Friday 30 December 2011

Nekkid Lady Backbone Sculpture

This week I've been earning back the car's new exhaust by tutoring on a course. I've walked through Cavendish Square each morning, and noticed an interesting sculpture.

It's a human spine. Cavendish Square is noted for the presence of the Royal College of Nursing, and it is next to Harley Street, the street for private medical practices (though I do occasionally offer a "quack quack" under my breath passing some of the clinics...). So I had a closer look.

There are 24 vertebrae there, corresponding to the seven cervical, twelve thoracic and five lumbar vertebrae. Three curvatures can be seen (perhaps a little kyphotic!), the dorsal surfaces are facing left and the ventral surfaces are facing right. But hang on a minute, those are funny looking vertebrae - I mean, my mum's had as many back operations as I've had margaritas, but even her spine is in better nick! Time to find out what's going on here.

Oh. OH. Right, it's art. Let's make a spine out of decapitated female torsos. Umm. Oh look, there's a plaque to go along with the sculpture.

I suggest that, while you read that, you grab your cheek with your thumb and forefinger and pull it in and out really quickly. That'll give you the appropriate auditory accompaniment. In that it will sound like a load of pretentious wank.

It's apparently been there since May. I'm not someone who goes crazy over art. I stood in the final hall of the Tate Britain Watercolour exhibition earlier this year shrieking indignantly at Paul: "It's a teaspoon. A fucking teaspoon. Covered in paint. For fuck's sake!" And at the Royal Academy summer exhibition I nearly took the Pink Pen of Doom to Tracey Emin's "Me Too - Glad To Hear I'm A Happy Girl" to correct "your" to "you're".

However, if pretentious arses want to produce a load of shite and get paid to do it, then more power to them. I just hope the funding for Westminster's City of Sculpture has not been diverted from other budgets. I really feel that the arts must continue to receive funding (and we happily pay for RA membership to contribute in a small way to this), but what makes me uneasy is that this festival is in aid of the 2012 Olympics, and an awful lot of money has already been siphoned from more needy budgets into this yawning black hole.

Thursday 22 December 2011

Happy Solstice

Jabba Claws is not renowned for his time-keeping, but he would nevertheless like to take the opportunity to wish you all a Happy Solstice, along with any other festivals that involve eating lots and leaving out waxworms for gecko visitors.

Remember, he watches you intently when you're sleeping, and he runs and hides in his cave when you're awake. And if you've been extra good this year, then he might leave you a festive Yule log in Poo Corner on Christmas morning.

Monday 19 December 2011

Christmas Presents

It's difficult to escape the topic at this time of year - teachers all over the world must be comparing their Christmas presents from the students. For a couple of years I watched as my colleagues got bottles of wine, chocolate, "best teacher" mugs and even £200 (!). And though I know there is not a vastly well supported correlation between "number of presents" and "quality of teacher", it nagged at me.

This year, however, my students went to town. A2 students bought me spirits - a litre of Baileys and a litre of tequila (they know me very well...). One gave me a necklace she'd asked to be sent over from Kenya. There's a nice little box of Ferrero Rocher too. I took part in my BTEC students' Secret Santa, and received a gorgeous perfume set from one lad who managed to keep his identity secret for about half a millisecond. And then I had this:

This had me in tears in the staffroom. Hand-drawn and painted by one of my AS students. It's hanging up at home now.

As sickly sweet and sacchariney it is, of course the thing I've found most touching has been what has accompanied each present - "thank you for all your help". In a line right out of Hallmark, the knowledge that I have helped these students in some way, through proof-reading personal statements, writing UCAS references, advising on university choices, counselling through personal grief, and spending one-to-one time with them on biology, chemistry and physics work, is the best Christmas present of all.

Though the booze definitely helps.

Sunday 11 December 2011

The Sound Of A-Level Revision

Back in October I announced that I had set up an Audioboo account under the name "BioLecturer" with the intention of producing short podcasts of the specification points for the AS and A2 Edexcel criteria.

I have, after two full days of shouting into my laptop, completed Topic 1, Topic 5 and Topic 2, in that order. So I'm alternating AS and A2 topics. I have Topic 6 to complete, which may not be so great as it's the only one I haven't taught this year (though I did teach it for the previous two years so it should be okay).

Listen on!

So you can listen to my dulcet tones if you're really interested. A number of the teachers on Twitter have already given the links to their students, so I hope that they're already getting some mileage out of them. I'll see my AS students on Tuesday and the A2s on Wednesday, so I'll have a chance to tell them then.

As so often happens, I expect to receive nothing but criticism from the students for missing bits out or not being quick enough uploading, or not getting it done over half-term. I put all my notes up on Moodle, along with copies of the handouts, worked homework answers after they have had feedback, past papers and useful links to extra resources. However, if I'm two days late putting the notes up, I get complaints. Clearly I've spoilt my students...

Tuesday 6 December 2011

Pride Before A Fall

As has happened so many times in the past, the happiness always seems short-lived. The pride I felt yesterday at my achievements has had the edge taken off it with what I think was a crappy observation today.

I had high expectations for my group, AS Biology. I love teaching them - they are usually the most eager to learn, well-behaved and happy to answer questions. They're a dream group. We were recapping on pedigrees and genetic diagrams, doing some practice papers and then moving on to looking at cystic fibrosis, the big Topic 2 case study. It was the sort of lesson they were used to, which for that group gets results.

The observer arrived halfway through (I knew it was a middles-and-ends obs). And all hell broke loose. The enthusiastic students morphed into a barely controllable bunch of australopithecines. They would not be quiet while others were speaking, and suddenly seemed to have the attention span of a hyperactive squirrel. So suffice to say I don't think it went well.

Now, I've had crappy observations when I've had feral students refusing to learn (the second group of BTEC students per year is usually the worst behaved, as we fill up one group at enrollment then add in subsequent groups, so the motivation and ability decreases as the group numbers increase...). I've had groups where my attempts to induce learning have failed miserably (the A2 action potential lesson was memorable in that regard), and where students have said the most bewildering things (another A2 asking, in all innocence, whether the SEM image of a stoma was the female external genitalia).

However, the thing that's got me troubled this evening is the general observation by myself, colleagues and my former PGCE tutors that if a group likes their teacher, they tend to behave better than usual in observations, and if they don't like them, then they act up to get their teacher into trouble. I got an inkling today that the latter might be the case, and that has shaken me a little, especially given my high regard for this group. Teaching isn't a popularity contest - if the students do well in their exams and go on to higher education or training, then objectively it doesn't matter if they hate me.

But it matters on a personal level.

Monday 5 December 2011

Three Masters' And A Cert Ed...

In my mission to collect as many degrees as I can, I have added a Professional Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) to the array of qualifications I have. I graduated today at Royal Festival Hall, along with loads of the friends I have made over the past two years. Paul was there to support, hold bags and generally be a rather dashing cheerleader. He also took a few photos of me looking like a right wazzock:

A gin and tonic, a walk across the stage, a handshake and two glasses of prosecco later, and we were standing on the balcony overlooking the Thames.

I went into college this morning all dressed up. Most of the comments from the Year 1 BTEC group were along the lines of "You look really professional Miss" (which rather implies that I don't normally...). However, the Year 2 lot, mostly young men, were a little more appreciative, saying they didn't think they'd be able to concentrate on work, that they wished I'd go graduating a bit more often, and pretending to warm their hands on me (!). Thank goodness they're all adults...

Back to work tomorrow in sensible jeans, t-shirt and flat-heeled boots, to disappoint hormonal boys.
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