Saturday, January 30, 2021

Teaching on Zoom

Me: Good morning everyone, today...

Mavis: MR SHEPHERD I KNOW I KNOW! 

Me: I haven't asked you anything yet Mavis, now today we need to...

Barry: Mr Shepherd? 

Me: Yes Barry, what is it? 

......

Barry: Mr Shepherd? 

Me: Yes Barry.  

...

Barry: Mr Shepherd? 

Me: Barry I think your sound might be off, you need to...

Mavis: MR SHEPHERD I KNOW THE ANSWER I KNOW THE ANSWER! 

Me: For Goodness' sake Mavis, there hasn't been a question yet! Now can we make a start on...

Barry: I think I've got coronavirus. 

All children: Eeeurrgghh! 

Me: Sssh, everyone please! Barry why do you say that? Have you got any symptoms? 

Barry: I've got toothache. 

Me: Right, I'm not sure that...

Barry: And last night I banged my head. 

Me: It sounds to me like you don't need to worry Barry, I...

Mavis: MR SHEPHERD CAN I SAY ONE CAN I SAY ONE??!! 

Me: Mavis I really love your enthusiasm but we haven't...Jeremy, stop sharing your screen now! 

Jeremy: What?? It's sick! 

Me: Yes I like Fortnite too but we don't need to see it now, please...

Jeremy: Mr Shepherd are you on Fortnite? 

Cynthia: Are you a YouTuber Mr Shepherd? 

Trevor: Are you on TikTok? 

Me: NO! I only have a very vague concept of what you're talking about! Now please, can we do some maths. Yesterday we were looking at the written method for addition...

Florence: (stupid bitch I told her I didn't want that one...)  

Me: Florence you need to mute yourself please. 

Florence:  (I'll punch the stupid cow in the face next time she...) 

Me: FLORENCE, MUTE YOURSELF! 

Jeremy: Oh my gosh Mr Shepherd you can mute her yourself! 

Me: Oh yes, I'll do that. Florence please tell your Mum to leave the room. Now, who'd like to have a go...

Mavis: MR SHEPHERD I'VE GOT ONE I'VE GOT ONE!!

Me: I'd like to ask someone else first Mavis. How about...

Barry: Mr Shepherd? 

Me: Yes Barry. 

Barry: Mr Shepherd? 

Me: Yes Barry. 

Barry: Mr Shepherd? 

Me: YES BARRY!! 

......

Me: Right, Barry's got a problem with his sound again, let's...

Barry: My chicken died. 

Me: Oh...I'm...err, sorry. I didn't know you had one Barry. 

Barry: Because it ate a Snickers bar. 

Cynthia: I like Snickers! 

Trevor: Bounty! 

Arthur: Mars! 

Gladys: Milky Bar! 

Me: Enough! Right, Barry I'm sorry about your chicken. Now, I'm going to share screen with you. Please let's look at number 1. I want someone...JEREMY! Don't annotate on my worksheet! 

Jeremy: Oh my gosh why does it have to be me??!! 

Me: I can see your name on it! 

Jeremy: Oh my gosh that is so tight! 

Me: Right, now then...

Florence: (that teacher looks like a freak man, is he thick or what?) 

Me: Florence!! You really need to find a private place! Please ask your brother to leave the room too.

Barry: Mr Shepherd? 

Me: Barry I'm going to mute you and we can talk later, I...

Barry: Mr Shepherd? 

Me: BARRY! If I mute you then don't un-mute yourself! 

Barry: My Uncle's got a fractured skull. 

Me: Never mind, now who...

Mavis: MR SHEPHERD I KNOW I KNOW I KNOW! 

Me: MAVIS SHUT UP!!  

......

Me: I'm sorry everyone, but we really need to... 


Zoom: Time Up. Do you want to upgrade?   


Sunday, December 27, 2020

Nativity

The spiteful journey is one they didn't choose to take. 

90 miles over mountains and deserts. 

Suffocating heat by day,

Biting cold by night, 

Danger lurking everywhere, 

Despised and friendless because of a scandal that they did not own. 


The Empire, of course, showed no compassion. 

"Caeser has willed it. Your child is no concern of ours. Now go." 

But when family were remorseless too, 

The wounds cut deeper. 

"Pregnant? Before your marriage? 

Pregnant? And you're staying with her? 

Be gone to Bethlehem and hope that strangers will welcome you, 

Because we will not." 


So here they are. 

Joseph and Mary, all alone with her burden. Her blessing. 

Bleeding hands and feet, 

Dust in her eyes and mouth,

Parched throat, throbbing head, 

She feels faint. 

The pain in her is matched by the anxiety in him. 


For here is Bethlehem at last, 

But will she make it? 

He knows that she is close, he has no experience of this but he can see there is little time. 

A diligent and responsible man, he has made arrangements. 

He knows where to take her. He hopes they will be welcome here. 


But the words that greet him are a dagger to his heart. 

He pleads and begs in the doorway. 

Do not turn us away! Please look at her! It will be a death sentence! 

The expressionless man has kept his distance but now, cautiously, he steps forward and whispers. 

"Get your filthy hussy away from my door.  

I won't have your bastard born in my house. 

Have it in the street with the other animals." 


And in desperation even these cruel words give him hope. 

"Do you have a place for them sir?" 

What? What did the stupid cuckold say? 

"I asked if you had a place for them. For the animals. 

We will have him with them if we must." 


He stares. 

Then he smiles and laughs. 

Friends and neighbours have gathered around, 

And he sees the chance to win their esteem by humiliating the outcasts. 

"You want to have your baby in the shit and the piss and the hay?" 

"Yes sir." 

"Ha! Then go. The cave is round the back. And don't disturb me if it doesn't survive the night!" 


Amidst the scoffs and jeers, he has to support her now. 

Whether from shame or discomfort he doesn't know, but she can no longer walk.

He helps her into the dark hole. 

He beats away the animals with his stick. 

He will kill for her now if he has to. 

She falls onto the rocks and the muck and she screams. 

There is blood and water. 


He cries for help 

But of course no-one comes. 

He panics. 

His wife and his child will die here, despised and rejected, miles from home. 


No! That will not be! 

If there is no-one else to love this woman and this baby 

Then he will.

Today and always. 


He helps her onto all fours. 

His heart breaks some more when the stones cut her hands and feet again, 

But there is no time. 

A desperate moan, 

And he is here! 

Slowly at first, then he is out. 


With a knife he cuts the cord and looks urgently around. 

It will have to be the feeding trough. 

He dumps the child 

Then returns to her. 

She is pale as death. 

He rips his clothes to stem the bleeding and holds her. 

Holds her. 


Slowly, her gasps become breaths 

And her moans become sighs.

The ordeal is over. 


But very soon, fear stalks him again. 

It has pursued him more relentlessly than beast or bandit on this journey 

And it will not release its grip now. 

For night is falling 

And muck and straw will not protect them from the vindictive cold of a Bethlehem night.

 

The baby cries. 

She must feed it soon

But she is weak, ill and tired. 

Child that she is, she won't make it through the night herself 

Let alone the babe. 


He remembers the angel's promises 

And he sobs 

Then laughs, bitterly and resentfully. 

Save his people? 

Ha! 

He won't survive the night and nor will his mother! 

Nothing but scorn and hatred since you gave us this burden! 

Shame and scandal for this? 

Liar! 

Where are you now? Where is our help now!!?


"Excuse me sir?" 

A shadow at the mouth of the cave and the first kind voice he's heard in months 

Jolt him from his desperate lament. 

"Who are you?" he asks, reaching for his club. 

"Shepherds, sir. From the hills nearby." 

There are four or five of them. Strong men with rough voices but gentle expressions. 

They have food. Water. Fleeces and blankets. 


He looks them in the eye, each one in turn. 

If they are here to steal or kill then he is helpless 

But somehow he knows that this is not their purpose. 

He asks them the only thing he can. 


"Will you help us?" 


A smile and a nod bring different tears to his eyes.

"Don't you worry about anything sir. We've survived more than a few nights out on these hills. We'll see her right. The infant too."

And in that dank, desperate cave, there is suddenly hope. 

"Just one thing, sir, before we do." 

Anything. 

"Can we see the babe?" 


And as they gather round, 

Joseph and Mary realise that they haven't looked at him yet either. 

They look down into the trough. 

And the baby who will shape history  

Reveals himself first to 

Four rough shepherds, 

A simple tradesman 

And a rejected teenage parent. 


There were many in Bethlehem that night. 

And, at Christmas time, many have travelled there since. 

For those who are 

Prosperous; 

Safe; 

Comfortable;  

Respectable; 

Admired. 

There is nothing for you to see here. Not in this filthy cave! Your Christmas is elsewhere. There are much nicer places than this! 

But for those who are 

Scorned;  

Rejected; 

Consumed by guilt;  

Despised;  

Diseased;  

Destitute. 


For you? 

Welcome to the cave. He wants to meet you. 


Happy Christmas     


 

   

  


   


        


Wednesday, July 15, 2020

School teaching vs home teaching

Teaching 30 children professionally 

Okay. What book do you want to read today?

"I'd love to read the book about sharks!"
"Can we read something by Roald Dahl please?"
"The Dr Seuss book! Please please please!"

Wow, I love your enthusiasm! Let's do the shark book today and we'll look at the others later in the week. Boy A. Could you start reading please? 

"Blah blah blah fluent fluent fluent blah blah blah."

That's really nicely read Boy A, well done! Girl B can you have a go at the next page please? 

"Blah blah blah fluent fluent fluent blah blah...stuck."

Okay let's break the word down. Can you read the first part?

"First part fluent."

Well done. Now, looking at the picture, what do you think the rest of the word might say? Can you read it all now? 

"Think think think...fluent fluent fluent."

Excellent Girl B! Well done for persevering. 

Boy C? Your turn now...fantastic! 

Girl D off you go...brilliant reading! 

Well done everyone. Off you go for break time. 



Teaching one child at home 

 Okay, what book do you want to read today? 

"Can I have a biscuit Daddy?"

Later. What book would you like to read. 

"Nothing."

One book and then you can have a snack.  

"A chocolate biscuit?"

No. Something healthy. 

"A piece of cake?"

No. Something healthy. 

"Ice cream?"

NO! 

"Stop shouting Daddy."

Sorry. Yes you can have some ice-cream, but please let's read this first. Shall I choose one? 

"Yes."

How about this one? 

"No."

Right...which one do you want to read? 

"That one."

Okay...we did have this one yesterday...

"THAT'S THE ONE I WANT DADDY!"

Okay okay, fine! Right, page one, off you go. 

"Daddy does Batman have a motorbike?"

No...well, sometimes I think. Page one. Off you go. 

"Does he have a helicopter?"

No. Page one. 

"If he doesn't have a helicopter then..."

SON!! 

"SORRY!"

It's okay. Right. This is Chip. This is Kipper. Who's this? 

"B...I...F...X"

Well done! Great sounding out. Just one letter wasn't quite right...the last one is the same as the third one. So who is it?

"B...I...F...Z"

Not quite. Remember that the third letter and the last letter are exactly the same. Have another go. 

"B...I...F... Daddy is Moana a goody or a baddy?"

Definitely a goody. What's the last letter sweetheart? 

"F"

YES! YES! Praise the Lord yes! So...have a go at the whole word..." 

"B...I...C...F"

NO! 

"Don't shout at me!"

Sorry...sorry sweetheart. You remember we said the third and fourth letters are the same? So what do you think it might say?

"I DON'T KNOW!!"

Okay, okay fine. Let's move on to page 2. 

"No Daddy, not yet! We didn't read this sentence about Biff!"

Sorry, you're right. Well done you read it! Off you go then, from the start. 

"B...I... Daddy could eighteen velociraptors beat a T-rex?"

No. Yes. I don't know. Please read son. 

"B...I...F... But Daddy if the...

Son if you love Daddy you need to read this word. 

"But you said we were reading the next page."

Yes I know I did but then you said you didn't want to! 

"Okay okay okay. B...I... Daddy...?"

PLEASE!!!  

"B...I...F...TXWRSXUIPLTY"

............

"What's the matter Daddy?"

Just eating my face son. 

"Can I have some ice-cream now?"

Yes. Yes. Yes. Anything but this. 

"Well done Daddy. Same time tomorrow?"


Sunday, June 28, 2020

A few honest opinions...

Today I spent about seven hours building Ikea furniture: by the sixth hour I wanted to take my hammer to the smiling man with his phone attached to the Ikea building and smash his face in with it.

Then this evening I enjoyed listening to this video clip from Jonathan Pie which a friend posted on Facebook.

For these two reasons I'm feeling slightly reckless, irritated and brave. I'm fed up of woke culture and, despite being someone who proudly identifies with (broadly) left-wing values, I'm both embarrassed and concerned about the way that some 'liberal' factions have taken it upon themselves to regulate other people's thoughts and demonise those who have the 'wrong' opinions. I'm also proud to call myself a Christian, but am similarly embarrassed and concerned that I recently heard a colleague at work, in a discussion about religion, say "Christians? They're the anti-gay ones aren't they."

So, in the interests of complete honesty and in a reckless "up yours" to the thought police, I'm going to express a few opinions.

1. The decision to remove programmes like Little Britain, Come Fly With Me and episodes of Fawlty Towers from various TV channels - as well as the decision by the creators of The Simpson's to no longer employ white actors to impersonate BAME characters - is either (at best) a misguided attempt to do the right thing, or (at worst) a commercially motivated effort to be seen to do the 'right' thing. The murder of George Floyd was reprehensible, outrageous and tragic and the Black Lives Matter movement, along with all attempts to create a more equal and tolerant society, have my whole-hearted and undying support. But let's think about ways that we can genuinely make a difference and not succumb to knee-jerk tokenism.

2. It's both ridiculous and dangerous to try and pretend that gender is some kind of out-dated, unnecessary or oppressive concept. Some people are born male. Some people are born female. You have the freedom to live your life in any way that you like and so long as you're trying to be kind and compassionate, I won't be judgmental. But don't try to deny or repress one of the most fundamental facts of life.

3. Sea-gulls are bastards. So are pigeons. They steal your food and they shit on your head in front of large groups of children that you're trying to teach. No? Just me then...

4. Piers Morgan sometimes...sometimes...makes a good point.

5. Some Conservative voters are kind, compassionate, good people. As are some Brexit voters.

6. The belief that gay people will go to hell if they do not commit to a celibate life is plain wrong. It's based on a 'rule-book' approach to scripture, failing to consider the holistic, love-centred arc of the Bible's narrative which shows us that God's plan for His people is constantly changing and adapting so as to be gracious and inclusive: 'See, I am doing a new thing!' (Isaiah 43:19)

7. 'All's fair in love and war' is bollocks.

8. I greatly respect and admire JK Rowling as a person, but as an author she's average.

9. Roald Dahl wipes the floor with her.

10. Car mechanics, IT specialists and people who are competent at DIY have a sole purpose in life - to make me feel inadequate, stupid and useless.


If you disagree, please tell me. Explain to me why. I promise to take your views seriously. I'd rather poke myself in the eye than assume that I'm right and you're wrong and I'm genuinely open to the possibility that you'll change my mind.

But don't rage and scream and shout at me for having opinions of my own. I have a wife and five-year-old child who do that for me.       

 

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Thank you Donald!

Now look - please just hear me out.

Like many others I too have felt shocked, outraged, appalled and dismayed about a certain 8 minute and 46 second video that came out of the USA last week. Words have felt totally inadequate and I've been too depressed and overwhelmed to write or even speak very much about it. But then this morning I read this article by ex-footballer Liam Rosenior in The Guardian and it got me thinking. And what it got me thinking was something that I never imagined I'd ever think in a million years.

I am just a little bit pleased that Donald Trump is the American President at this particular moment in time.

Let me try to explain.

I'm one of many teachers who will tell you that arguments, fights and disagreements between boys are often a great deal easier to deal with than those that happen between girls. A few years ago, I had two volatile, belligerent and bad-tempered boys in my class. They didn't like each other and enjoyed finding ways of winding each other up to the point where blows were exchanged. Their strategies for doing so became highly time-efficient. One of the boys - let's call him Malcolm - had yellow teeth. The other - Derek - had a mother with a mole on her cheek that looked a little bit like a dark red rice krispie. These unfortunate features were the lines of attack that Malcolm and Derek used to taunt each other. The whole thing would kick off in seconds. Malcolm would walk into the classroom, make eye-contact with Derek and point to his cheek. Derek would respond by miming the action of brushing his teeth. One or the other would then let out a cry that was usually some variation of "Fuck off!" and they would fall on top of each other, punching and kicking.

It wasn't pleasant and it needed to stop (although it was also hilarious at times) but at least the problem was obvious, blatant and in-your-face. Two boys are insulting each other. Two boys are punching each other. Something has to be done. Something needs to change. This can't continue.

But girls? Don't even get me started.

So often they are charming, polite and compliant on the surface. Then you find out about the most appalling bullying and you question them about it. Why have you done this? Why have you said this?

"Well Mr Shepherd, I know we're in Year 6 now but when we were in Year 3 she didn't play with me once at lunchtime and it upset me." 

"Well Mr Shepherd, she invited me to her party but she also invited some other girls and I'd told her only to invite me because I'm her best friend and I didn't want all those other girls to go, so that's why I wrote it." 

"Well Mr Shepherd, she's been really nice to me ever since I've known her but in a previous life in the eighteenth century she wore the same bodice as me to a party so that's why I don't like her." 

And to be honest, as a teacher you sit there thinking: "How on earth do I deal with this? This is so subtle and disguised and yet so deeply embedded that I don't even know where to start."

And in this admittedly limited and tenuous analogy, I suppose that Donald Trump is a boy and so many of the leaders that came before him are girls.

I think it's both naive and cynical to believe that all political leaders are corrupt and wicked, but so many of them for so long have been very good at saying the right things and conveying the right image, but underneath the surface the prejudice, inequality, bitterness and resentment have gone largely unchecked. The lies have ultimately been exposed and the trust has gone. Margaret Thatcher inspired people by quoting St Francis of Assisi - "Where there is despair, may we bring hope." But for many millions she brought the exact opposite. Bill Clinton told his nation and the world that he did not have sex with that woman - ever. But he did.

What's the problem with these people? Simple. They're girls.

But Donald?

He's the boy who walks into the classroom and starts punching people. It's odious and repulsive and wrong. But at least it's blatant. At least you can see it. And if it's blatant and visible then you and I and millions of others can stand together and say "NO! I won't stand for it! This is not how I want the world to be!"

Don't you dare use military force so that you can stand in front of a Church with a Bible and claim to champion the beliefs of a faith that stands for freedom, inclusivity, diversity and tolerance.

Don't you dare threaten to kill (largely) peaceful protesters who are outraged that they live in a world where people are murdered in the street because of the colour of their skin.

Don't you dare try to create and stoke division and hostility in society to serve your own ends.

We won't stand for it. And because you're not clever enough to be subtle about it, you will - with a lot of hope and prayer - help to create a society that stands for everything that you seem to be opposed to.

So, thank you Donald! Thank you for being a boy. Thank you for making it so easy and obvious. Thank you for bringing all of this ugliness to the surface and not hiding it away. Because now we can see it for what it is. And believe me, we won't stand for it.         

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Dominic Cummings - what should he do next?

Off with his head!

Not literally, but when I saw that even The Daily Mail was calling for the sacking of a Tory government stalwart, it well and truly felt like we'd fallen down the rabbit hole and quoting Alice In Wonderland felt somehow appropriate. Mr Cummings has been a naughty boy and has upset a lot of people. His fall from grace may not come very soon, as Boris first needs to figure out how to make decisions without him, but this whole episode will probably prove to be the beginning of the end for Dom.

What should he do next? If the way he looked at the press conference yesterday is anything to go by then keeping score at primary school sports days might be one way that he can make himself useful. However, I think he can do better than that. As we all know, Dominic likes a catchy slogan. He is also one of the most famous names in the country, so I've been thinking of a few alternative careers that could combine both the name and the slogan to help him establish a lucrative life after Downing Street.

1. Demonic Cummings
His very own occult business. Specialising in summoning spirits that are now long dead, such as the Spirit of Political Campaign Integrity, or the Ghost of Tory Credibility Past.

2. Dominic Cumins 
His own range of herbs and spices. Each one would have its own catchy slogan, such as 'Thyme to go' and 'Oregano resign or what?'

3. Dominic's Cumings 
A one-man sperm donor business.

4. Dom. I nick cumings 
The black market or 'dark web' equivalent of the more respectable 'Dominic's Cumings'. This would essentially involve the theft of sperm samples for fathers who wished to remain anonymous. His old boss would be his first customer.

5. Dummy Nick Coming 
A logistics and delivery company that would provide temporary relief for HM Prisons by providing pop-up, 'dummy' jails at a fraction of the cost. Not to be used for hardened criminals, of course, but those who need just a few nights in the slammer as punishment for minor criminal offences, such as driving 30 miles to a beauty spot when you can't see properly.

6. Dumb Nick Coming 
A signal system to let people know when anyone who doesn't have the faculty of coherent speech is about to enter the room. Tory Party conference would undoubtedly be a target customer.

7. Dummy Nit Combings
An Idiot's Guide to getting rid of headlice.

8. Dummy Not Coming
A guide-book for parents who want to wean their infants off a pacifier. Either that or a means of informing the media whenever the PM is due to be absent from the daily briefing. 

9. Damn Eye! Not coming
A database of ready-made excuses for when you really don't want to go to a social event. Alternatively, a database of entirely valid excuses for why one shouldn't drive 30 miles to a beauty spot.

10. Tummy Nip Coming 
A range of DIY at home procedures for helping people to lose weight. Very appropriate for an individual who has himself become excess baggage.


Of course, all of these ventures would take time to set up, so if Mr Cummings does lose his job then I'd recommend he spends the first few moments reading 'The Boy Who Cried Wolf', a cautionary tale of what happens when someone who prides themselves on their ability to bend the truth suddenly finds that he desperately needs to rely on the trust and goodwill of other people. 



      



Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Let's (not) play the Blame Game!

With hindsight, I should have organised a sweep-stake nine weeks ago.

It was inevitable that this would happen. The sense of togetherness and unity that characterised the early weeks of this pandemic was never going to last: they wouldn't have allowed it. It's not in their interests. The only question was...who was it going to be?

Sorry, I'll try to be more clear. The sweep-stake that I should have set up nine weeks ago was - specifically - this:

"Who will the Daily Mail try to scapegoat first??"

But I'm too late! We know the answer now. And a depressingly predictable one too.

Teachers! Of course!

Feckless, lazy, obstinate, work-shy, union-loving bastards the lot of them!

Actually, on this occasion, I think the beloved DM might have misjudged the mood. Criticism for the government's plans to re-open schools on June 1st have come from a range of sources: parents; the British Medical Association; the devolved governments. There is a lot of genuine sympathy towards a group of people who are concerned about returning to a potentially unsafe working environment in which an infection that could kill them or the people they come into contact with is still rampant. Shocking, I know!

Still, even if they have got it wrong, nothing would have stopped the Daily Mail from adopting its strategy of choice: Who can we blame?! Which group can we demonise in order to distract our readers from the real problem?!

We've had some gorgeous weather lately. Because of this, and because we're British, lots of men have started taking their shirts off. I was looking at a shirtless guy just the other day (in a totally non-pervy way obvs - although he was pretty ripped...) and noticed a tatto across his back: 'Only God can judge me'.

Now my instinctive concern whenever I see someone displaying this is that they use it as an excuse for being a tosser, but aside from that, I couldn't agree more. Only God can judge me. Only God can judge you.

Why?

Because no-one else can do it right. And it's a tragedy that we even try. One of the traps we fall into is to judge by category. We have no way of knowing all of the millions of different factors that determine a person's character and behaviour, so we look at a group they belong to and judge them according to that.

"Blame the teachers!"

"Blame the Tories!"

"Blame the football fans!"

"Blame the social workers!"

"Blame the Muslims!"

"Blame the Jews!"

It's dangerous and wrong and we shouldn't do it. I'm guilty of doing it too and I want to try and stop. In that spirit, I'm going to say this:

Our next-door-but-one neighbours are an elderly couple. He loves a can of Fosters, enjoys sitting in the garden and I like talking to him about football. She looks after our cat every time we go away, with no expectation of thanks or reward. She puts pages of colouring activities through our letter-box which she thinks my son would enjoy doing. At Halloween, they invite us to go and see their pumpkins. At Christmas, we go and see their decorations.

And they read the Daily Mail.

I don't know why and I'd rather they didn't. But I do know that there is far, far more to both of them than their choice of paper. They are, in so many ways, kind, decent, good people. So I'm not going to judge them. Because that would be wrong.

And hopefully, when they read the last few front pages of their favourite newspaper, they won't judge me either.