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'.