Published in TES Magazine on 2 January, 2009.

Thousands of people have signed up to train as science teachers. Dorothy Lepkowska looks at getting the mix right in school labs

The article stated that recent figures from the Training and Development Agency for schools (TDA), had shown that the number of trainee science teachers had “exceeded government targets for the first time”.

By early October last year, more than 3,400 people had signed up to train and a further 230 were to take the employment-based training route. However, an additional 6,600 teachers will be needed over the next two years.

So, a few have been trained and a few more are on the way… let’s hope they’ll all refuse to teach the ridiculous Brain Gym (but that’s another story).

The government has been using campaigns such as “Your Science” to attract student teachers and motivate pupils with the fun side of teaching science. To be fair, it is great fun, science can be either a thrill, or dull as ditch water, depending on who’s delivering it, but then, so can a lot of things, and my passion for science didn’t hit me until well after school.

Just take a look at the “Screaming Jelly Babies” experiment the TDA put on YouTube, where little jellied sweets (>90% sugar) are dropped into a boiling tube of oxidising agent (in this case, molten potassium chlorate). Oxidisation of the sugar (Brain Gym instructors please note, this is not oxygenation), occurs rapidly and spectacularly (cue the safety goggles and the heat resistant gloves)…

Great fun!

The problem, however, is when these poor Newly Qualified Teachers (NQT’s) get to stand in front of a class, and they realise it’s not all screaming jelly babies.

class_disruptionBecause the reality is that teacher training does not equip anybody to do the job. Sure, if you know your topic and are a good, enthusiastic communicator, you can probably teach. But teaching isn’t all of it, I wish it were.

What do you do when Jimmy Smith spits in your face and calls you a “f@ck!ng fat c@nt”, the headteacher tells him how badly he has behaved, but he can’t be excluded for more than two days because his home life is so bad that you would all rather he was in school? So, he’s back in your class by the end of the week and doing the same old crap again.

There’s nothing you can do when that happens three times in a term and he looks at you square in the eyes and says, “Go on, call the headteacher, he won’t do sh!t. You’re all a bunch of w@nkers.”

There’s nothing you can do when a twelve year old female pupil, extremely drunk at 09:00 on Monday morning, climbs on to her desk, pulls her trousers and underwear down, points her backside at you and shouts “Kiss my arse!”

Getting the class into the corridor and calling for a female member of senior management just doesn’t cut it.

There’s nothing you can do when you have no senior management backing for extreme behaviour issues, which includes fighting between pupils (the size of adult males), in your classroom – and you’re a 4′ 11″ female teacher that weighs about half of each of the combatants.

There’s nothing you can do when the classroom is chaos and you are barely holding on to any semblance of order, senior management aren’t answering your emergency calls and actually teaching anything is laughable… and some d!ckhead says “You’ll have to do better next week, OFSTED are in.”

All of the above, and worse, has either happened directly to me or colleagues within the same school.

Regularly… and the school I’m thinking of was one of the best in the area.

I had been a student teacher in one of the worst, and had witnessed chairs being thrown across the classroom at other teachers. The pupil responsible was never even “excluded” (temporarily removed from the school).

Now don’t get me wrong, there are still moments when you see ex-students graduating with their degrees and they drop you an e-mail which says “I couldn’t have done it without you.”

An ancient Chinese proverb says, “One joy dispels a hundred cares.”

Not when they’re spitting in your face it doesn’t.

My point is not that all UK schools are violent and chaotic. Of course they’re not. But enough have elements, classes or year groups, which are, and teachers don’t have the tools, the training or the legislation on their side to deal with those issues.

So it doesn’t really matter how many new teachers are recruited, if that – and a truly stupid workload, which batters them into the ground with pointless paperwork – is what they face.

Did you know, teachers are often asked to assign grades and targets for pupils that they have only known for about four hours, spread over five to six weeks? It’s called mid-term reporting. I often didn’t even know who I was writing about. Thank Microsoft for mail-merge in Office.

Given all of the above, most new teachers won’t stay in the job.

And guess what, that’s exactly what’s been happening for years.

I left secondary (high) school teaching two years after qualifying. My heartfelt and sincere respect go’s out to all those that can still do the job, because I would, quite honestly sooner live on the streets than go back to that kind of abuse.


3 thoughts on “Science Teachers and Screaming Jelly Babies

  1. hail to the chief. couldn’t have put it better myself. Why isn’t anyone whistleblowing this shit to the powers that be?


  2. I tried at 21 and was eaten alive what you have said here is true? New teachers being trained by teacher who no longer have the desire to teach in the classroom any more. I have started training in an FE college and it is world away from high school teaching.


  3. Thanks for writing in guys, sorry it’s been so long in replying, but during the hiatus the family and I packed our bags and headed off to the land of Canada.

    Am now well out of U.K. teaching, which I firmly believe to be one of the least respected, poorly treated professions in the U.K. – by Government and the general public.

    My advice to anybody going into teaching over there would be as follows…

    Unless you’ve got…

    – skin an inch thick
    – endless patience
    – can tolerate being physically and verbally abused by pupils, parent and possibly even other staff
    – have boundless energy
    – don’t mind giving up as much personal time as you actually put in at work and
    – can plough through endless Government bullshit, pointless paperwork with a smile on your face…


    Just my opinion of course.


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