Tuesday Period 4 – Subversive activity

So if, like me, you are a teacher preparing for Tuesday period 4 here is something to help us. Do not be caught out, just be prepared, make sure you have planned and stay calm.

Hang on! For what?

If you are reading this you are a good or outstanding teacher, or you support them or help create them, and sustain them. I want you to imagine you preparing your  most liberated lesson. Yes imagine no Ofsted telling you what to do (in fact I’m not sure they do really). Imagine no governors or Head telling you what to do ( that may not be difficult if they don’t really tell you) and imagine no SLT interference. I am SLT so I know we really do tell you what to do, because each of us often tell you something different.

So this time the only matter to worry about is you and the class. Bet you are smiling, this is what you came into teaching for, this is the dream and vision you had all those years ago (or not so many years ago). Now I want to warn you, want to do so big time because now you are about to discover the subversives, yes now stripping away accountability you spot the subversives.  Not the subversive staff,  the subversive pupils, yes whilst we all worry about all those we are accountable to, there are those cunning individuals preparing disruption on a potent scale. They are in the disguise of older pupils usually matured and effective by Y13 but equally competent in Y12 and mastering the art in years 9 to 11. The art of teacher distraction , played out to avoid….a test, an e=assessment, a topic which feels “hard”

This is not silly behaviour issues, of course not,  they know you and me are good, they won’t mess us around, oh no they have discovered a more subtle approach. Operation Distraction.

I first learnt this at school myself. Back in a Grammar School in Coventry ( note Coventry; bombed, blitzed, historical Cathedrals new and old, Coventry) I was in the first generation to learn German and French not Latin and French (oh Mr Gove where were you?). Our German teacher (strictly our German Master) gave us a mini lecture on the Weimar Republic, the rise of national Socialism, and practical matters such as why the salute was so deeply offensive and why we mustn’t bring any light heartedness about such into the classroom. One occasion when we did, he changed, he halted from being our teacher, he reran his lecture taking almost the full hour. We were stunned, but we noted how he was riled, and whilst one of us had to suffer a Saturday morning detention it was worth it, not for the lecture, but to avoid the planned lesson , especially the vocab or grammar tests. (another blogpost will reveal the results at O Level of such a tactic from a class of 32 boys taught in the same class for every subject every year for 5 years).

So dear reader watch for the subversive, they come in various shapes and sizes

1)    The very personable polite enquirer (PPE), the pupils equivalent to the progressive teacher. These take an interest in the everyday lives of teachers “How was the weekend Sir? How is your sick kitten? Sir we have all been wondering as no one has mentioned her again. The affable subversive

2)    The educational politicist subversive. (EPP) These are able to draw out us to distraction by picking up the debates from twitter or even a quick look at the TES.  “Surely you agree with Mr Gove’s latest idea Sir? Do you really think the GCSE is harder?” “Do you think Ofsted would…?”

3)    The pseudo academic subversive (PAS) shows a more subtle approach, by bringing stuff up during the lesson rather than at the start. Their’s is a distraction tactic. “Miss, didn’t you say we should have all read…. only it made me seriously consider…?” “Miss can you remind me where was that article about what an unpleasant if brilliant man Haber was?” Especially colleagues you must be very aware of the A* grade PAS who can also pick the topics which so much more easily get the teacher riled. Along the lines… “My great Uncle is a Chemist, he says the most important aspect of Chemistry is pH Sir, not atoms and bonding, which you occasionally mention.” (Note the politeness). “This is based on his study of Anfinsen when he won his Nobel prize, stated every young man who wants to be a scientist should study pH, Sir.” This sends you into Wikipedia whilst you set some hurried task to the class, in response to your part embarrassed (Who? Did he? Is this Unlce correct?) and in preparation for the return volley. All of which really deserves a QED because the test you were going to give…well it just doesn’t happen

4)    My last group are the wind up subversives (WUS). I have to say I have a secret admiration for these pupils. They are a mature version of group one. They discover your Achilles heel, for example that you are a Coventry City supporter. Mid lesson as they see you about to announce the test having given a few minutes to “check the notes” they come out with. “Sir, what did you think about Coventry buying back their ground thanks to that huge donation from Qatar?” These comments have enough truth to stun , to stop you in your tracks.


Of course none of us really fall for this, we know how important are relationships with children, we know the delicate balance of getting them involved and getting them thinking outside the box of the classroom, in fact we are actually hoping to create subversives because we come from a PGCE course where we all read…..”teaching as a subversive activity” but from now on colleagues do not allow a single chink on the armour of making those carefully made lesson plans be executed according to your plans, not ever ever distracted by subversive pupils. They are a much bigger problem than Ofsted will ever present.

I once planned a technically challenging and innovative practical for my Y12 Chemists. Like you I then thought long and hard about the students and the lesson and just knew many wouldn’t be able to get it to work with such complex kit. I then face the rare and unusual comment “oh this experiment didn’t work” so my decision was in addition to demonstrate the set up. So after looking over the instructions with them, there it was a demo of how to connect up the kit to make a conducting polymer. “Now just before you get going…are there any questions?” “Yes Sir?” What’s that Anna ?( not her real name she’s a fully qualified Dr now, and you never know…) “Yes Sir……..where did you buy that necktie, in fact where do you buy all your wonderful neckties?” …and by the end of the explanation and the rant…she didn’t get to the practical.


NB for those of you who are outstanding teachers you will have spotted more subversive pupils, click on reply and add their styles – let’s get them back.

By the way Sir “how did you enjoy Warhorse at Bradford Alhambra?”

Some questions to consider

Q1 How do we encourage pupils to “think”, to “question” and “argue” without hijacking our planned lesson, and without it becoming effectively low level disruption?
Q2 Teaching has relationship at it’s heart, we like to take an interest in our pupils, so are we surprised when they take an interest in us? We can say “not now” or “not about this particualr matter” Of course we can, but how do we keep the balance?
Q3 Some points made by pupils bring spark and life to a lesson so how can we foster this to make progress and help support achievement?

For those in a faith community
Moses and Aaron got into trouble in the OT when the suggested to Pharaoh they take a break Pharaoh wanted none of it.
Exodus 5: 4 -5
“Who do you think you are?” Pharaoh shouted, “distracting the people from their work? Get back to your jobs!”
In the NT Jesus wanted a focus on the call people felt was from God. Ultimately Jesus himself had to be fairly single minded in approaching his work on Earth
Luke 9:62
But Jesus told him, “Anyone who lets himself be distracted from the work I plan for him is not fit for the Kingdom of God.”

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