Monday, 28 December 2009


A funny story about life in Leeds

So I was on the bus the other day going along the Headrow. The driver seemed agitated and kept craning his neck to see something. I was sitting on the lower deck as I hadn’t been in the mood for a top deck ride, instead I’d fancied listening in to a group of pensioners that were discussing the latest improvements to the Mecca Bingo Hall.

Their chit-chat was interesting but what was the driver doing now? He’s pulled up at the traffic lights, got out of his seat and run out of the bus. I looked out the side window and could see a police car that was also waiting at the lights. The driver was talking to the police and pointing upstairs.

Hmm, I thought, should I be making a swift exit? I had only just been reading about the 7/7 bombings in the paper, there were some new arrests, in Beeston. I looked out the window and the driver had disappeared.

The lights were changing and there he was getting back into the bus. Well that’s a good sign I thought. We moved off down the hill towards the crossroads with Browns restaurant and Café Nero on opposite sides.

Beyond was the next set of bus stops.

The bus pulled up short of the stop.

What’s going on now? The police car came round the front of the bus and the policeman got out.

He came onto the bus.

The driver said something discreetly to him. The policeman nodded and disappeared upstairs. I heard nothing untoward from upstairs, even though I had been engrossed in the conversation about Mecca’s refurbishment I was sure that I hadn’t heard any screaming.

Then I thought, that policeman has gone up on his own, maybe he needs back up.

I was still thinking about this – and evaluating the kind of support he would get from the mum with two kids and the half dozen bingo fanatics (they were still having their conversation as if nothing unusual had happened) – when the policeman came back down, well he wasn’t first, the drunk with the rug rapped round his waist, as if he had just stepped out the shower, stumbled down first, he looked confused, unshaven and unsure of where the policeman had come from.

I tried to imagine that moment and regretted staying on the lower deck and missing the confrontation that had just taken place.

As the drunk was gently shoved off the bus by the policeman I heard him saying,

"But how did you know?"

"How did you know?"

And it just goes to show that although you can get onto a bus, drunk, at 10 o’clock in the morning, don’t you dare fall asleep under a blanket and dribble on the seats.

Why I love Scribd

Scribd is a fantastic online document store. Why not take a look? Follow the link.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Newspaper Bridges

The topic this week was Enterprise. We started the session by discussing bridges, where we’ve seen them, who uses them, why they use them and so on. Once we’d established the purpose and meaning of bridges I set the task that I’d researched from

Using only one roll of Selotape and 2 broadsheet newspapers the students had to make a free-standing bridge that spans over 1 foot, is high enough to roll a roll of selotape under it and is strong enough to take the weight of a coffee jar filled with water.

This team building exercise provided a great opportunity to see the creative skills and imagination of the students and how they responded to the challenge. We discussed how it would be possible to strengthen the newspaper to make it stronger and we set clear rules about what students could and couldn’t do – i.e. you can’t selotape the bridge to the table.

The constructions proved to be very interesting.

After I had encouraged the students to refelct on their participation, achievements and learning we discussed where the ideas had come from.

One student said they had come from his mind. This was the link in to inventions and creativity that I was looking for.

We then watched a short video about inventions from the 80’s – Best inventions of the 80's and visited this amazing site that shows the ever growing web-based media world social media count

We completed the session by discussing the many inventions that we benefit from, living in the modern world.

Smell box activity - Equality and Divesity

Click the title to view a video on YouTube

Icebreaker – arrange chairs to suit the group – put half as many chairs as there are students – ask some students to sit down, others to stand – feedback as to how it felt for each group – explain discrimination

Put notice on door – you are late, please knock and wait

Similar or different – Make sure you have plenty of room for movement. Ask for 2 volunteers. Get remaining students to describe differences they can see related to the two students – 2 students to step away based on differences.

Students then use sentences that show similarities and the pair step towards each other as they share an attribute. It was interesting to see that there were far more similarities between students.

Discuss key elements Equality and Diversity – elicit key words – show skeleton PowerPoint – Equality and Diversity.ppt and get students to think about catch-phrases or comments Introduce task – need card, rulers, glue and selotape, scissors and a box full of things that smell. Smells can range from cinnamon to aftershave.

Students make activities for the rest of the students at Enfield – smell boxes!

Ensure boxes are numbered – put labels with number and SMELL ME – place boxes around ground floor of college building.

Plenary – feedback – summary of what we have talked about / diary

What a difference an 'e' makes

Today, remembrance day, should have been a solemn occasion. However, my classroom was full of laughter. We were talking about the past simple and time phrases that you can use with past expressions.

One word produced plenty of amusement – a student asked me to explain the meaning of ‘d*ck head‘.

I was firstly somewhat bemused – why does my student want to know the meaning of this word?

They are usually so polite and well behaved. I asked them, ‘Do you really want to know the meaning of d*ck head?’

This was a big mistake as this offered the opportunity for the student to say yes.

The response was ‘Yes, d*ck head.’ Fortunately the intonation was enough to save me from being offended.

Then another student came to my aid.

‘I think he means decade!’

So I explained ‘decade’ and hoped that the other word would fade in the class’s memory.

No such luck.

‘So what does d*ck head mean?’ Asked another student.

‘Do you really want me to explain it?’

There was laughter from those that knew the word, confusion from those that didn’t.

There was an anxious glance from my LSA.

‘Yes, we want it!’ The students cried.

So I drew a picture. I’m not a good artist by any stretch of the imagination but I think I did a good job.

Most of the class got it and fell about laughing but one young man asked ‘What’s that on his head?’

‘Well,’ I thought quickly, ‘well you have one between your legs and she doesn’t!’
The class burst into laughter, the young man nodded sagely and I had a smile on my face for the rest of the day. It’s amazing the difference an /e/ can make.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

I felt like I was on the set of Babylon 5

My first teaching role was at Hillside Induction Centre, Bramley. I was jointly responsible for the enrolement, assessment and training of new arrivals from all countries and age groups. I had between 7 days and a couple of weeks in which to work with families and individuals before they were housed somewhere in Leeds.

I met in excess of 1000 families and individuals from all over the Developing World. I wonder what their first impressions were as they sat in my classroom, only a few days after arriving in England.

Today, 6 years later, I got an insight into what they may have thought. I was talking to a student about my experiences of growing up in South Africa. He said

“When I came to enrol at college, only a few days after I arrived in the UK, I felt like I was on the set of Babylon 5.”

Babylon 5

For him this is a cult Sci-Fi series, that was on in the late 90’s, was a great analogy of his experience. An alternative world full of strange and unfamiliar faces. His experience of his first day in an ESOL department was the first time he had seen so many different nationalities all in the same place – “It was like the United Nations.” He said.

“For you, growing up in South Africa, you saw different people every day as a child. It’s like if you grow up with a cat or a dog, it’s normal, if you don’t then it’s hard to know.” He laughed and was quick to add, ” I just don’t have any experience of these people.”

6 years ago I didn’t know where these people went after Hillside. There were street names written on the whiteboard in the office and names were allocated every few days. I’d never been in those areas of town. They were a mystery to me.

I started a Certificate in Education in September 2004. I became aware that my work at Hillside, although very challenging and rewarding, was insufficient for supporting the course. I applied for a position at Thomas Danby College, now part of Leeds City College, to facilitate my studies and to increase my experience and knowledge in the field of ESOL.

Over the next two years I went on to complete my Cert. Ed. I worked at the college and in a variety of community centres, the ground floor flat of Boston Towers in Lincoln Green and a Polish Centre in Chapel Allerton.

During that time I began to meet other agencies – The Home Office, Job Centres, Refugee Council, Refugee Action, RETAS, LASSN and housing associations.

In January 2006 there was an opportunity to set up a pilot project in Leeds with The Children’s Society LEAP Project, CHIVA and Connexions. I liased with a Connexions PA and then worked with East Leeds Homes to establish potential venues. By June 2006 we approached Education Leeds and a list of potential students was drawn up.

I enjoyed the opportunity to work with different organisations with the aim of providing a 2 month summer school for 14-19 year olds who did not have access to education and who also had little or no English. The end result was a seven week programme where I worked as a freelance ESOL tutor under TCS.

I got married shortly after the summer school finished and embarked on a two month honeymoon to Indonesia, Cambodia, Nepal, Tibet and India. While I was away, a new post with The Children’s Society became available. I was very excited and e-mailed my application form from a small internet cafe in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

I began the post the day after the interview and began working as a pilot project worker – My brief was to investigate the barriers that migrant children and young people were facing when accessing education in Leeds.

It was at this point that I became fully aware of the environment in which Asylum Seekers were living within the City. I discovered that although in principal ‘Every Child Matters’ the truth of the matter was considerably different.

The number of young people that I found who were living unaccompanied in inner-city terraced housing was a major concern. For every young person I met there were 3 or 4 more who I didn’t know. Every one of them wanted to be in college or school. Many of them had been in the UK for months but hadn’t been accessing classes because they’d arrived after the September enrolment. The findings of the work that I did can be found in the links below and shaped the next couple of years of my work.

In July 2007 I returned to Leeds Thomas Danby and ran a summer school for a group of young people who wanted to enrol in September. From September I built links with Social Services CART (Children’s Asylum Refugee Team) and developed a referral system into a holding class. This class ran from late October and if possible, in-filled into existing classes. If it wasn’t possible, the young people were given 2 classes a week and linked in to other community opportunities.

In two years the number of 16-18 year old students has increased from about half a dozen to more than 65 enrolled this year (so far). Every young person deserves an opportunity to develop their language and social skills whilst they are in the UK. Why?

Because everyone matters.

I have witnessed the effects of, non-attendance, disaffection and isolation. The result is what some, including Sandy Buchan (Chief Executive of Refugee Action), now call another ‘lost generation’. In her response to the New Statesman she says -

“We are pleased to see the Chancellor promising to invest in the futures of young people so that Britain can avoid creating a ‘lost generation’. However, the government persists in creating a ‘lost generation’ of young men and women who have come to this country for refuge. They are denied the chance to work or to gain new skills – sometimes for many years. The UK is losing out on their skills, which could benefit our economy and society, and instead they are being forced into poverty and hopelessness.”

Children grow up to be young men and women. They are our future. Unfortunately many young people I know are now likely to be returning home due to Home Office decisions. I know they will take home with them a positive experience of the UK, a quality education and ambitions to do something with their lives. This leaves us with the question

“Should we invest our time and resources into educating these young people?

My feeling is that the answer can only be yes. I hope that those who return home will share their experiences of opportunity and democracy, wanting to be part of a new generation of global citizens.

Those that stay? Well I’m glad to have supported them towards realising their potential.

Every Child does Matter.

Mantras of a Mad Man

Mantras of a Mad Man

I woke up this morning at the usual time but I felt a little strange. Little did I know that this was to be the day that I started my first blog. Even now, as I write, I wonder why on Earth I’m bothering, who would want to read about what’s going on in my dreaded head?

I know this place all to well having spent a large part of my adult life developing my reflective practice and closely examining my professional work with the scrutiny of a Sergeant Major on the parade ground.

I’ve also spent a large part of my free time delving into the world of mantras and meditation and find these two worlds to be mutually beneficial for both my students and my own development.

So what should I record on these pages?

I spent at least five whole minutes thinking of a title; Mantras of a Mad Man seemed to bring together both worlds.

The Mantra of ‘Om Mani Padme Hum!’ is one that not only adorns my left arm but also resonates with my own world view.

Literally translated it means ‘The jewel is in the heart of the lotus’. This may seem a little fluffy, hippy and confusing. If you know me then you’ll know that some would describe me using these exact words!

However, once you know that in Tibetan Buddhism the Lotus flower is a symbol of ‘wisdom’ or ‘potential’ you may begin to see that there is a deeper meaning. I translate this mantra as ‘Realise your potential!’ (or ambition or dream).

Easier said than done but if you have an insight into your dreams or a clear idea of your potential then this mantra has plenty to offer.

We all have wisdom to offer and wisdom to learn so I hope that I can share these pages with that in mind.

First blog finished, that wasn’t so difficult after all…

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