Friday, December 28, 2007


That Morthos Stare writes:

Well, I'm spent. Nothing more to say. Well, stuff to say but not Stab. In. Head. stuff. So I'm off. I'm bound to come up with a witty and entertaining post as soon as I click on send, but maybe not.

It's been fun, but now the fun has gone to ground.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007


Josh writes:

A few things:

1. The other day, we passed our three year anniversary here at Brain Stab. I'd have posted on the day, but I was in Prague at the time.

2. Yeah, I'm holidaying in Europe at the moment. Having a White Christmas, but not in the racist way.

3. I'll be back, but not to write here for a while. I'm surprised I lasted this long, frankly - my normal routine has been to write somewhere for about a year, get bored, quit, then find myself with the urge to write again about three months later.

4. See you in about three months, or, if my extended time here is the start of a new trend, about nine months.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Apathy Jack writes:

Right, you fucks are on your own until the New Year I think. Couple of things before I go...

School finished with less of the traditional running around getting last minute things done, and more using the New School’s broadband to stream Def Poetry, which is work, because I’m an English teacher.

Hoodrat, on the other hand...

Well, let’s see... There are five English teachers at the school – four of them left effective last week. Out of four Social Science teachers, three of them have left. One of the two Art teachers is gone, as is one of the two full-time Computer teachers. Two of the four Drama/Dance teachers have left, and one is cutting back to two classes a week. The Head of Science is taking a year off, and those do have a tendency to turn into resignations after the fact. Maybe it won’t... I’m not sure about Maths; I’ve heard rumours that a couple of them have sought employment elsewhere, but that their general crapness has prevented this from becoming a reality.

Now, if the Principal of Hoodrat was a real human being and not some kind of cartoon character, he would look at all of this, and ask himself what he’d done. This has not happened. He has, however, spent a lot of time berating departing staff members and asking them “What have you done?” (Disclaimer: Not me. I put a two-line resignation letter into his pigeon-hole on my way out the door one evening, and responding in passive-aggressive kind, the boss refused to discuss my departure, not even announcing it to the staff... But several others have received the “I’m very disappointed in you.” speech from the same man who undermined them at every turn and refused to support them in their attempts to actually teach the Hoodrat children something.)

A fortnight ago, I went to the Graduation Dinner for the Hoodrat Year 13s. I won’t even try to convey the emotion – I just don’t have the words. I will mention the ego-stroking point that the Head Girl thanked me specifically in her speech; a point that’s doubly flattering because she didn’t know I was coming to the dinner when she wrote it – she just wanted to acknowledge me to the staff and students, whether I’d hear it or not. I have mostly pruned myself of the guilt over leaving, but I know how many of my Year 13s left the Classics exam early – all of them – and I know I did them wrong.

Anyhoo, to change tack slightly...

I like Frankie Boyle’s description of comedians as “semi-autistic”, because it describes me as well...

“[W]e go out and sort of make people laugh and then pretty much go home and curl up in a ball in a cold shower and have two hours of crippling self-doubt.”

I never sit back and think “Yeah, I’m alright at this whole teaching lark...” I pendulum wildly (sometimes several times in the course of a day) between believing my own press – thus loudly proclaiming myself a Golden God of teaching – and panicking that people will see through the flimsy reputation I’ve built and realise what a complete fraud I am.

That having been said...

I threw my toys and left Hoodrat in too much of a hurry to properly investigate the place I was applying to. My tragicomic interview at the New School went a little like this:

“So why do you want to teach at a Catholic school?”
“A what school now?”
“This is a Catholic school.”
“Really? That explains all the pictures of Jesus. I just though somebody was doing a thing...”
“And do you think it will be a big change teaching only girls?”
“Why wouldn’t I be teaching the boys?”
“This is a girls’ school.”
“The hell you say...”
“We’re impressed with you. Would you like to be assistant HOD?”
“What? No! Leave me alone!”

A few months later, the Creator went for an interview for a baseline English teaching job somewhere else...

“So why do you want to move from a decile three, secular, co-educational school to a decile ten Catholic girls’ school?”
“I drew a circle on a map indicating how far I’m willing to drive in the mornings. Every school in that circle has my CV. Oh, and just before you ask, I know that taking extra-curricular activities is a condition of the job, but I don’t do that, so don’t waste either of our time by asking.”
“We’re impressed with you. Would you like to be assistant HOD?”
“Yes. Yes I would.”

When that school’s HOD left soon thereafter, the Principal made it clear that the Creator would be heavily involved in picking the replacement.

Then I got my New School to headhunt the Preserver to fill that assistant HOD job we still had going.

I’ve known for a while that it’s good to be king, but you know, it’s also good to be kingmaker.

Teaching at Hoodrat is like being bitten by a radioactive spider, or hit by a gamma bomb or something: fairly unenviable at the time, but it turns you a fucking superhero. The three of us: striding South Auckland like gods, backlit by haloes as we save the education system from itself.

But that’s just me believing my own press again. Hell, I’ve been treating the latter part of this year as a holiday, and only using about thirty-percent of my brain and energy, so I really shouldn’t get that impressed with myself...

To end, a reminder to the other Brain Stab people that our three-year anniversary is on Friday, so one of you write something pithy, and a poem called Southern Heritage, which appeals to my love of all things redneck, and to my love of rage.

Have a good Christmas, you weirdos.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Apathy Jack writes:

Year 9 “What do I have to do to get into Classics?”
Me “Well, Classics is a Year 13 subject, so you’re a good couple of years away from that being an issue.”
Year 9 “Yeah, but what do I need to get into it in Year 13?”
Me “Well, you have three years in which to not make me angry – basically, that is the sole entry requirement.”
Year 9 “I’m a good student, and I never make you angry.”
Me “See, that’s a lie, which makes me angry. You haven’t gotten off to a good start...”

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Apathy Jack writes:

Every so often someone says I should write something proper about the pros and cons of NCEA. I haven’t made a serious go of this because, you know, it bores me, but this might do as a taster...

While overall I don’t hate NCEA, one of the problems I have with it is that, well, it just doesn’t work in English. Oh, for the most part it’s fine, but NCEA marking schedules are quite remarkably proscriptive documents. They need to be to ensure nationwide consistency in marking. But when it comes to, for example, creative writing, a rigid set of guidelines isn’t always conducive to getting the best result.

At Hoodrat we had a policy of making allowances for the ineffable – writing that didn’t conform to the checklist of “Excellence” criteria, but that we knew deserved such a grade because between us we had read tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of books and knew good writing when we saw it. It is accepted wisdom among English teachers that many, maybe most, modern classics would not have passed NCEA level 1 creative writing, because the use of language and narrative that made them so revolutionary, so acclaimed, would fall outside the inflexible boundaries of the marking schedule. It was deemed necessary to occasionally mark according to the spirit of a standard rather than its letter.

One such example: We do a reading standard at level 2 which requires the students to read a bunch of stuff, then write about it. Specifically:

[A]t least nine written texts from at least three different categories - categories may include contemporary novel, pre-20th century text, collection of short stories, drama, poetry anthology, extended magazine articles, biography, reference books, website

To translate: when they talk of “different categories”, it’s basically a nice way of saying “Don’t do all short stories you intellectually lazy bastards! Read something of some weight for a change, dammit!”

The word we’ve been giving to classes for years is: you must have a bunch of different types of texts, unless you read nine novels, because reading nine novels in the course of a year is impressive when you go to the school with the lowest literacy rate of any decile three school in Auckland, so go with God, my child.

I caught up with one of mine last night at a dance performance. A perennially enthusiastic girl who came top of fifth form English last year by dint of a fair amount of natural talent and an obscene amount of hard work. She wrote on nine novels.

Only to be told by the new Head of the English Department that she would not pass this standard because her work did not meet the requirement of “different categories”. (And of course she was told this the day before it was all due in...) Of course she got it all done: She stayed up late, read a bunch of poems and magazine articles, handed it in, and passed.

Now, the HOD was entirely within her rights to do this – in fact, she was correcting a fairly gross (if entirely intentional) “error” on the part of me and the other two of the Triumvirate. However, in doing so, she was essentially telling this student: “No, don’t read lots of books! Only read shorter, easier, lower-level texts! Get dumber! Don’t have high expectations for yourself! Have the same low expectations that I have of you!”

This standard is designed to get students to read. I had Year 12s who hadn’t read nine books in their lives, let alone in the space of a year. This girl was trying to do well; trying to improve herself; trying to impress her teacher. But because The New Sheriff In Town is more interested in dotting the “i”s of the bureaucracy than in developing young peoples’ passion for reading, this kid now sees it as nothing more than a wasted effort.

Sometimes, there’s so much anger that I just don’t know what to do with it...