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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.


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...