My current class had a pretty terrible time last year. They were mauled at the hands of innumerable supply teachers who exhibited abilities ranging from the mediocre to the abysmal, and were victims of the kind of stability that only Italian renaissance architects would have considered as suitable for building upon. They came to me unsure of themselves, unsure of each other and undoubtedly unsure of me.
I've worked hard with them and at the end of last term they were beginning to exhibit the behaviour I'd usually witness at the start of Year 5. Furthermore - bonus point for a hopelessly outdated and seldom used connective - one of my colleagues, who takes my class for ICT while I teach his French, recognised a significant improvement which is always reassuring. We're getting there.
This room is littered with what Bill Rogers might refer to as black spots. Sometimes it feels like those black spots abhor a vacuum and fill all the surrounding white space with their disruptiom; other times, when one of them fades to grey, a symphony explodes between your ears that would make G. F. Handel's famous piece sound like muzak.
You always hope for those moments and you think of every possible way of doing it and then the smallest thing makes all the difference in the world. "Tuck yourself in. Do up your top button and straighten your tie." If I'd know that was all it took!
As I've already said, we're getting there!
During this on-going Microsociety project, there are moments when the children unwittingly underscore so much of what we as teachers pencil in the margins of our minds; information that, during the handover process, becomes another layer of complexity daubed on the paisley print wallpaper and lead-filled paint of a bygone school year. Information that a chance meeting would never reveal and which the children themselves often don't know exists.
On other occasions their idiosyncrasies burst on to the scene with the guile and subtlety of an out of control Mardi Gras float.
Today, following some sage business advice on the things to consider when setting up a business, the children had to answer a series of questions, the scores of which indicated - vaguely - whether they were more suited to starting their own business or more suited to working for someone else. Of the 30 children in my class, 27 of them fitted into the first category ... and I was not in the least bit surprised. In the other class, it was a half and half split.
While I was not surprised by the outcome my class presented, what was interesting was that, despite knowledge of the outcomes and what they implied, there's not a single person who has decided that they want to set up on their own. It seems that, in spite of the bluster and swagger, there are some serious insecurities. At the moment it is all friendship groups (with one notable exception) and it's going to be very interesting to see how they actually fare when we get around to trading and sorting out the nitty gritty.
I'm hoping ... I don't know what I'm hoping.
Part of me wants this whole experience to help them develop as conscientious individuals who look out for each other and don't revert to the bickering and "she told me to do it" attitude that is still so prevalent.
Another part of me wants the whole thing to go for a ball of chalk: not because I don't think it's a worthwhile project, because I do - I think it's amazing! But, and it is quite a powerful but, the debrief stages of this project are when the real learning is done; when ideas are shared and opinions voiced and everyone has their say. In the words of Adam Savage of Mythbusters fame, "Failure is always an option" and I think there's more to be learnt about them and by them from their interpersonal and social failures than in their successes, particularly from the neutral perspective of Microsociety. Things which in the playground are raw and real can be dealt with in the abstract but with reference to real life.
This class has so much to learn, and so much potential in so many ways, but their highly self-centred view of life, the universe and everything has tied their shoe laces together.
I am reminded of the story of the visitor to heaven and hell who noticed that there were few differences between the two and that the residents were provided with very long chopsticks with which to eat. In the former they had worked out that they could feed one another and so be nourished. In the latter, they were so focused on themselves that they forever went hungry.