End of the school week

And so the first week draws to a close. I’ve dealt with some kids with ADHD, dyslexia and other learning difficulties. I’ve also dealt with their support staff who are awsome. As are the kids, frankly.

I’ve been handed a pile of paperwork for use when I’m actually teaching. This ranges from toilet passes, to attendance registers to official Punishment Exercise slips.

I’ve been shown how to take register.

I’ve been invited into other classes, and to join in some of the lunchtime clubs (one of which I will definitely be signing up for next week).

I’ve been to one of the feeder primary schools (more later) which has opened my eyes further.

I’m still not put off. If anything, I’ve been even more impressed than I have been over the last few days. I wish I could name the school simply as I’m overwhelmed with the attitude of the staff and the results they’re achieved over the last few years. If I had kids I’d be trying to ensure my house was within the catchment area.

Enough hyperbole. What have I actually been doing? Well, mainly gathering notes and sheets of information. I also now have a small pile of past papers with which to test myself to ensure I know what I’m supposed to be teaching. This is Very Important. The handful of meetings I’ve attended have been of that rare breed: useful. So much information has been thrown my way it’s hard to take it all in, but it’s all good stuff.

Pipping the experiences of the week, though, was this afternoon’s visit to one of the handful of primary schools that feed into the secondary I’m at. We were warmly welcomed by the head teacher who’d arranged for each of us to be ushered around by a P7 child. My guide was Ross, and believe me if there were more kids like him then the world would be a significantly better place. A little shy, but quick to talk once you hit on a subject he was interested in and very polite. He really took it as quite an honour to be showing one of the guests around. If I happen to see him around town with his parents I will be more than happy to say “hello” and tell them how good their son is.

Ross dropped me off at the Language Centre, a department reserved for struggling kids and used by several nearby schools – not just for pupils of the host school. Any children who are having communication problems are directed here and given special tuition to bring them up to a level where they can fit into their peer groups.

The three children in this class were just lovely, as was their teacher. We did a couple of simple exercises, the first of which involved sitting in a circle and each telling “news” stories – things that had happened to us in the last week. The others then got the chance to ask questions or make statements relating to the subject matter. The idea of this is to encourage them to focus and hold their attention and also to learn to take turns. In a small group such as this, keeping control is relatively easy but still the children were a credit to themselves. Sitting with them was like kicking back with friends. Very comfortable indeed.

While we were doing some word exercises on the blackboard, Ross appeared to take me to a Primary 2 class which was sat on the floor learning about parts of the eye when I arrived. I sat at the back and kept pointing towards the teacher whenever little stares focused on me.

After five minutes, someone came to the door and the teacher was called away. “Would you mind taking over for a couple of minutes?” she asked. I was handed a sheet with some Braille type on it and left to fend for myself.

Wow.

OK, so I didn’t keep the best of control but the children didn’t know me. Familiarity, in the Primary environment, seems to breed respect. Within reason, of course. The kids certainly didn’t try anything on, it was more that they wanted to ask so many questions and tell me all their little things. The important thing is that they were all still alive when “Miss” came back in and set them on to a more practical task.

I helped a few of them with this and then their little arty project before they were all sat down to have a quick chat before the end of the day. The teacher asked them what they were doing over the weekend. One of the boys piped up “having a baby!”

It turns out his mother was due with his first sibling and had been taken to hospital that morning. By the time he got home, chances are he’d be a brother. How cool is that?

Just before 3:00, my guide appeared to ensure I made it to the front door in time for the bell. I thanked him and shook his hand and received a beaming smile in return. All of the PGDE students gathered in the hallway before setting off home and every single one of us had a silly grin on our faces.

Again, we had all been impressed with the organisation by the staff and the welcome we’d had from the children. It was only a quick visit but the impression I got of this school was overwhelmingly positive. The catchment covers a wide variety of social standings and next week we’ve got another visit to one in a more generally affluent area. It will be interesting to compare.

Considering the relative chaos of sorting out my Disclosure in a panic on Monday, this was a superb way to end the week. Very much from middly-low-ish to high. I am actually looking forward to school next week.

Never in my life did I think I would utter those words.

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Second day back at school

I feel like a big boy now. I didn’t even cry when my mother dropped me off at the gates.

Another day spent mainly observing, which I’m not complaining about. A couple of the classes were the same students as yesterday so I got to see how their lessons were followed up. A few of them were more used to seeing me around and I assisted a little more than just watched.

I also popped over to a second year class and – like when I was visiting a Primary school a few months back – found the pupils automatically more responsive to another adult in the class, immediately using me as a source of help when they were stuck.

I’d been informed that S1 and S2 pupils were, on the whole, better behaved. As they reach the S3 point they also hit the teenage age bracket and “turn”. This does seem to hold true (in general – everyone is an individual after all), though I’ve also noticed that by the time they reach S5 they’re often over this phase to some degree.

Remember, though, I’ve only seen a smattering of classes and pupils!

During one period, we had a brief talk regarding “Raising Achievement” – methods the school uses to ensure pupils do as well as possible. This takes into account things like battling truancy and ensuring that bums are on seats for exams. Some of the children haven’t got the best home lives, so parents sometimes can’t be relied on. The lengths staff have gone to to ensure they make it in are astounding in some cases.

One anecdote was set a couple of years ago. An invigilator called the support team to report a boy in an exam hall who seemed “on something”. He was taken to one side, and he was indeed slightly wobbly and red-eyed. He was also a Celtic supporter and this was the morning after they lost the UEFA Cup Final… “All” he was suffering from was the shock of defeat and a resultant loss of sleep!

By ensuring he was kept in isolation while they fed him tea and consoled him, they enabled him to re-enter the exam hall after the rest of the pupils had finished. This meant he could actually sit the paper.

The teacher going through all this was obviously incredibly enthusiastic about her job – and about the other staff at the school. One thing she said very much echoed my own thoughts, and statements to other people, when I was considering going into teaching. This is one of the few jobs where you can make a difference. And everyone at this school is hugely geared towards this.

If things continue to go like this, I don’t freak out when I actually have to take a class myself, and I pass the course – this is very much a school I think I’d be happy to be a part of.

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First day (back) at school

A teacher writing on a blackboard.
Not as hot as some of the other students on my course :-p

First up, I’m going to be very careful not to mention anything to even remotely identify any staff, students or schools during any placements. A handful of friends and relatives know where I’m at at the moment (including one who turned out to be an ex-pupil there!) and that’s as far as it need go. Any posts about the course will be about how I’m getting on and my impressions. No specifics. Sorry if that bores you but I have other people’s anonymity to protect as well as a professional code of conduct to adhere to.

Professional. Me.

Oh dear, this will all end in tears.

Anyway, I’m glad to say the whole Disclosure thing was dealt with swiftly this morning. My copy had arrived in the post, but the uni hadn’t received theirs courtesy of lazy postal workers who fancied an unpaid holiday (my student card is still missing for similar reasons). As a result, I had to make a detour via the uni so they could check out the form, call the school and ensure it was OK for me to go in first thing – which it was.

I got there at 9:30, which wasn’t too bad all things considered, and only missed a meeting with the Head Teacher. We were given some useful bumph, a timetable of events scheduled for us then taken on a quick tour by one of the Deputes. After break, I was handed over to the teacher who is to oversee me for the next two weeks.

Unfortunately, and understandably, as she’d been told on Friday that I wouldn’t be in due to the Disclosure mess she had nothing planned for me. Instead I sat and observed through a few lessons, but that was by no means wasted time. We’ve been asked to spot things and gather “hints and tips” if you like by watching practised teachers.

As such, I started making bullet notes with small subtitles: Discipline, Equipment, Routine, Questions Asked and the like. I could do with getting a new watch so I can time the way the lessons are split up – my 1000 Kyat Rolex died a few weeks ago. How the pupils are handled does vary a lot depending on the individual and what/how they’re doing.

Overall, the kids weren’t that bad (with two exceptions) and behaviour was vastly different from age group to age group. My guiding teacher is very forthright and honest when talking about students, the school, materials, government guidelines and everything else. This is incredibly useful and something for which I’m grateful. She’s also pretty cool, though I guarantee the kids don’t see her that way!

The school itself is really good. They have plenty of original programs, support networks for students who require a huge variety of types of aid, a decent canteen, a great staff room, and a good reputation from those I’ve spoken to. The walls around the place have newspaper clippings detailing achievements by the staff, pupils and the school as a whole.

I really think I’ve landed on my feet with this as my first placement, especially after talking to another student who’s not had anywhere near as nice an experience on her first day. Sure, it’s not 100% perfect but where would the fun in that be?

My overseer has already mentioned me taking a class or two. Perhaps before the end of the week. I put on the calm “yes, let’s see” face while inside my stomach kind of clenched. I don’t think she noticed the sudden cold sweat either.

Actually, it’s more the fact that I don’t know what it is that I’m supposed to teach that’s my main issue. Specifically, I’ve not been able to find any syllabuses online. If they are there, they’re very well hidden. Thankfully I should be the owner of either a URL or a photocopy of them sometime tomorrow. Aces. I also think I might try to borrow some past papers for the various levels from the school library. If I can’t answer the papers I shouldn’t be teaching the subject!

As I’ve discussed with several others on the course, this is our last “easy” couple of weeks. Once we return to uni in a fortnight, things are going to ramp up a notch. The workload’s going to be daunting, to say the least. I’m going to make the most of this temporary freedom!

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Lock up your sons and daughters!

Carry On Teacher
Carry On Teacher

OK, in a rare “about me” post, and a break from the deluge of film reviews to come: hear this!

I am going to be a teacher.

Scared yet? Let me get specific. I’ve managed to wangle my way onto a course in Secondary Education with Computing at Strathclyde University, hopefully resulting in a PGDE. I applied late and went for interview a couple of months ago. I didn’t make the grade for the highly-contested last two places, but I was persistent. When I got back to the UK this week, I contacted them again and asked if there had been any drop-outs or no-shows.

I guess there was.

Today I got a call asking me if I could start on Monday. This will be two full weeks into the educational calendar so I’ll have a lot to catch up on. At present my biggest concern is finding somewhere to live. The commute from Perth, where I’m staying with the folks, isn’t too long of a day but it’s far too expensive in the long term. Chances are I’ll end up staying with family for a couple of weeks.

The nature of the course (few weeks at uni, few weeks at a school, repeat) means that I won’t necessarily be based around Glasgow for the entire duration of the course. Not helpful when trying to organise a rental agreement. I guess I’ll find out!

However, what I can say is that I’m really looking forward to it. OK, so it knocks my travelling on the head for a while but perhaps that’s a good thing. Given that I should get the course for nothing having been “resident” in Scotland for over three years, and that I can get a full student loan to top up my dwindling savings I could even come out of it a little better off than I went in.

It’s a new challenge and something I’m really excited about doing. Career prospects aren’t too bad at the end, either – I’ll still have all my IT history as well as a new qualification. I may even go on to do a PGDE in Primary Education at some point and cover all the bases. See how this one goes first, though.

So expect a few posts about the course, being a mature student, life in Glasgow and more film reviews as the next few months progress. Don’t worry, I will update the travel blog from time to time and I intend to go abroad during the holidays as long as I can afford it.

Now, how many laptops do I need to take with me?

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Geekiest post ever

Installing Microsoft Windows Vista

Well, geekiest post from me at any rate. Probably.

My last two work days have been hectic to say the least. It was a relief when I handed my mobile in (then got it back and instructed to turn it off before putting it in the box) so I knew I wouldn’t be getting any more calls.

So what have I done? Out of the goodness of my heart, I fixed one of the child care worker’s laptops. It was stuck in an endless loop after downloading some updates. Yes. Vista. A quick Google came up with countless people with the same issue. And the only solution from Microsoft was to not let it happen in the first place. Well done, Bill.

In fairness, they did have three fixes on the website but none of them were any use as they all essentially led you to different paths to use the rollback function in Windows. Which wouldn’t work. Every time I tried it, it fell over. I think one of the files was corrupt.

I eventually ended up hacking together several fixes I found on the web. First off, booting to a Vista DVD allowed to be get on via a command prompt, run a disc scan and patch the registry as per some instructions I found on a Technet bulletin.

This allowed me to actually get into Windows “normally”. However, as several critical system files (a whole three that I was told about whenever I tried to run anything) were buggered, nothing would start. I couldn’t repair Vista with an install from the DVD as it was from Business edition and the laptop had one of the multitude of Home editions on it.

Besides, and here’s a clever thing, you can’t run a repair install (i.e. a restore-over-the-top of the system files) from a DVD boot as you can with XP. And 2000. And NT. And 95. And ME. And 98. YOu can only run this “upgrade” as it’s called from within Windows. So if you can’t get into Vista, or Vista is pooched to the point where you can’t run anything within it, you’re screwed.

Thankfully, it was recognising some devices shoved into the USB ports including my memory stick. So via a command prompt, I copied over versions of the files it was whinging about from Dave’s laptop (also running Home Premium) which allowed me to run the “Upgrade” option from the DVD he had for his machine. Not before copying all his files sideways and off the C: partition, of course. Can’t be too careful. That was a memory test in itself, trying to remember how to use xcopy.

Bloody hell, Vista takes a long time to install. I ended up leaving it overnight.

Finally, ta-da, bootable laptop. I then put SP1 on. Another overnighter. Then the 30-ish patches that sit on top of it. That ran most of the day.

After approximately 20 hours of processing (rough guess as I was asleep for a lot of it) we had a working laptop. Well, working and crippled by Vista.

I know I bash Vista a lot. And after this experience it honestly does deserve it. Every time you want to do something system-y it asks if you’re sure. Only the prompt doesn’t always appear at the front of the screen – it lurks behind other windows so you don’t know what’s holding up the whole process.

Oh, and I installed OpenOffice on Ben’s laptop as well. On an old 2000 box it takes less than 5 minutes. On Ben’s pretty new Vista laptop it was over 20. W…T…F?!

Another lad had less luck. His new Sony Vaio demonstrated its magnificence… by displaying a small green LED and making a quiet “whirr” when powered on. And that was it. And it wouldn’t switch off. That one’s heading back to the UK for a warranty repair.

Incidentally, what’s happened to Vaios? They used to be sleak and sexy. Now they’re chuggy big things in flexible, cheap-looking cases.

Next big job was to supply the hotel with a second PC. It would have to be an old clunker, but the child care manager was happy enough with that. Anything so she didn’t have to engage in armed combat with the hotel manager to get onto the main PC. Where he is usually busy playing Space Invaders or shooting zombies.

Allegedly.

This took ages. I picked an old Windows 2000 box at random and set it up. Thankfully it still had an Office license on (version 2000), so no need to explain to another person that OpenOffice is just the same. The only hiccups were in getting the data off the main PC onto it, and converting her emails. The main PC runs XP and Office 2003.

Now there is a conversion utility for going 2003 -> 2000. But you don’t need it. Simply create a new PST file (File… New) in 2003, and select the option to make it Office 2000 compatible. Copy all your existing mail into this new set of folders, copy the new PST file onto the Office 2000 machine and run a simple Import.

Oh, yeah. The copying. The second PC wasn’t in a convenient place to have a network cable draped to it so I dug out one of the handy-dandy wi-fi dongles that Netgear include with their wireless routers. We’ve got a ton of them kicking about. I ran the disc, it installed, no problems. Nice little gadgets.

Problem 1 – no wi-fi. Someone had “knocked the router off the stool or something, I think” according to the hotel manager. Which reads to me that he did it… unless he happened to find it on the floor in which case I’ll believe him. Either way, this came with a weird symptom – the wi-fi broke.

OK, that’s not what’s weird. What’s weird is that when I logged onto the router it told me it was a Netgear DW834. When clearly on the case it says it’s a DW834G. The only difference between these models is that the G has wi-fi capability. There were no options in the menu for wi-fi or anything. Bizarre.

A quick scan on the internet told me that one problem is the wi-fi card inside the router being knocked loose. This isn’t an issue with v3 upwards, as it’s built onto the same board. But the v1 and v2 have a separate little daughter card.

So, easy. Open it up.

Not so easy. In their infinite wisdom, Netgear decided to use stupid little bevelled star-shaped screws instead of something nice and simple. No tool I’ve ever found will get these damn things open.

So I resorted to a subtle blend of psychology… and extreme violence (points for spotting the reference if you’ve got this far through the post!). I got one of the staff to help me rip the bottom off. Then clipped off the spare plastic and undid the screws with a pair of pliers.

Sure enough, the daughter board was loose. A quick shove and all was wi-fi with the world.

Next, to transfer files. I found out the hard way that even though the 2000 box pretended to install my USB stick, it crapped itself when I tried to access it. So dragging them from a share on the old machine… nope. Same problem. Open folder, no icons, machine craps out.

Next option, push files using shared folders over the network. Nope again. Every couple of meg (and I had slightly over 200 of them to shift… zipped) I got an error that the network location was no longer connected. Maybe I was overloading the wi-fi, or 2000 just couldn’t keep up. I don’t know.

Final solution (no, I didn’t gas the PC) – memory stick into XP box, copy data, walk through the snow to office, copy data to CD, back to hotel, load from there.

*Phew*

In amongst all this, I also sorted out a fax for one resort, fixed an Outlook error elsewhere, reconfigured email in Switzerland, had a printer delivered to an area child care manager, tested a phone line in Les Gets (it was broken), configured and sent out three routers, sorted remote desktop access on a contract manager’s PC, repaired a damaged Word install, flattened my desktop PC and passed it on to a colleague, got Twhirl running under Ubuntu on my laptop using the now non-beta Adobe AIR, documented far too much stuff…

…and developed a cold. Just in time for heading home.

Bugger.

As ever, I’m glad to be popping home for a short while. I’m definitely glad to be getting a rest. It’s been a lot of work here. But never boring! And it looks good on the CV.

Yes, I still have some stuff that’s not done, but it’s nothing too important and a lot can be done from the UK. Still, I’m out of time and no need to worry. In 12 hours from now I’ll be in a minibus heading for Geneva Airport.

And I’m really looking forward to it. I need a comfy bed to curl up in and someone to feed me hot fruit juice!

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