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Scenes from a Movie Not Yet Made

I am currently having the strangest experience with one of my students: his english teacher is campaigning against my presence.

I've never met her, the teacher that is, so it could be that the second hand information I hear is a little different to the truth. You've got to wonder how different it is, though, given the latest story, where the principal of the school stopped the guy and said, "I hear you're a little confused on who you should listen to, your english teacher or your tutor." At this point he, I imagined, paused. Gave that look that an adult in pants and shirt and tie and grey, balding hair does. I'm projecting my own principal from years ago on him, who was a very stern man, just so you know. Finally, it is said that he said, "I would listen to your english teacher. She has over thirty years experience and is the head of the department."

Well, yes, that's a good point.

Except, of course, that he can't write an essay, and whose fault is that?

The problem developed after the trial HSC, where M, the student, who is in the advance course, and topping his year, didn't do as well as he should have. He'd come to me a week before and, though it's my usual kind of thing to check essays first up for structure, I didn't here. He was top of the year. It was a week from his trials. There were other things to worry about. Now, imagine my surprise when, after the exam, I saw his essays, and the paragraphs, rather than being made of one structured argument, were broken into sentences that identified techniques, and which listed six or seven as you might write a short answer, and then moved onto another 'paragraph' after, to do the same. I say 'paragraph' because, hey, they weren't. Now, M, who is quite smart, and understands the work well and can argue quite well outside the essay, has been writing like this for the entire year, and this same teacher has said nothing. Not one thing. But the first thing I said, upon seeing it, was that it had to be changed, and proceeded to show him various essays from my other students in year twelve, as well as various books of essays, to prove why he should change it.

Of course, what happened then, is that he walked into school and asked his head teacher if his essay structure was wrong, and she said no, it was fine. After that, however, she began to ask a lot of questions about me.

"How do you know he's really a tutor," she is reported to have said. "He could just be anyone off the street. Anyone can put an ad in the paper."

This is, of course, quite true. Bit of advice for anyone if they want to start privately tutoring students, I might add.

She says more, however. To listen to M, he can't walk into his english class without his 'tutor' being brought up, though I am sure this is not the case. Part of the problem, however, is he is reportedly the only student in this school with an english tutor. It's a small, public school which gets scaled down a lot in the HSC, and which is often in the paper for its riots, and the teachers within it are, from what I can gather, a bit on the insecure side because of the violence. Or at least, this particular teacher is. Her resentment of my presence is now, with three weeks to the actual HSC, which for those not in NSW, is the final exam of year 12, and the thing that all students stress on for getting into University, and which makes it a kind of big deal for them... his final weeks has been spent with an english teacher who, in response to every choice he makes regarding his preparation, begins a sentence with, "Did your tutor tell you to do this?" She attacks the choices he makes for external texts, and gives him pieces of creative writing with the specific instructions not to show his tutor, as if, you know, she's giving him some kind of huge secret in the five hundred word stories written by her 'son'. Yes, son. Seriously. Guess who I think they're written by? Then there's the principal stopping. I'm sure it doesn't take much for anyone reading this to figure that M spends a week stressed out and confused, none of which is beneficial to him with the time he has before his exams, and which I have nothing to say but, "Look, you've just got to ignore that shit and prepare your work. If you want to use the old essay structure, that's fine--but I can't tell you it will be marked well, not when you compare it to what other students will be doing."

He is, fortunately, still planning to use the new essay structure. Having been awaken to the fact that he doesn't write like anyone else, he can see it everywhere now, but especially in trial HSC books and on the essays on the boredofstudies site. Also, the comments from his previous english teacher--who left the school, but who he was in touch with at the beginning of the year--make more sense.

But still, it's pretty fucked up.

Now, normally, when you're a tutor, you work with the way the teacher prepares the class and the subjects. Every teacher does it differently, and the goal, for a good tutor--or so I figure--is to not go against the way that the five day a week teacher wants to prepare his or her class, but to build upon it, and to allow for more detail on what is done in class, and for more time to be spent one on one on structural writing, techniques, and so forth. It can be a bit of a balancing act, especially if the teacher and student don't get along, but the goal of the tutor is not to undermine the teacher--why would it? It's a quick way to cause the student you've got stress, and to lose some cash, cause there's no way you win that battle. Parents will kick you to the curb before they kick a school. Of course, none of this is to say I have anything to do with teachers--I don't. I deal with the student and the students needs.

And you know what?

That's still the case here, really.

But still, for a brown sack, like the one you use to drown kittens.


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Sep. 25th, 2007 07:20 am (UTC)
It sounds like she is really threatened by having someone from outside criticize her techniques.

The year 12 students I tutored needed a tutor because they didn't understand essay writing and argument by the time they got to year 12, and their teachers didn't have (or take) the time to correct them. So it was a case of the current teacher telling them they needed to improve, and the tutor (me) helping them do that by showing them how to organize their ideas into an essay.

It sounds like that's what you are doing with this student, but because she hadn't spotted that there was a problem before the exams, she feels that her teaching is under attack.

And so it should be.
Sep. 25th, 2007 07:37 am (UTC)
yeah, i figure that's what it is. and seriously, the majority of tutoring for year 12 is essentially helping them organise their ideas into an essay. i reckon 95% of what i do is simply structural.
Sep. 25th, 2007 07:22 am (UTC)
Bad teachers are often touchy about being shown up... Funny that. I had consistently awful English teachers all the way through high school (and, ahem, I went to Sydney Grammar...) and they were entirely displeased by the help I got from my Mum (who teaches linguistics at UNSW mind you). Dickheads.
Sep. 25th, 2007 07:38 am (UTC)
sydney grammar, hey? what was that like?
Sep. 25th, 2007 07:44 am (UTC)
For me, it was just like going to school. Only school I ever had.
But that said, I had some great fellow students - it was a school that was quite happy to nurture excentricism... I knew many of the Chaser boys (a number of whom were 2 or 3 years behind me), and a bunch of people in the experimental music scene went there. It had a great music department, so that was good for me.

On the other hand, I was about as anti-competitive as a kid could be, and thus I often didn't do that well (at least in context), found that many of my more studious friends strangely stopped being my friends around exam time, etc. Still did embarrassingly well in the HSC, but yeah.
And while there were some good teachers, there were plenty of crap ones, just like anywhere else - and not just in the English dept (which I'm sure had some fine ones too). It's more about the peer group, I guess, and the fact that it's a pretty highly selective school.

So, in summary: weird, but not that weird, had its ups and downs. At least I had youth orchestras and music camps all through school, so I had friends outside of school, and gasp came across girls... etc...
Sep. 25th, 2007 07:45 am (UTC)
excentricism -> eccentricism
Sep. 25th, 2007 07:57 am (UTC)
i think many i expected more fine china in this recounting ;)
Sep. 25th, 2007 08:52 am (UTC)
Haha, yes, well it's a private school, but by no means that expensive. Somewhere like Kings School or probably even Cranbook and Barker and suchlike are probably quite a bit moreso (well I know Kings is...)
Sep. 25th, 2007 07:37 am (UTC)
Ah crappy English teachers. I want to find the English teacher in Year 8 who told me I'd never get anywhere academically and shout "I've taught English to university students, you fucker!!"
Sep. 25th, 2007 07:39 am (UTC)
my favourite is the one who told me i wrote to good and so i must've copied it. i'd send her books if i cared enough.
Sep. 25th, 2007 07:43 am (UTC)
I had to bring in hefty grammar tomes to a first-year English class at a sandstone university in Perth which shall remain nameless...to prove to several students that the neuter pronoun 'its' had no apostrophe. Said students all had the same high school English teacher, who had drilled them in this mistake.

Sep. 25th, 2007 07:57 am (UTC)
nice to see the book came in handy, though, huh?
Sep. 25th, 2007 10:56 am (UTC)
Yeah, you wouldn't believe how much damage you can do to tender digits with a well-aimed volume...
Sep. 25th, 2007 07:45 am (UTC)
Mmn: having taught at the same school (albeit the version with Girls in the title) I'd just like to chuck in that the teacher is teaching the student how to write an essay so that the HSC examiners will look upon it favourably.

Whether the essay structure etc is good or bad is immaterial to the greater goal of 'appeasing HSC examiners'. It wouldn't matter if your mum was the Dean of Linguistics at Oxford; she's not an HSC examiner. Stupid but true.

The good news is that when they get to university people like me get to teach them the 'correct' way to write a decent essay.

That said, bagging out the kid's tutor in front of the class (where the kid's tutor isn't even there and therefore it is just the poor kid getting the bagging) is a shameful way to express her own inadequacies...
Sep. 25th, 2007 07:56 am (UTC)
Mmn: having taught at the same school (albeit the version with Girls in the title) I'd just like to chuck in that the teacher is teaching the student how to write an essay so that the HSC examiners will look upon it favourably.

i really have no idea how she could possibly think that. i gotta run, but when i get back, i'll show you how she's got them to write--all it's going to do is get them marked down a lot.

but yes, i do see your point. usually i'd agree with you entirely, but in this case, i got no idea how it could be anything bad a way to lose marks.
Sep. 25th, 2007 08:35 am (UTC)
OK; I'd like to see it. I'm happy to add the caveat 'the teacher is teaching the student to write an essay the way she *thinks* it will make HSC examiners will look upon it favourably'. There's always the chance she's wrong, which would be a travesty but not uncommon. My head teacher of English at the Girls version of the school was a failed History teacher who readily acknowledged he didn't read anything but History books. He's still there too.

I still remember a bit about the HSC and the way it gets marked. I blocked the rest out; teaching is a terribly hard way to make a living (and for anyone who is about to say 'why become a teacher?' - because it's such a great thing to get kids excited about things you're passionate about) and I take my hat off to anyone who does it well.

Anyone who doesn't...well...you know.
Sep. 25th, 2007 12:29 pm (UTC)
the paragraph went a bit like this:

The episode in seinfeld where george recieves a frog machine conveys its humour through the use of 80s music.
The music that plays in the scene where George tries to get the frogger machine across the street references the original games music to set the scene.
The top down shot of George crossing the road is a visual key also connected to the original Frogger machine, in which George and the Frogger machine take the place of the original frog crossing the road.
And some kind of conclusion goes here.

anyhow, it's those breaks, and the start of the new lines that he's been doing. he does about seven or eight of them and lists each technique that way. i can only see that breaking the paragraph up like he does there is going to cost him marks--it makes it look like there's a bunch of paragraphs joined to one.
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 25th, 2007 11:00 pm (UTC)
to be fair, the frogger thing is me. it was late at night, i just got home from work, i was watching that seinfeld episode... you see how it happened. but my point was to show the short sentences like that, which are his paragraph. he does about seven like that, then leaves a line break, and begins to do it again as the next paragraph.
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 25th, 2007 11:10 pm (UTC)
yeah. and what it does is it stops any flow of an argument developing, while also looking like he's making tons of mini paragraphs within a larger paragraph. it looks even worse when you put it next to kids from a whole bunch of different schools who are doing the traditional paragraph structure...
Sep. 26th, 2007 12:24 pm (UTC)
Ugh; stilted and bland. I see what you mean: he's advancing what little argument or analysis exists via a series of statements rather than making nice sentences which flow onto each other and make for a nice easy read. Statements however do not make good paragraphs; statements divided into mini-paragraphs which haven't been organised well and just divided into paragraphs because

'hey! it's time for a line break' don't make good essays.

He's got the factual information (from this example, and for the most part) correct, but it's still as dull as dishwater...sounds like it was written by a government wonk who hasn't left the confines of their office in Canberra for a long *long* time...

Sep. 25th, 2007 02:55 pm (UTC)
We have a similiar thing here with 'teaching to the test' - drives our teachers crazy. One of my son's teachers told me that when they used to teach about the landing at Jamestown they would explore all aspects of it - what decisions the people landing made, how they interacted with the local Native Americans, blah, blah, blah. Now they teach the date they landed, make sure the kids have it right, and go on to the next thing. Doesn't make it very interesting for either side, unfortunately.
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 25th, 2007 12:30 pm (UTC)
hmm. you know, i'm not worried about that, but i think i ought to know better for the privacy of others, so i'll delete that last line. and your first reply, too :)
Sep. 25th, 2007 10:28 pm (UTC)
Good call, I think.
Sep. 25th, 2007 09:06 am (UTC)
....I don't remember being taught how to structure an essay, actually. I just...did it.
Sep. 25th, 2007 12:38 pm (UTC)
i learnt in uni, really--but i think the idea is you're meant to gradually learn through the years.

schools way different now than we us old folk were in it, anyway ;)
Sep. 25th, 2007 12:53 pm (UTC)
That 'old folk' was inclusive.

I'd mock you, but I'm too tired.
Sep. 25th, 2007 12:59 pm (UTC)
cause you're old and tire too easily, that's why.
Sep. 25th, 2007 01:02 pm (UTC)
'cause I've had insomnia since before I landed in this country, you daft old fart.

I gotta say, insomnia is fuckloads easier to handle when all I do is sit and type all day. This lack of sleep/run all over town gig is uphill.
Sep. 25th, 2007 01:11 pm (UTC)
that just ounds like old fart talk to me, that does.

tho i do admit to being sleepy myself right now.
Sep. 25th, 2007 01:16 pm (UTC)
allow me to point out all the typos you are making. old fart.
Sep. 25th, 2007 11:00 pm (UTC)
like i haven't been making them for years :P
Sep. 25th, 2007 09:55 am (UTC)
ooh nassty!

can i be in the movie? i want to be the retarded english teacher! please please please!
Sep. 25th, 2007 12:39 pm (UTC)
you're going to have to audition like everyone else!
Oct. 1st, 2007 01:56 am (UTC)
nonsense. i was born for this part and you know it!
(no subject) - brendanconnell.wordpress.com - Sep. 25th, 2007 10:53 am (UTC) - Expand
Sep. 25th, 2007 12:40 pm (UTC)
yeah, i get that occasionally. like the teacher who told his class that harper lee was a man. he marked an essay down because a girl said she was a woman...
Sep. 26th, 2007 10:57 am (UTC)
I remeber one of my old English teachers once referring to Harper Lee as "Lee Harper"... looking back, I think it might just have been a slip of the tongue, but it pissed me off at the time.
Sep. 25th, 2007 11:05 am (UTC)
As I'm sure others have said (not got time to read all twenty comments at work!) she sounds incredibly threatened, and childish in response.

On the other hand, you sound like an amazingly good tutor, from other posts as well as this, who really gets kids to push themselves and do well. Hats off. All the people who really Hate Ben Peek would probably do well to keep that in mind when they're whining...
Sep. 25th, 2007 12:41 pm (UTC)
nah, i'm just an average tutor, really. i have my faults--and it can be really, really hard to keep this stuff up for long term, and five days a week. my side of it is much easier than being in front of a class for five days a week, six hours a day.

this teacher, though, she doesn't sound any good, and it's rare that i actually say that oughtright.
Sep. 25th, 2007 01:52 pm (UTC)
Not to defend her actions at all, but from what you say about the school, it sounds like the teacher may be hanging on to some semblance of order by the skin of her teeth [pauses to think about what the hell that means. no idea.]. She may be trying to get all, or at least more than just the brightest student, through these horrible-sounding HSC tests you guys have. Having her teaching methods and expertise undermined may loose her the whole class.

You know what, ignore the above. That's shit. I have a soft spot for English teachers in public schools, what with having been one and all. Bottom line, she's wrong.

Sep. 25th, 2007 11:02 pm (UTC)
yeah, i think she is probably just tyring to keep a semblance of control, but who knows? the thing that bugs me most is that it's a simple thing to fix--after that,t he dude is all cool. but how she's acting is not making the situation any better...
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 25th, 2007 11:03 pm (UTC)
yeah, them good teachers are all neat. they need more money and joy, they do.
Sep. 26th, 2007 02:54 am (UTC)
Sorry to hear that all of this is happening.

Hope it works out well for the student and you.

---factory farmer
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Ben Peek

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