Finding Damo

The story of a man, his job, two cats and the meaning of success.

Archive for the category “School”

Exams

One of the great things about being a teacher is the paperwork. Everything has to be documented. Every piece of work should be carefully covered in red scribble and returned to the student, for them to scrunch it up and stick it in the bottom of their bag. We need to write lesson plans and unit outlines and day-to-day summaries and meeting minutes and assignment sheets…

… and exams.

We have exams for all core subjects in Years 7-10 at our school. Twice a year, for one week and at least six subjects, the students traipse into the hall or the auditorium and sit in neat little rows with papers in front of them and write or doodle for two hours. We supervise them, wandering up and down the aisles, answering questions (“When it says ‘write your name here’ does that mean my full name, or just my first name?”) and handing out tissues.

Oh gods, the sniffing! It’s like a convention of cocaine addicts sitting in a hall. All is silent except for the rustling of paper and then a symphony of sniffs. Sometimes you can tell it’s deliberate. There’s a pattern. The ringleader will give a hearty snort, followed by the gleeful snuffles of his underlings. But mostly it’s just the disgusting habits of teenagers in a world where handkerchiefs are no longer a required item.

It isn’t my place to debate the usefulness of exams. Well, it is, but it is more than my job is worth to do so. But they are very stressful, both for teachers and students. And I don’t even teach VCE (for the overseas readers: the Victorian Certificate of Education is the endgame for high school education in Victoria – Years 11 and 12). So many times I want to grab a kid and say “You’re only in Year 7! It’s not that big a deal!” But it’s probably a good thing that they have four years of learning that you don’t talk in exams and, No, you cannot go and get a drink you doofus!

Speaking of stress, my favourite (?) story from my own VCE exam days might very well be an urban myth, but it freaked us out at the time. I was going into a Literature exam, when one of the other students told us this:

“So this girl was really unprepared for her Psych exam. And on the day she came into the exam, really calm. She sat down, got all her stuff out, and waited for the exam to start. She opened her exam paper, stared at it for a few minutes, and then, very calmly, picked up two pencils, inserted one in each nostril, sharp side up, and then, without warning, slammed her head down on the table. She was dead instantly!”

This, just before we went into an exam. And exams at that point meant everything. They were our entry into university. They were a status symbol. They took over every part of our lives for those final weeks of school. And they were unbelievably stressful.

But I can’t imagine being overly worried about them in Year 10. I don’t even think I was overly traumatised by them in Year 12, although that story didn’t help. I know I was, but that sense of terror isn’t lodged in my brain the way dealing with bullies and everyday school life is. I remember clearly a slick, feral kid promising he’d push my head through a wall as soon as the teacher wasn’t watching. I don’t remember sleepless nights awaiting exams in highschool.

By university, exams had taken on a malevolent evil force that allowed them to get under my skin and bring me to breaking point. Or maybe it was the booze and late nights that did that. But suddenly, exams meant something. Friends would come to my room in tears, sure that they were going to fail miserably. We would do week-long cram sessions. We would stay up all night before an exam, trying to get one tiny piece of information to stick. We would eat mountains of doughnuts and experiment to see whether studying drunk was better than studying sober. Nothing helped.

I hate exams. They aren’t a fantastic example of learning. They are a fantastic example of a certain type of student’s learning. But until universities realise that, we’re stuck with it.

And so the symphony of sniffing will continue.

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Who does that voice look like?

I started writing this three weeks ago, and ended up having to split it into three blog posts to have it make sense. I started on an evening when the Mists of Pandaria update prevented me from playing, but couldn’t find my voice, so ended up writing about Super! instead. I tried again this morning – a post about stereotypes and teachers, but again, it wasn’t coming out right. So I’m giving you the first part of that post – a comment on stereotypes in TV and movies. I’ll get into the rest as soon as possible. I know I’m a few weeks behind, but we just moved into our new house, and hopefully my busy days are done. Here goes:

A few weeks ago, I talked about the American school system and the extremist schools that are going to teach the existence of the Loch Ness Monster, proving the existence of God. At that time I went down the road of supernatural interest and ghost stories. I did, however, mention that in another reality, I might have talked a little about teachers and stereotypes and why the stereotypes exist.

So here we go, rolling the dice again and heading into another reality:

That one was all of the realities in one. Very amusing if you’ve seen the episode. If not, belated SPOILERS!

And the die lands, and Damian decides to talk about teachers. (edit:  But that was too much work, so he’s left it with stereotypes)

I was going to write about teachers last week, but then something happened that would have meant I spent most of the time bitching about one particular teacher instead of talking about teachers in general. I’m plenty mellow tonight, so here goes…

In case you care.

I was listening to the Friday Night comedy podcast from BBC Radio. Tim Minchin was interviewing Caitlin Moran, and she sounded very cluey and it was a very amusing interview. And I realised that I had no idea what she looked like. And then I realised that I couldn’t even guess with any real accuracy. My reasoning goes as follows: if you watch a lot of American TV and movies, you start to match voices to faces. Americans love typecasting people. And when you hear someone on the radio in America, there is a good chance that they look how they sound. I know that this is incredibly generalistic (if generalistic is a word) but try it some time.

When I listen to British people on the radio, there is no typecasting going on in my head. I can’t picture them. I had no idea what Caitlin Moran looked like.

OK, here’s my theory: in America, there are a vast number of people who audition for every acting/media part. Given that excess of talent, producers/casting agents choose people who NOT ONLY can act/sing/talk, but who ALSO fit the concept in their head. A concept that is a stereotype drawn from generations of other casting agents doing the same thing. Types change. New types are added, but in general, they’re a little bit predictable.

In the UK, with far less people to draw from, the really talented people don’t necessarily fit a mind model. And this is just me being slightly nice to the Americans. I’d prefer to say that the British are just less shallow and pick people for true talent rather than what they look like. But there’s a chance that the population excess could be true too.

Either way, although there are types in British tv, they aren’t as fixed in stone as in America. Who would have thought of Katherine Tate as a companion for the Doctor?

I’m currently watching Episodes, with Matt le Blanc (actually, I’m watching Episodes with my wife, but Matt le Blanc is on the show). A British writing team are conned into coming to America to write an American version of their hit British show, about a school headmaster. It’s very funny and pokes a lot of fun at shows like American Coupling, Red Dwarf or Men Behaving Badly. But that’s not my point. It’s funny because we all know that when an American production company gets hold of a British property, they change it so that it fits in with an American audience.

They don’t take into account the reason why so many Americans watch the show (making it viable for a remake) is the humour in the British way of thinking about life. And probably the fact that the Brits don’t just hire pretty people and stick glasses on them to make them ugly.

OK. Do my job for me. Episodes is about the creation of a sitcom at a high school. It will feature a number of different stereotypes, because we all think back to our school days and remember:

– the militant PE teacher.

– The Maths teacher in his sandals and socks.

– The IT teacher who wouldn’t come out into the light and

– The hippy English teacher who would quote poetry at you and be disappointed when you didn’t burst into tears at the very words entering your head.

Or maybe not. Which types of teachers did you encounter over and over? I’m halfway through my teacher blog. Back on track next Wednesday.

Oh, and no new Finding Damo – the Novel as yet. But the show was a ripping success.

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