Attempting to teach English to a group of Poles, I was beginning to feel like a permanent fixture rather than an occasional visitor. I was also aware of a pressing need to fight their corner, if they were ever to succeed in integrating.
Being largely unable to communicate, they were put in bottom sets. One lad found this very frustrating, and had clearly been working at a much higher level in Poland. The head of maths would happily have him in the top set, but the boy would also have to go into the top set for science. This was already oversubscribed, and no exception could be made. Deadlock.
Then I discovered that a smaller group was doing double science, and if he joined them he could also be in the top set for maths. Apparently, he had already said he didn't want this. Hazarding a guess that he had no idea what he had already said, I explained as best I could and found that he would be happy to do double science. It was agreed that two of them could move after half term.
I wasn't sure that I would be wanted after half term, but was cautiously optimistic, and continued to think of ways that more could be achieved. The most glaring problem was the lack of a separate classroom for non-native English speakers. With this, we could have had displays around the walls, collections of useful books and a fixed point of reference in a confusing environment. All other subject areas had at least one room. No teacher was prepared to give up their own little corner, and senior management was not prepared to intervene.
Another major worry was that the new Poles and Portuguese students were not mixing with their peers. Lunchtime clubs were popular, and members were allowed to remain in the building instead of being forced into the playground. I suggested that I could run an English club, open to all non-English speakers and specially selected pupils who would help with their non-academic language needs. They could bring in music, or videos, or simply chat. I was hopeful that this could begin after half term.
I was also approached by the head. There was to be a training day before half-term with a variety of workshops. Would I give one on teaching English as a foreign language? I said that I felt somewhat unqualified, as other staff had TEFL qualifications. But he said he couldn't possibly add to their workloads. I decided to give it a go.
After the initial panic, I realised that this was a great opportunity. I could show how the system worked and instigate a discussion on the ways students could be helped without incurring huge costs.
Then the timetable for the workshops came out, and although there was one on TEFL, I wasn't part of the team giving it. I had wasted a weekend in preparation. The head was on the back foot.
He said he'd be delighted if I was to help. The team also welcomed me, but rejected my pleas for a room. I felt we were unlikely to achieve much, but decided to turn up anyway. Ever the optimist, I felt that there was nothing to lose, and over half term I might think up a plan of campaign.
The writer is a supply teacher in the MidlandsReuse content