Thursday, 26 December 2013

Michael Gove for Prime Minister

If I wanted to alienate myself from the landscape of the Edu Bloggers and Tweeters, a sure-fire way to do it would be to start extolling the merits of Michael Gove. If I spoke about his revolutionary ideas being good for children, for example, I would be roundly hounded. If I talk about how he has brought a fresh new angle in his relationships with the unions, I would be 'Othered' from the PedaTwitterati.

So let me make it clear that I am not a fan of Gove. I want it made clear from the offset that I find his policy agenda to be tub after tub of Potted Wank. I find his ideology to be backwards and Little-Britainy. I find his face unnerving, and he brings out the shivers of Govephobia in me that Frank Furedi has described.

But it must be noted that as politicians go - in terms of the 'dark arts' of rhetoric, debate, performance and impression management - Michael Gove is an absolute force of nature. His limp 'bullied-kid-in-the-cupboard' image and his polite well-spoken dealings combine to add to his strangely powerful position as a folk devil for our times.

Consider the opening gambit of his speech to parliament about the PISA results, delivered on 3rd December.

Before I go into the detail of what the league tables show about the common features of high-performing systems can I take a moment - as I try to in every public statement I make - to thank our teachers for their hard work, dedication and idealism.

 For somebody of Michael Gove's intellect and political acumen, it would be not only naive but collusive to think of Gove as the accidental victim of an overblown hate-phenomenon. His image is one that is carefully formed and he tends to our fury like one tends to a garden, with cautious well-timed cultivation. To my mind, every incendiary missive written by a bedraggled, degraded and fatigued teacher is money in the bank for Gove, who is building the requisite 'hard man' credentials for party leadership through his no-nonsense approach to state school educators and their imaged slovenliness.

Gove does not fit the mould of the political beast - I cannot picture him copulating, never mind cheating on a partner. Whereas Boris Johnson, the contender for future Tory leadership, has the rogueish bumbling masculinity of the aristocrat, Gove has the bony-wristed manhood of Walter from Dennis the Menace. His power comes from his relentless focus on rules and regulations, and on 'outing' those he sees as transgressors.

He is the kid who punches another kid while your back is turned, and whyo then has the knowhow to say exactly enough to make you doubt whether he did it. You won't believe he didn't do wrong, but he can persuade you enough that he always leaves a seed of doubt that prevents you from chastising him with full confidence.

He brings in performance-related-pay and begins making public statements about how brilliant some teachers are and about how crap others are. He doesn't make the dividing line completely explicit, but instead he lives that lingering shadow of a line in the minds of teachers, who begin sussing it out for themselves. That seed he plants leads you to compare yourself to those in your school - 'I do more than him' 'She doesn't do that much considering she's on the Upper Pay Scale' 'I should pull my weight more'. 

When this combines with his skill with words, crafted during his years working for The Times, we can see his ability to divide people and leave them to tussle while he pursues his own agenda. To look again at his PISA speech, there is this little extract.

Whatever conclusions we draw about what needs to change, I hope we in this house can agree that we are fortunate to have the best generation of young teachers ever in our schools.
With the inclusion of one word - young - Gove divides the entire teaching profession. With that one word used in what seems like a highly positive phrase, Gove leaves a raft of further questions.

  • What makes the current generation of young teachers the best?
  • What does this form of 'bestness' say about Gove's priorities?
  • What should be do to cultivate this new Ubermensch?
  • What is wrong with the old teachers that they deserve no mention?
In staffrooms, this manifests as the suspicion of those shiny new TeachFirsters with their Russell Group degrees - precisely the teachers who would most benefit from the wisdom of colleagues - and there is this unspoken dividing line between the jazzy favoured newbies and the fusty enemies of promise on the Upper Pay Scale.

He is one hell of a politician. On Question Time, a surefire way to get some excitement on the set is to invite WIll Self, who can put down any politician with his wisdom, cynicism, armoury of quotations and verbal mastery. He disposed of pretty much anybody with whom he disagreed, so I was pretty pumped up when he was to face up to Gove.

It looked like Gove was on the ropes when Will Self flagged up his 'dark artistry', and when he raised the contentious issue about Gove 'monstering' on Twitter using anonymous accounts and about the conduction of Government business on private - thuse not accountable - email addresses.

Gove destroyed Self.

In short then, I think that we ought not become so blinded by his panto-dame performance as Education Secretary, and we need to be careful not to play into his hands. There is a danger that if we continue to rise up against him in precisely the ways he anticipates, precisely when he is baiting us, we end up as powerless as the puppet staring up through its strings itno the eyes of puppetmaster.

Gove is unquestionably being a dick within education, and he actively chooses to ignore dissenting voices. I am going to research his moves a bit more, but I think I have one of his particular political strategies pinned down, which I am speculatively naming the Four-Step Stutter. If I have enough evidence for it I'll put it out there.

The idea of Michael Gove as Prime Minister is one we might need to get used to because in terms of the art of the politician, there is none equal to him.

He still looks like Pob though.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

On Not-Learning and Creative Maladjustment

For around a fortnight now, I have been leaving little pedagogical pebbles on my Twitter feed about my interest in Herbert Kohl, and now – in the spirit of Hansel and Gretel – I am retracing my steps, shoving my pebbles back in my thought sack, and have reminded myself to share Kohl with all (both) of my readers.

I picked up ‘“IWon’t Learn From You” And Other Thoughts on Creative Maladjustment’ from Skoob Books –the best bookshop in London I would say – and his title essay is here for you loyal readers to immerse yourself in. His title essay really piqued my interest – the idea of active not-learning, and on the difficulties on actively ‘not-learning’ certain forms of knowing or being. For the following weeks up until the (glorious) last day of term, I began viewing one of my pupils – Imran, let’s say – as someone who is actively not-learning. He fits the bill of being perfectly capable of doing the work without much strain, but he goes out of his way to disrupt what I am doing and to distract others. He constantly asks to go to Set 2 instead of his Assessment-Ordained home in Set 1. Using Herb Kohl’s idea has immediately equipped me with a new way of thinking about Imran’s oppositional stance, and this has in turn left me with new strategies.

In the spirit of confession, my strategies with Imran have so far involved what I refer to as the ‘Two PTFOOHs’ – Praise The Fuck Out Of Him or Punish The Fuck Out Of Him. This rebel left the room glittering with gold stars on a Monday, with a detention notice on Tuesday, with a Merit Award on Wednesday, led out by SLT on Thursday and with a victorious smile on a Friday. His behaviours didn’t change, just my manic response to them.

Having read Kohl’s ideas on not-learning, I approached Imran very differently and sought to break down the barrier with him a bit more. With other kids, I am blissfully informal which has built a strong rapport and improved learning relationships, but with Imran – and the reputation that precedes him – I felt it too risky to throw away my metaphorical tricorn, and drop the teacher role. But when I did...

“You don’t really like Maths in here do you Imran?”
“What would make it more fun.”
“I don’t want a partner.”


Perhaps a reason for Imran’s not-learning is my teaching style of intense partner talk and collaboration. Imran is notable for his obscenely-accurate mental calculation – like Matilda, he can calculate HTU x HTU in his head, which is remarkable. His problem is not so much the maths – maybe – but the way in which my classroom set up, and that that the school promotes, goes against his particular lonewolf character. He is the one ‘badboy’ with the notoriously not-to-be-messed-with family credentials, in a class full of obedient ‘I do 5 hours of tuition a week’ milksops, progeny of the aspirational involved parents.

The lens of not-learning is not only an accurate interpretation of certain children’s attitudes, but it is also a fantastic reflective tool.

Read about it here.

More recently, I have read his short essay in the same collection, titled ‘Creative Maladjustment’. This idea seems incredibly timely for those of us who would like to be good teachers for our children, although the climate of schooling has been infiltrated by the faceless spectre of performance and accountability.

‘Creative maladjustment’ can be seen as a framework for reconciling our attachment to the moral and compassionate heart of learning relationships with the torrent of numerical shite we need to wade through daily to avoid being kicked out of our jobs.

When it is impossible to remain in harmony with one’s environment without giving up deeply held moral values, creative maladjustment becomes a sane alternative to giving up altogether. Creative maladjustment consists of breaking social patterns that are morally reprehensible, taking conscious control of one’s place in the environment, and readjusting the world one lives in based on personal integrity and honesty – that is it consists of learning to survive with minimal moral and personal compromise in a thoroughly compromised world and of not being afraid of planned and willed conflict, if necessary.

Kohl outlines how not all maladjustment is creative. For an NQT to pipe up in an INSET meeting and denigrate the practices of the school is not going to create anything other than another NEET in the job centre. Maladjustment is not simply rule-breaking, but it is rule-breaking with the nuanced view from within a system. It is the playing of a game from the position of one who not only know the rules and expectations, but one who might just as easily be the one expected to enforce them. For a maladjustment to be creative, it often needs to be in the form of discrete alterations to the life of the classroom, oriented towards the betterment of the children’s lives.

Thinking of creative maladjustment acknowledges the deep irrationality that has enveloped the professional life of the teacher – the box ticking, the impulsion to push the children through meaningless hoops designed only to assess the school’s performance, the curricular imperative to teach them pointless facts – and it also acknowledges the sad truth that teachers lack agency at a structural level. For all of Gove’s sham consultations, we have no say in what is expected to go on in our classrooms. Creative maladjustments are those devious little short cuts, the little nuggets handed to children by teachers who do not want to get fired, but equally, they don’t want to be Wishaw’s moll in their own classroom.

My examples might not be as lucid as Kohl’s, which I’ll not replicate here, but they illustrate the same point. One field of school life which I struggle to reconcile with my beliefs on education is the extent to which kids are encouraged to view themselves and each other in terms of their levels. It befit to school culture, with its strict setting and targeted assessment, for children to have exams at the forefront of their imaginations. The children beg to be tested and not because they want to improve themselves or identify areas to work on – they want to be tested because they want to know if they are intelligent.
When administering a (compulsory) test in Year 4, I always make sure to give the child a seemingly counter-intuitive lecture about precisely why tests are important.

“Tests are not you. Tests are not your intelligence. Tests are not the be all and end all. Tests are important though, but only because some powerful people think they are important. It is good to do well in tests but they prove you can do tests. I know what you are like as a learner, I know if you are working hard, I know if you are struggling. Do your best, but don’t worry because tests aren’t learning.”

As a creative maladjustment this works because children still are sitting their tests and coming out with strong levels, and I am still in there administering a test which will be used by the Overlords to determine my worth as a human being. The maladjustment is the interruption in the narrative of ‘Tests are everything’, which is routinely used to push and motivate children. When an 8 year old glazes over when you praise them for their effort, knowledge and ability until you quantify that with “And you are a 4b”, there is a moral wrongness in the system. That 4b will never be the seed for a love of knowledge, and it will never impel them on a lifelong journey of learning.

One final example, although facetious, is nonetheless valid. Bonnie Tyler as creative maladjustment...
I find it deeply unnatural, irrational and illogical that my school forces silence on us all – my children and me – for so much of the day. The whistle blows and they walk silently to their line. They line up in silence. I inspect their line in silence. We walk in in silence. They get their reading books and read in silence. I do the register in silence. Then they go to their first lesson, in their academic sets for Maths.
What is this meant to achieve? I like to bash Ofsted as much as the next teacher, but no Ofsted  inspector would be impressed by this surely? It is like a scene from some Victorian horror film, all these blankfaced young drones skiffling about.

Creative maladjustment – weekly Bonnie. The children come in and find ‘Bonnie Day’ written on the board, which they silently acknowledge. I register them, then put ‘I Need a Hero’ on Youtube. We watch, we laugh, we sing along. We talk about how much we love ‘I Need a Hero’, they chat to me if they have stuff to say, and I send them on their way to Maths with a smile.

If management came in they would be like

Completely shortcircuited, and wondering precisely what the fuck is wrong with me.

But as a class, we know that Bonnie Tyler day is our own small ritual of interaction; the necessary silence of 4 days is legitimated by our appreciation of the powerful Welsh songstress. It opens up a space small enough that we don’t get in trouble, but big enough for us all to know that ‘Yes, we are rebelling’ ‘Yes, we are a unit’ ‘Yes, we are having a bit of fun’ and ‘Yes, we are getting to know each other’.

We should all read Kohl, and here is a final word from him.

The next steps in creative maladjustment are more difficult. They involve reaching out to other teachers and to the community the school serves, engaging others in the struggle to create decent and effective schools, becoming a leader in our own school and community, and taking responsibility for that role.

Let’s do it.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

The Pointlessness of It All! Ode to another wasted weekend.

I have spent almost all of this weekend engaged in the most ridiculous counter-intuitive inexplicably pointless non-educational unhelpful act - the only saving grace of it, and the one thing that prevented me from gouging out my own eyes in Starbucks, was the fact that I have been able channel this tsunami of rage into something fruitful, as a result of reading a remarkable essay.

Like some prank turd under the Christmas tree, I discovered on Friday that the student teacher who had been working with me had left me with over a fortnight’s worth of unmarked Maths books. Not only are they unmarked, but the work in them is repetitive ridiculous tasks such as pages and pages of

73% of 3425 = ________ 28% of 18273 = ___________

Credit to the children, who are 8 and 9, they know how to do it but they just love to feed their filthy addiction to rote. Nothing gets them more excited than to fill 5 pages with ticks. For their hard-stretched teacher though, this means having to go through every individual bastard question in all 14 heinous pages of it. Marking one book has taken me on average 30 minutes.

And what’s more, it is not even work we are currently doing, so the kids won’t even really see it! Sure I stuck in a few AfL questions, sat on my left hand, picked up a HB and answered it myself, to appease my formative overlords, but it benefits the kids not a fucking jot.

Having this 390 pages of work to mark felt not unlike this.

It is his fault for neglecting the division of labour we agreed on, but it’s also mine for not supervising him closely and my school’s for not supporting me, and my line manager’s for not checking on me and blah blah blah...

Why am I even doing this though? Why, as I sit among couples in romantic embraces, families taking happy selfies and hipsters chilling out with their comics or whatever they do ... why am I hunched over, explaining again and again that 5% is not equivalent to 0.5, knowing full well that the kid knows this because I’ve already told them and we’ve practised it?

Here comes the bit that is juicy and makes me want to make a pyre for myself out of DfE press releases.

First of all, we are currently being instructed not to get too tinselly yet, and to remember that omnipresent phantasmagorical succubus, the wretched Ofsted. With every fatigued slip of handwriting, I think ‘is that writing Ofsted-ready’? When my heart tells me, just put a big dirty tick and say ‘You did quite well’ at the bottom of the page, I think ‘Will Wilshaw flay me?’ Good teaching is not of that mushy ‘care for them’. ‘help them question everything’, ‘fill them with curiosity’ variety – good teaching is whatever the fuck leads to getting their exercise books full of neat formulas and neat handwriting; both ours and the children’s.

Second of all, with the new era of performativity gripping into our every working practice, these workbooks become not a mere space in which children can explore and organise the wanderings of their imaginations.

No. Their exercise books become a Prelude to a P-45.

Not neat enough, that can become your Professional Development Target. Still no neater? Well we did try to support you...

Corridor whispers tell me that the Overlords are priming themselves for another staff cull, which means that the smorgasbord of wanky unmarked activities my mentee left for me, now become not only my problem, but the problem of those higher than me in the food chain, who are anxious to defend their position.

To continue piledriving metaphors onto the ragged number-filled tomes which remain beside me as I type, these Maths Books are like Poe’s ‘Telltale Heart’ which I cannot pretend to have not learned about only through The Simpsons, but now also through another frenetic cartoon. If I try to ignore the dreck the kids were instructed to write, or to pass it off nonchalantly as ‘not my problem’, it is like the books won’t allow it. Like their frayed edges creep towards me in my peripheral vision.

Poe knows.

No doubt I now grew very pale; --but I talked more fluently, and with a heightened voice. Yet the sound increased --and what could I do? It was a low, dull, quick sound --much such a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I gasped for breath --and yet the officers heard it not. I talked more quickly --more vehemently; but the noise steadily increased. I arose and argued about trifles, in a high key and with violent gesticulations; but the noise steadily increased. Why would they not be gone? I paced the floor to and fro with heavy strides, as if excited to fury by the observations of the men --but the noise steadily increased. Oh God! what could I do? I foamed --I raved --I swore! I swung the chair upon which I had been sitting, and grated it upon the boards, but the noise arose over all and continually increased. It grew louder --louder --louder! And still the men chatted pleasantly, and smiled. Was it possible they heard not? Almighty God! --no, no! They heard! --they suspected! --they knew! --they were making a mockery of my horror!-this I thought, and this I think. But anything was better than this agony! Anything was more tolerable than this derision! I could bear those hypocritical smiles no longer! I felt that I must scream or die! and now --again! --hark! louder! louder! louder! louder!

"Villains!" I shrieked, "dissemble no more! I admit the deed! --tear up the planks! here, here! --It is the beating of his hideous heart!"

So I have spent 16 hours marking shit work in which the activities themselves are mathematically inaccurate, the kids produced reams of pointless unchallenging dross, any formative learning is unnecessary because I have already since smoothed over knowledge-gaps and now it is half past midnight on Sunday and I have to now plan for tomorrow.And none of this is for the kids. It is entirely to keep my head down while management channel the ‘spirit of Ofsted’ and march the corridors like some sort of Pyongyang prison.

At the start of this post I promised a link to a great essay. It is by Herbert Kohl and it’s around the ideas of teachers as hope-mongers. Right now, my only hope is that I don’t sleep through my alarm, so I’ll be lofty and inspirational another time.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Sorry for our low expectations LOLJK

Let me be clear from the offset, I don't think teachers have low expectations of their pupils. Teachers have ambitious wishes for their pupils and this desire is often the main factor that leads teachers to slowly lose their work-life balance; in order to keep up and do best by our kids in the current climate, in order to have high aspirations for them, we are needing to give up bucketloads of our own time, and most of us our doing that.

I want to look a little closer at what exactly 'high expectations' would look like according to Wilshaw, Gove and other pedagogic rogues, given that Wilshaw will announce on Wednesday that teachers' low expectation have withered the life chances of white working class kids.

To my mind, the core of  this problem is the fact that teachers are being denied the opportunity to get to know their children as people - it is as if there is some fear that, given the opportunity for human interaction between teachers and pupils to develop, the whole wretched system of education we have lamentably arrived at will just wither away. They don't want that.

The current paradigm within education - where success is a letter, engagement a percentage and where children are an alphanumeric ("I doubt some of my 2As will pass...") - actively dehumanises children, teachers and the relationships they could develop. 

If a child in my class becomes so fascinated with Edgar Allen Poe that he spends his weekends in the library, reads all of his work, writes biographies of him and comes into class wanting to share his ideas with his classmates that would be brilliant, right? If that same child then fails his SPAG test in Year 6 because he misclassifies which type of connective was used in some de-contextualised isolated sentence, he could then 'fail' his literacy test. Is this child a failure? Wilshaw would certainly say so. 

Success in our system is nothing more than the ability of a school to show that its pupils are a certain level by a certain point. I choose those words carefully and diplomatically. It is not the ability of children to know certain things. It is is not the ability of schools to educate their children, even. It's the ability to show it.

So what are high expectations. Getting a 2c to be a 3b in a year. Nooooooo, get out of the way of the incredible educator! You mean to say you moved a child from one arbitrary point on an arbitrary scale to measure arbitrary skills in an artificial context onto a higher arbitrary point on that same scale?! Somebody call Pearson to dole out some Teaching Awards.

If high expectations mean the desire to be the person who puts the hoops in front of those weary kids, whispering "Just jump on through, Jamal, only 10 more years of this til you can go to Sixth Form and jump through the hoops you choose." then I don't have high expectations. If attainment levels reflected learning, skills, understanding and knowledge, then I would have less of a problem, but right now, it's a load of horse shit. I don't give a toss about the level, I care about what they can actually do, whether they are engaged in their learning, what they know about, what their passions are and how well they can articulate themselves.

My own little theory: teachers don't have low expectations, they have different expectations. While government, Gove, Wilshaw et al have expectations relating to numericalisation of children, competition, performativity, statistics and producing lovely clear bar charts to show their own efficacy, teachers have expectations relating to intellectual nourishment, human development, moral growth and character formation. 

It is because I have high expectations of them as people that I encourage the kids to love learning for the sake of learning and to take attainment levels with a pinch of salt. 

"You are not your attainment level" I had to remind the baying 8 year olds in my maths class, as they begged for me to tell them what level they are. The fact that I even have to say this to them is frankly sickening and as this shows, the children have also bought into the idea that learning is levels.

If I had 'high expectations', I would tell my morbid young charge with the Edgar Allen Poe obsession to put down The Raven and pick up a revision guide for his imminent SPAG test...  

Sunday, 1 December 2013

How 'No Hands Up' works.

There's some chitchat going on on Twitter, with @oldandrew having been accused of having invented the idea of 'No Hands Up'. I'm going to simply say how it works in my school, what its strengths are and what its weaknesses are.

In my primary school, we have a No Hands Up rule. The rationale behind it is that when children self-select themselves to contribute to lessons, the same children answer every time and many other childre  - the majority sometimes - feel safe in not engaging remotely with what is going on around them.

No Hands Up is actually a simplification. Generally speaking, it is about a changed classroom dynamic in which the teacher poses questions to the whole class rather than to individuals. One a question is set, children have time to think through their answers and/or discuss their ideas with a partner. Once that thinking time is over, every single child has no excuse for having nothing to share. The teacher can select any child, and everybody can - at least - rehash what they discussed with their partner. A good teacher can then weave their ideas into a learning narrative.

Finally, crucially, No Hands Up refers only to children's answering, children raise their hands whenever they like to ask questions. This is great.

- It teaches children that their ideas have a value.
- It encourages teachers to move towards asking open rather than closed questions.
- It encourages pupils to take risks, knowing that it is ok to make mistakes, but not OK not to contribute.
- It means that more children play an active role in class discussions.
- It forces chidlren - by children's self-policing -  to be engaged because to have nothing at all to contribute becomes embarassing. In my class, it is not humiliating to make a mistake, but it is humiliating to have nothing whatsoever to say, which is only ever the result of not talking to a partner.

- It is tricky to pitch one question to a whole class of children, when there is a wide spectrum of ability. This requires a fair amount of pedagogical skill, as you need to be able to extend the learning through follow-ups, so you need to know the children very well.
- It is still easy to thinkingly or unthinkingly select some children more than others.
- Cynically, it is manipulable in observations, in which you can go "errrrrrm I will choose you David", when actually you are selecting a high-attaining child. It can be democratic, but it can just as easily appear democratic, but not be.
- It takes time for children to foster and develop an understanding of this form of classroom.
- It requires pupils to be able to interact constructively with partners, which is difficult sometimes when partners have a wide gap in ability.

My verdict
This is the only form of classroom I have taught in, and I see far more benefits than problems. It opens debate easily, raises the level or engagement and participation and it demonstrates positive values, which place merit and esteem on children's ability to think, rather than to recite back the answer a teacher wants to hear.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Reflective teachers, researchers and subversion

I was chatting with @debrakidd about her PhD and she posted this humdinger of a blog about reflective teaching. My post is basically hopping on her ideas bandwagon and shouting a hearty 'I agree'.

Debra had this galvanising nugget in her first paragraph

It is time, there has never been a more important time, to use all the small acts of subversion we can muster in order to ensure that we, as a profession, reclaim the reflective responsibility to act on behalf of the children we teach.

I feel quite sure that to most people outside of teaching- and perhaps to many in it! - these words seem over-the-top or melodramatic. Dramatic they might well be though, and they are necessary when faced with the epic  tragedy that is the slow dismantling of the agency of teachers. Our whimpers aren't heard, our shouts are silenced so Debra is right to be writing with such an urgent tone.

The traditional avenues of teacher dissent don't seem to work. Gove, despite being so aurally endowed, doesn't want to listen. The trade unions can put together national strikes but their impact is felt mostly on the slightly lighter pay-packets many of us are picking up this week. We can't often go to our school management, because the ethos of accountability weighs them down like a succubus; their need for self-preservation all too often leads to them siding with the suits rather than their teachers.

Research, as a form of subversion, affords great great possibility.

The research endeavour fosters a level of reflectivity, and it nurtures a standpoint that is distinct from that of the teacher. So when researching ourselves, as teachers, we learn to put ourselves outside of ourselves. In this way, it becomes much easier to temporarily see past the menial drudgery of hoop-jumping, box-ticking, arbitrary levelling ... instead, we see things are they are from the perspective of a hidden observer.

We see relationships between pupils and teachers dissolve into negativity, as teachers feel the pressure to reap more work from their pupils, at the cost of dialogue, care and other seemingly superfluous phenomena.  Having a discussion with your children is great, but the internet meme of 'pics or it didn't happen' applies: that which is of worth becomes that which is evidenced.

From the standpoint of teacher-researcher, we begin to see our own actions and the actions of those around us with a more joined up and critical eye.

Like Debra, I am currently engaged in further study alongside my teaching and I truly feel that the greatest benefit of the course - an MA in Sociology of Education  - is in my reflective capacity, and on the impact this has on my teaching. Now, I frame the ridiculous workload in the context of global shift towards a neoliberal 'performativity' culture in education - its KPMGisation. 

My studies constantly reaffirm for me that the children I teach are not 'HA/MA/LA' or 'Booster Children' or '2as'. They are complex living changing characters in their own stories, of which I happen to be a small, potentially influential part. They toy with, challenge and negotiate gender. They navigate through ethnicities and perceptions. In tangible ways, they learn to question the injustices and mistruths of authority. They experience themselves as sexual beings. They are caught between childhood, adolescence and adulthood, flitting between these desired identities.

Research not only empowers teachers to look analytically at their own social spaces, and only does it promote reflective practice; research encourages you to swim against the strong torrents that often drag us down into the murky depths of pessimism, cynicism and powerlessness. 

Research, and the act of researching, reminds us of the potential for good that can come about when children and teachers can work together. Despite spending so much time with eachother, this can happen remarkably infrequently.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

I'm a Primary Teacher... a white one.

Alongside my noble duties as an educator of 8 year olds, I am also studying for a Masters and tonight was our much anticipated lecture on Race and Education.

It had the same galvanising effect of generating excitement that Sex Ed lessons or 'Puberty Talks' once did - it was mentioned in the weeks preceding it, there was a certain expectation that in the process of vocalising that which is not to be discussed, we were going to be tiptoeing towards a deeper level of self-knowledge. This wasn't to be a lecture about how black kids compare academically to white kids; instead, it was pitched at explorning the essence of what race and ethnicity meant for us/

Yesterday I was talking about the upcoming lecture with two other (white) students on the course - one was mentioning how he was feeling apprehensive and slightly combative, as he felt he had no authority to discuss the issues at hand. He spoke of the overpowering need for 'political correctness' acting like a bit of a gag - out of his awareness that a misplaced word could lead to him being shot down or misjudged, he felt a pressure on himself to say nothing.

As this was going on, I felt very different to him. I felt that I was kind of an ally - a good white - since I spend so much time working in a 'non-white' community. I have studied about race and about whiteness, and I am living in an area in which there are next to no white British people.

But as soon as I entered the room today, I felt this suffocating feeling, as the discussions continued around me. I am never a shrinking violet, but I ended up devoting my energies to avoiding eye contact, trying desperately not to be seen or invited to contribute.

This is good and necessary, and by talking about how unpleasant it felt, I am not saying it wasn't worth it or that I didn't need it.

My mind wandered not off-topic but deeper into the topic, and as I was listening to my colleagues discussing their own varied experiences across the world and as the lecturer presented a range of provocative, sad and insightful videos, I found myself remembering the first time I visited my school.

I am from a white-working class family in a white working class town, and I stayed there from birth to 18. For university, I then moved to a bastion of white privilege rather than one of white deprivation, but it was very white, nonetheless.

It was only when I got my first - and so far only - teaching job in London that I encountered different ethnic groups. On my introduction day, I got off of the tube, walked onto a high street full of hijabs, saris, shalwar kameez and Halal butchers and felt a wave of shocked excitement.

This, I now see, was the similar shocked excitement that any old white 18 year old feels when they go to work in an African orphanage, or volunteer home-building in some other destitute far-flung place. There were different races around me, different ethnic groups, but there was only one in my head - white.

For a long time, my whiteness was the only lens through which I saw my school community and, for the first term, probably even saw my children. They were my 'Asian children'.

I have not fallen into that trap of 'colourblindness' but rather, as my knowledge of the values, beliefs and practices of my local school community have changed, I have a more multi-dimensional view of what constitutes the 'Asian communities'.

The realisation I had though, that struck me into silence in the lecture, was the way that I see myself in the community with a certain self-celebratory reverence. On some level, I had begun to convince myself that I was an ethnic minority, as White British. In that community, in terms of population statistics, I certainly am.

But my realisation was that I will never ever be an ethnic minority, no matter where I go, because as tonight's lecture edged me towards realising, I have the privilege of never having had to view myself as 'raced'. The difference-in-mind between me walking through the Muslim community in which I work and between a Muslim man walking through my white working class hometown is huge, and the bridge between these two experiences is uncrossable.

On some level tonight, the realisation struck home that I have a normative understanding of the world which insulates me because it serves, first and foremost, to present white perspectives and practices as taken-for-granted.

Now, as I am starting to consider, the processes of my school as a 'whitening institution' seems overpowering - the children leave their home languages at the gate, neutralise their religious dress, receive an instruction into what constitutes the 'correct books to read', and the 'correct way to treat people' and the 'correct way to succeed'.

It is the 'correctness' that is troubling me, because I am starting to see the extent to which 'correctness' aligns itself to 'whiteness'.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Primary elephants? Policy is dull, we are not thick.

Like many primary bloggers, I am unable to engage in grown-up discussions about education because my brain is full of glitter, toy bears and gingerbread. Obvs.

I'm responding to the call to action set out in @michaelt1969 's 'Elephants in the Primary Blogosphere' post, and I am responding with my view on why our voices are not heard.

The present Education Twitterati slightly gets on my titterati, in the way that it is around 10 'famous names' having a conversation. We have an 'Education Group' on Twitter in the way that my school has 'Year Group Assemblies' in which the 'Year Group' that is performing involves the 10 popular vocal kids doing all the acting and singing, while the other 100 kids sit holding triangles or guiros, which they strike only when instructed. In this point, I am defiantly bashing my guiro in the collective face of the Education Twitterati. Right in it.

At risk of sounding like the kid with the weird smell - sitting alone by the football pitch when the big boys play - I feel quite excluded and I think many whose blogs are similar to mine feel the same way.
For all the illusions of Twitter being a level playing field, it is as likely to close down debate as it is to spark it. Those who have many followers tweet to those who have many followers, and those who have no followers write endlessly and post their views into a readerless void. Only the most self-flagellating of time-pressed teachers would continue to post, leaving a harrowing Guernica of shattered and aborted primary-education blogs all over the internet, terminated after three unseen posts.

The upsurge of interest in primary bloggers is necessary, but it needs to become a part of the main debate on education. There is an obvious danger that we become our own echo chamber - we who appreciate the experiences, politics and quirks unique to primary education - and if this happens, we remain excluded from the main debate.

Again with the metaphors, at the Feast of Education, the primary bloggersshould not be the 'Children's Table' beside the Grown Ups table; we are free to talk about crayons, while they talk about policy. Sure, it's good that we have a table, but it shouldn't be perceived as separate from the adult discussions.

In the spirit of gripes, I found it dull as shit to read through Michael Tidd's Issues that could become blog topics, which included
  • Will ‘scaled scores’ provide useful information at end-of-key-stage tests?
  • How will we assess English and Maths once levels are scrapped?
  • Is primary schooling becoming all core and no breadth?
  • Does the new National Curriculum necessarily more rote teaching & learning?
  • Will the new grammar requirements in the National Curriculum raise standards of reading/writing?
  • Do primary teachers have the subject knowledge needed for the new National Curriculum?
  • What does it mean to be “secondary ready”, as the DfE suggests we should be aiming for?
  • Is the current level 4b a viable expectation for 85% of students?

and so on.

Snoozaroonie, as I might say when a child uses the word 'nice'. I am studying for a Masters in Sociology of Education, a key part of which is to look at policy paradigms and how the neoliberal performativity agenda is reshaping the educational landscape.

I don't not blog much about these things because they are too deep for my tiny primary-teacher brain, but it's because questions like Michael Tidd's are so boring for a teacher who values primary education as a holistic phase of character development, nurture and intellectual exploration. Remember that old nostalgic meme - 'the caring teacher'?

Our experiences and priorities are perhaps different to yours, and our struggles and questions are not just a simplified version of your own. Would it be too much to ask for us to set our own agenda?

As such, and in the spirit of muscular banter, I raise my own list of Issues that could become blog topics for primary teachers.

  • Literally where the fuck do all the children stash the red felt tip pens? Is this a national issue? If so, how ought we intervene?
  • Which facial cues alert you to the fact that a child is about to projectile vomit all over their workbooks? Should this be covered in INSET?
  • Is it morally acceptable to confess to your children that you find Michael Morpurgo's work to be anachronistic and dull?
  • How can we educate to equip children to challenge the rampant inequalities that face them?
  • Do any other teachers feel nauseous when they see Comic Sans? How can we cull this abhorrent typographical terrorist?
  • How can we expose children to texts that they can relate to, but which also challenges them/
  • At what age should teachers be able to begin problematising topics such as gender and sexuality? How?
  • Do all young men teachers get rapidly promoted out of the classroom, or just most? For those who stay - like tiny me - what makes them stay?
  • To what extent are we implicitly encouraging our children to stake their pre-pubescent self-worth on their ability to jump through hoops in the arbitrary Gradgrindian SPAG? Do children who are repeatedly admonished for their STUPID inability to get enthused about spotting 'fronted adverbials', end up as illiterate, morally-dead wrong-'uns?
  • How can you teach climate change to 6 year olds in a way that scares them enough to care and empowers them enough to act?
  • How can we encourage our children to become healthy and active, when we - their PE teachers - are rotund and medically-addicted to Battenburg, and get a stitch during their warm up?
  • Is bombarding our 4 year olds with traditional fairy stories an act of gender violence?


Thursday, 7 November 2013

Child, your emotional needs can wait.

I’ve returned today from a parents evening and all was going fairly swimmingly. Good bit of feedback here. Sharing of praise there. I was becoming aware – not that this is a surprise – that the parents only really seemed to give a genuine emotional response when I was describing their children’s character – she is hardworking and the other kids love her, he has really started to care about his actions, he has the world’s cheekiest smile, and so on. They cared what set their child was in, yes, but all feedback only seemed to hit at an emotive level when we moved away from talk of how their children are surpassing or failing to meet attainment targets (following the Parent Meeting Proforma...).

Funny I thought, given how parental pressure is used to justify the bureaucratisation and neoliberalisation of education. Perhaps when parents’ ‘high standards’ are discussed, it ought not necessarily mean  they want ‘a school with high results’ but a school in which teachers nurture and care for their children as children.

It was the last meeting of the night, with a child I’ve not really gotten to know that much. We had jovial chats about how his sentence structure has improved, and his recall of his x6 table is much more snappy. Having thusly summarised the merit of her child as an educational product, I asked the boy’s sister if there was anything the family wanted to ask.

“Just that on Monday...”

The boy freezes up and looks at his sister.

“On Monday he was very upset and asked for your help, but I don’t know if you were busy or something?...”

I couldn't remember him even coming up to me, but I knew what she was saying was true because of the boy’s face.

“He tried to talk to you but you just told him to sit down.”

It turns out that over the weekend, this boy’s family had been victim to an awful criminal trauma in which he and his siblings had been threatened with weapons by some lowlifes. He was and is still traumatised. He came to tell me at some point and I can imagine what I said.

“We are not supposed to leave our seats.”

“This is our reading time.”

“We are about to start Maths, please sit down.”

“Oh dear. 1, 2, 3.”

I feel dirty about this whole thing because the teacher i wanted to be – the teacher I thought I was still just about managing to be – would never ever have silenced a child who needed to share something. I feel sick when I think about him having plucked up the courage to come and share this with me, only for me to shooting him down with such an immediate level of dismissal, I don’t even recall doing it.
I feel awful, and I take some credit for this failing because I am sure that some teachers manage – no matter what – to put the children before everything else.

But the blame for this must rest with the way schools are run – including mine – in the current performative climate. Every single minute of the school day is accounted for – every action has the spontaneity removed. Every movement has a system. They line up in silence in the morning. They move silently through the school. They enter the classroom and begin silent reading. Then lessons start and they are encouraged to talk a lot, but only about converting mixed to improper fractions, or the correct use of a semicolon, or whether metal can melt. Then they line up sensibly, walk out silently, and go home.

Individuals might not have the dictatorial mindset, but if their school wants it, and they are accountable to the school, they do it or they pack their bags.

There is NO point in the day in which children can freely come up and talk to me. They aren’t allowed in the building at lunchtimes. In fact, I invite kids to come up and eat with me and that is one of the only times for discussion but that can only ever be a few kids, and it requires both the kids and the teachers to surrender their only real break of the day.

I resent myself for not listening to the boy in my class who desperately needed to talk, but whilst appreciating schools are guided by moves in education policy, I resent my school more for becoming this mechanical institution in which children easily become merely ‘things that need to write neatly’ in order that teachers look like good teachers.

When the child wanting your help becomes seen as ‘a child interrupting the lesson’, which is the attitude the current climate promotes in which a successful lesson is one in which every  child has a lot of work in their book, then the moral heart of teaching has been made to disappear.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Gifted, Talented, Stultified

When I was in secondary school, in the Blair Years, I was a product of New Labour's focus on Gifted and Talented pupils. At the time this gave me - a working class boy whose parents' traditional slightly DailyMaily attitudes manifested in me as unblinking compliance - the chance to feel superior to those of my peers who, by whatever subjective decision-making process took place, were not judged to be bright. Gifted and Talented was almost exclusively just a social thing - we did very little of substance, just gathered together once a week. This lack of action, aside from separating 'the top' from the rest, only adds to the sense that such groups have eugenic underpinnings.

Now as a teacher, with the idea of malleable intelligence and the infamous Rosenthal and Jacobson research 'Pygmalion in the Classroom' both firmly in my head, I find G&T deeply problematic.  It implies that ability is static and as such, it cements inequalities - if 'those doing well' at a given point are 'gifted', and if 'those doing well' are overwhelmingly the most economically, socially and culturally affluent, then the G&T label merely consecrates privelege. Not only consecrates though; it also legitimates. Once 'giftedness' becomes the master trait; the child's attainment becomes seen solely as a consequence of their (alleged, co-opted) giftedness, rather than their parents' ability to pay for tuition, ability to imbue their child with fruitful cultural experience and so on. It sits uncomfortably - it disconcerts.

When recently reading into Critical Race Theory, I found an interesting reflection which prompted me to think more critically about my own practice. In order to inspire pupils in a school with a majority of black pupils, a black lawyer was invited. The motivation, typical to all aspiration-building speakers, is to emphasise that if you, children, work hard, you can also become a successful black lawyer. It is hard to argue against this? But when faced with the negligible number of black people operating at the highest levels of the legal profession - single figures - is it inspirational or disingenuous to tell a hall full of 200 black kids that with a bit of hard work, they too can be the next generation of barristers?

This is my problem with gifted and talented programmes in schools which serve areas of social exclusion and disadvantage. We live in a flagrantly unjust society and those children identified as Gifted and Talented from poor areas represent the kids with - apparently - the greatest potential. What do we do, as teachers, with their considerable talents? We push our top ten children from each disadvantaged area into one of the tiny number of places in Oxbridge allocated - with statistical consistency - to those unfortunates in low participation areas.

As educators with a heartfelt commitment to justice, by pushing kids through the hallowed institutions that represent centuries of educational aprtheid, we are perhaps just providing a few token poor kids,  a few token black kids, a few token Bangladeshis, for them to plaster all over their prospectuses to maintain the illusion that they represent complete meritocracy and fairness.

The alternative? I don't know yet, but a solid starting point would be helping our 'gifted' disadvantaged pupils to realise the cold verifiable truth that the education system is weighted against them. Show them the Sutton Trust reports. Show them the admission statistics. Equip these students, of great academic potential, with the critical consciousness and apparatus to problematise, challenge and flag up the meritocracy-that-isn't.

Perhaps this action, a break in the existing discourse on how to promote 'excellence', is necessary in order to shake up the self perpetuating cycle of privelege, for which our brightest poor pupils are expected to pedal.

Monday, 14 October 2013

We strike because we care

As I look through my ‘Online Contacts’ list on Facebook at 1am on a weeknight and find the entire staffroom of my school online – planning , designing displays and resources, writing risk assessments, studying, marking books, putting together ideas for school events and responding to work emails – it becomes very obvious why teachers need to take a stand this Thursday.

We care a lot. We care about the children we teach. We care about our capacity and development as educators. We care about our colleagues. We care about our children’s learning and their assessment results.

It is great to work in a profession that has the potential to restore faith in humanity through small everyday actions, to shape young minds, to help kids make sense of the world and to build lasting meaningful relationships with adults and kids all united in their shared aim of learning. The problem is that the whole culture of teaching is blanketed in a dependency on our goodwill – to be a good teacher, as anybody living with one will know, requires levels of sacrifice which affect you and those around you.

Because we take pride in the work we do, we have a real sense of devotion. It makes us arrive at school before our pupils wake up, and for some of us, we are still working when our charges are put to bed, and we do it because their successes and hopes become our motivations. This devotion, however, makes us pliable to those who want to reap the labour out of us, pushing us to complete two, three, four, five occupations where one would fit comfortably.

I can’t speak for all teachers, but I think we are different to other unions. Our working lives are not necessary shaped by collaboration and constant teamwork, like factory-workers, and as a result we lack that immediate strength in numbers, because there isn't a clear 'Them and Us'. No group can shake off the upset of being misrepresented and stigmatised in the public conscience, but at least the miners (for example) had that sense of camaraderie which breeds solidarity.

Teachers in today’s schools don’t have that, really. When, after a 12 hour day in school which followed four hours sleep, you pick up an Evening Standard to see some new slur against you, which questions your professionalism, ethic and morals, it rankles and it hurts. It makes you question why you spend hundreds of pounds of your own money making your classroom somewhere the children want to be. It make you question why every weekend and holiday sees you catching up on  an ever-growing work backlog.

But it does not and will not make us question our care for our children and for the importance of their education. If we lost sight of that, we wouldn’t be worth defending.

We are striking  this week because we want to be able to teach to the best of our ability. We are striking because we think the work of teachers should be valued by government like we value it. We are striking because we don’t want a performance-related pay structure which will ultimately encourage the destructive attitude that ‘being a good teacher’ means ‘never saying no to management’.

I will personally benefit from performance –related-pay; I would still rather it didn’t exist. I would rather have a solid salary structure which pays me less if it means I won’t work in a socially divisive institution in which the most pliable staff who are willing to sacrifice their time will be promoted ahead of teachers who take a stand in order to create work-life balance, which leads them to have their ‘dedication’ questioned. It's not about the money.

We're the people who help your children towards the academic achievements that make you feel proud of them. We, like you, spend a lot of time anxiously worrying about your children.

We are striking because we care and you should support us.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

When lunch-time detention became jazz singing

Up from the murky backwaters of guilt after yesterday's scene with Waleed from my old class, I've got a real positive gem to share today - one of those 'teaching moments' that reassures you that you have a great job and that you are quite lucky.

Karim is a troublemaker - when I see pictures of him, I can't fathom how he looks so cute because in class he is a frequent headache. He is more of a concept than a child - he is the famous Karim, that gentle implosion capable of bringing your day crashing down with the smallest of actions. I think maybe the fact that I haven't really had the chance to know him until this week is why today's lunchtime detention has a positive glow to it.

Karim, it has been unilaterally decided, had been in too much trouble with too many people and he is now subject to a behaviour order - no playtimes, no lunchtime playtimes and he has a behaviour report to be filled in each day. As a consequence, he has been spending his lunch times with me.

Many of the moral criminological questions about the prison system pertain equally to my lunch-detention law. Is the punishment the loss of liberty itself, or should further sanctions be imposed. In effect, should Karim be confined to his cell  (my company) or should he face further punishment during the break?

Not unlike my view of prisons, I feel the loss of liberty is punishment enough. As such, in a very Scandinavian-Justice-System style, Karim and I - prisoner and jailer - spent his detention today having lunch together in my room.

A friend of mine recently introduced me to Gregory Porter, and for some reason (possibly I said the words to Karim!) I felt the overwhelming need to put 'Be Good' up on Youtube.

Gregory Porter is incredible and this song is just so lowbeat, optimistic and chilled. With no shame, I joined in with some beautiful humming and to my surprise, I could see Karim was smiling and nodding along to it.

When Porter's voice kicked in for the first time, with that first 'Be Good', Karim sang it straight after, pitch perfect.

In my head, I started thnking ohmagodohmagodohmagod, realising I was having one of those buzzing inspiring moments of teaching, like when Mr Farthing goes to see Billy Casper in the field.

We started it from 00:00 and then this time, we sang it together.

I went for my PPA with a smile on my face and with the melody ringing in my mind.


Monday, 23 September 2013

And then I called the child an idiot

Idiot is the classroom's c-word.

It carries a legacy of violence and humiliation that shot him and I back into the teacher/pupil relations of the days of the dunce hat.

It just popped out, without resentment or bitterness.

It was break duty and I was making my innocuous disciplinary rounds - tennis balls, footballs and cricket bats were flying across the playspace and I was frowning. I realised that I was flagging towards an energy dip, so I popped inside to grab a lovely hot coffee.

I cooled it down enough to drink and put it into my Thermos flask.

I re-entered the playground and unbeknownst to me, Waleed had seen me.

Waleed is one of the kids I have in mind when I wrote in previous posts about my unjustifiable favourites. You an justify favouritising a kid who works hard, is polite and follows instructions. It is harder to justify favouritising a boy like Waleed, who occasionally is intentonally disruptive because he finds it funny to be cheeky.

I taught Waleed last year and since then, I've not really seen much of him. My emergence into the playground set him off, and with gusto, he was running towards me.

I didn't know this. I was as oblivious to him running at me as he was oblivious to the hot coffee in my hand.

With remarkably awful timing, he smashed into me from behind, putting his arms around me in some weird 'this is aggressive enough to be acceptable to my street cred' hug. Coffee shot from my mouth, narrowly missing the child whose problem I was pretending to listen to, and it swilled up and out of my flask, soaking my hand in very hot coffee.


It just escaped me. I wasn't even thinking it, but the word just oozed out. Kids who saw the whole thing stood around caught between being shocked at me calling Waleed an idiot, and feeling the need to  hold back their laughter at me dripping with hot coffee.

Waleed apologised immediately, before the fact that I called him an idiot even registered. As soon as it registered, and despite him typically going about his life with bravado, he looked deeply hurt.

Memories shot by. Waleed and I dropping some raps over some grimey dubstep beats. Waleed receiving a handshake after we finally got him aceing his spelling test. Waleed proudly climbing into the facepalmingly awful binbag costume I made for him. Waleeds disarmingly sentimental end-of-year card.

With one utterance, it felt like that had been erased.

Idiot is the classroom's c* * * .

It carries a legacy of violence and humiliation that shot him and I back into the teacher/pupil relations of the days of the dunce hat.

I genuinely loathed myself and when I tried to apologise he ran away.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Iqbal is staring at a peg.

Iqbal’s dad lets himself into school somehow and manages to get into my room. Iqbal is having trouble in school and owns the most vacant stare of any child I have ever taught. I was midway through quiet reading when Iqbal and his dad, like some unstoppable force of nature, were running up the stairs before smashing through my door. Iqbal, like Lord of the Manor, ran to his peg and put his tiny coat on it, while Dad gave me a way-too-personal slap on the pectorals and handed a fiver  to me.

“This is the dinner money”, he shouted into my open eyes.

“Yes, well that needs to go to the Office, like always”, I reply.

“No! It’s your dinner money! Don’t spend it all on dinner!” he replies, laughing open-mouthed while 29 other children watch on in dystopian silence.

“Only joking Teacher, it’s his trip money!!”

I look over and Iqbal has short-circuited and is now staring at the pegs.

“Bye teacher,” he says, thus preventing me from telling him the trip money also needs to go to the office.

“Have a good boy day Iqqy!” he shouts to his static child, still gawping mindlessly at a peg.

I tell Iqbal to sit down, ask Bashir to tell the office Iqbal has arrived, and I grab my coffee as I prepare to teach 8 year olds the column method of multiplication.

Iqbal is still looking at a peg.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Do smile til Christmas

This will be my third year of teaching, and next week will see my third attempt at 'setting the right tone' for the year with the kids. While my fellow trainees and I were cowering around before taking on our first classes, we were all given the same supposed gem of advice.

Don't smile til Christmas.

Whether taken literally (some did) or metaphorically (I did), it remains a very problematic piece of advice. It is deeply logical, and as soon as you get into a school, you can see those teachers who are free-wheeling through October as a result of having set a firm tone through September. In fact, one of the abiding memories I carry with me of my first year is the view of my kids in amongst the rest of the phase during an assembly. Every other class was able to sit calmly and sensibly. Mine were shuffling to such an extent they appeared to be vibrating. The idea of 'Don't Smile til Christmas' is the idea that by being firm early on, and by not smiling along with them, you build in a distance between you and the children which controls their behaviour; then, later in the year, you can loosen the boundaries.

I am a believer that those people we see as successful are just much better at concealing their inadequacies. It suits my mentality to perceive that everyone is deeply flawed in most respects, and it also opens up the revolutionary potential that by focusing solely on those things you are good at, you can attain excellence.

I'm not very good at not making the children laugh - I need that feedback cycle. I'm not very good at telling children that their work is not good enough. I'm not very good at building an airtight consistent behaviour routine.

In some ways, and on some occasions, I wish I was good at these things. But generally, I'm nonplussed, because I've got other things that I am good at. I'm good at keeping the children on task by winning them over with enthusiasm and structured silliness. I'm good at working one-to-one with kids who do misbehave. I'm good at acting mortified when a child snaps one of my rulers.

Essentially, I am reactionary and pragmatic. I am good at dealing with the fallout of my own inconsistency, but this allows me and my children to enjoy a lively, exploratory and - at times - unpredictable classroom life. My kids do as well as others in more 'Don'tSTC' classrooms in terms of attainment, but they get there a different way which - to the outsider - might appear a little patchy.

Hamlet's Polonius famously said
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

Hear me world, I'm taking a stand. This year, I'm not going to punish myself by trying to maintain sternness in the face of amusing misbehaviours by my children. I'm not going to feel guilt for not having my books marked ten minutes after the work is complete. I'm going to accept that my style works better, for me, and I'm going to mark with a glass of Vino and a Mars Bar after nightfall. That's how I roll.

For those who want and can maintain a firm, deeply-structured classroom, do it. For those who'd rather not, like me, DO smile til Christmas, and the kids will be smiling with you.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Perils of living near your pupils

I've recently moved house and now I live dangerously close to my pupils. This is a result of convenience, financial necessity and the complete breakdown of relationship with the previous landlord, who I feel genuinely wishes I was dead.

When spotting this property, I felt assured enough that I wasn't going to bump into any of the kids from school, as I am a good walk out of the catchment area. What I didn't anticipate was how often I would need to dip through 'the catchment' in order to go to anywhere at all that I would want to go.

Just now, for example, I have been tasked with the innocuous chore of popping out to get some garlic bread and wine. This is no problem, and a bit of wine is just a delicious tipple to help the food down. You know who would disagree? My pupils, whose religious teaching has led them to believe anyone who indulges in even a gentrified sip of wine is in cahoots with Sheitan. As a result, what should have been the potential pretentious task of selecting a suitable wine instead saw me putting on a hoodie and hat, as though I was about to purchase a sack of heroin.

I feel as though I am constantly and forever 'in performance', as the likelihood of one of the many kids being out on the street or peeping through a window at any given time is high. I am not helped by the fact that my whiteness makes me ethnically obtrusive.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

The Summer Holidays Ruin Me

Although I look forward to the holidays with the unwavering single-mindedness of a sailor on shore leave, by about the third day in I become slave to this soul-destroying psychosomatic reboot.

I've taught long enough now to know that this happens, and I have pre-empted my ennui-waterboarding with some community volunteering this year, but now that it over, all those familiar symptoms are kicking in.

First up, I feel wholly and completely insignificant ... because I am. If I stayed in bed until 4pm tomorrow, nobody would care and it would affect nobody. If I died in that same bed tonight, nobody would realise until they notice the biscuit tin is uncommonly full in our 'Welcome Back' staff meeting. During term, I am hardly the Dalai Lama, but colleagues to come to me for advice, kids do come to me for support and cleaners do implore me to take responsibility for my desk. My actions have consequences and my voice has a purpose, but only for 36 weeks a year.

Speaking of which, I've lost my voice. Clearly, I maintain such a bellowing vigorous thunder of a teaching voice that it is now quietness that ruins my glands. It is only now that I use my gentle chat voice with small groups of adults rather than my usual battlefield-centurion PE-teacher voice, that my vocal cords have wilted and died. I'm actually ill right now. I'm snotty, snivelly and gross because my body is crying out for stress and adrenaline; these two friends have become the crutches on which I rest my entire professional existence.

I am good at teaching. It's nice to do things that you feel you are good at. Now that it's the holidays, my positive-feedback-loop of teach -> do well -> feel good -> teach... is blocked. Instead, I am faced daily with all the crap that has fallen by the wayside during the year, such as my unkempt flat, my shrinking network of non-teacher friends (I cannot interact with teacher friends because they, of course, are in Spain) and I am also faced with my desperate lack of hobbies.

Not only is all of the above intrinsically depressing and morbid, it is all experienced through a lens of aching guilt for feeling that way. I know I should be relishing my freedom and should be putting school in the deepest recesses of the back of my mind.

Nope. Can't do it.

I posted an Edutopia article on Facebook to a chorus of sneers from fellow teachers. 'Already???'

Fuck you guys. The honest truth is this. I am planning my new classroom layout almost constantly. I'm looking forward to going back, even though I know full well I will join in disingenuously with the 'Give us another week, you shit' rants, on the first day back.

During the holidays, it's like being unplugged from The Matrix, after having been plugged into The Matrix for so long you forgot that you were actually in The Matrix. Though it's way more stressful and injurious, I'd rather be getting seven shades of shit kicked out of me by the Agents (Ofsted) in The Matrix, rather than sitting in the fusty old Nebuchadnezzar, eating bowl after bowl of gruel.