Tuesday, 25 March 2014

The Secret Anguishes Of Being A Teacher or Other Reasons To Strike

It's a hard life being a teacher, but not just because of the working hours. On a daily basis there are a mass of unintentional, and rather unexpected, anguishes that may be ignored by the prospective learning facilitator. If you are a member of the Freemasons NUT and you can't remember what you're meant to be striking about, maybe you can consider some of these option:

1) Resisting squeezing a student's particularly juicy blackhead or spot.
2) Oh God I need the loo but it's the middle of a double period.
3) I've forgotten your name despite teaching you for years.
4) Outside of school awkward student encounter.
5) 'My dad says that science is a lie.'
6) 'Some people believe that...'
7) It's a bonus boring assembly!
8) Friday afternoon, nearly out the door, 'Sir can I just talk to you for a second...'
10) The conundrum of 'How ill am I?' versus 'Teaching is Easier Than Setting Cover.'
11) Oh crap, What is that LSA called again?
12) I have no idea what I taught this class last lesson...
13) 'Miss? Do you think I can get a C?' 'Errrrr..'
14) Awkward corridor conversation with the head.
15) I really need to fart. Now. Which student can I fart behind and blame it on.
16) How long have my flies been undone?
17) Observing another teacher and being on the verge of falling asleep.
18) Meeting an ex-student you worked really hard with and receiving the answer to the question of 'what are you doing now' with 'oh, y'know, I work at Tesco's/the chippy/pub/brothel greeter.'
19) Pretending to students that you are striking for ethical reasons instead of a midweek lie-in.
20) The first day back. That is all. 
21) Unproductive planning time guilt
22) How am I meant to teach hungover? this is unethical. I should not be expected to work in these conditions.
23) Having to have a chat about hygiene with a student.

One day my educational version of Monopoly will finally see the print it deserves, or maybe Fantasy Flight will accept my design for a collectable teaching card game, and when either of these things happen then these will certainly be included as hazards for somewhat hapless player to avoid. (If you're reading, @FFgames I think you need to check your junk emails. My submission must be in there somewhere and you can't miss this. It's off the chain.)

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Another 'Inspirational' assembly.

They keep asking me to give assemblies to the 'top end'. This is part of, interestingly, someone's whole school project. last time I did it the result was this. This time I thought I'd go for high levels of concept. Mostly to amuse myself. We'll see how this one rolls on Monday.

I would like to welcome you
To what it is I’m going to do
Which is, not really, to convince
You to be princess or prince
Or even to be king or queen
But instead be something that’s never been
Transcend any expectation
Through brutal, honest, perspiration
For you are all of mental fame
Exceptional at the mental game
That we refer to as education
So let us with no consternation
Debate upon the point of this
Box in which we do persist
To fill your mind with useless drivel
From mathmatic’s graphs to DT’s swivel
Because what we do in here is tough
But, for you, not tough enough,
Because you, you apparently special few
Who it would seem don’t know what to do
To push forward your impressive learning
So now to satiate your yearning
I come here to cram your little brains,
Not with numbers, not with names
But instead an idea of working ethic
So that you’ll avoid pathetic
Attitudes to your every fleeting day
When it’s simply far too easy to say
“yeah that’s fine” and let it be
And have for dinner your mundane C
And let the moment pass you by
Instead staring lovingly at the guy
Or girl who sits across from you and ponder
On a weekend, own-clothes wander
The nervous invitation to the park
Or the hope of a cinema kiss in the dark
And then one day “lessons, I remember those”
Twenty years ago I chose
To hide from English in the loo
Because I thought it the thing to do
But now year, 7,8 and this is true,
There is an unbelievable world for you.
And, when your older,
You’ll be bolder,
In declaring your regret
And you’ll forget
The window-gazing double french
As with a sickening wrench
You’ll realise school is gone forever
And despite the lump in throat you’ll never
Ever be in this box again
Jour de jour semaine après semaine
Dripping through your fingers
Perhaps right now your boredom lingers
And so perhaps some clarity
Of this strangest of assemblies
And why then this poetic rant
A simple one: there is no can’t
There is just can’t yet, I will one day,
That is what driven students say.
Because For the amazing, failure is no fear
They hunt it down, they grasp its ear
And ride it bravely through the dark
With fire in eyes and primal bark
And spur it to jump higher walls
And accept, consistent, painful falls
But know that sets of brushed down clothes
Raise them higher above all those
That never tried to jump at all
Those people who find their destined fall
In jobs they didn’t want at all
And hope to find an out at a midnight ball
While, elsewhere, the failures brave and true,
Attempt more than is easy to do
And prosper and, critically, have fun
And realise that life isn’t won
It’s a game played on an endless board
And played by all of humanity’s hoard
A game of difficulty where you’re the piece
That shuffles slowly til deceased
Where winning is a terrible lie
Told by those who just get by
And pray in the churches of lotteries
And x-factor heroes and flat-screen tv’s
Because success is not a letter
It’s not money, or exams, it’s being better
And better still and never content
With anything on which your effort is spent
It’s reaching far beyond your reach
It’s the willingness to teach
Yourself the things you want to know
It’s a constant burning desire to go
Beyond what’s in the range of your hand
To go where things aren’t planned
Because you are flicking unmade switches
Instead of passing out in ditches
Because you bothered, because you care
Beyond simply what you’re going to wear
Or what they look like, what looks good
The things you like because you should
Pursue everything you want whatever it may be
And then the naysayers will see
That everything you have done
Is beautiful.
So perhaps, I guess you’re wondering why the poetics
I mean, isn’t it all a bit pathetic
It all depends on your outlook
And the notice of my words you took
As I ranted words that just might rhyme
And you begrudged the waste of your time
The point is that it isn’t quick
To write in couplets, there’s no trick
Except hard work and lonely grit
And a desire to get on with it
And really it’s a stupid idea
At which others might scoff and sneer
But I simply do not care
I’m only bothered how I fare
At my self-set, absurd task
And at it’s end it’s me I’ll ask
How much better it could be
It’s progress that interests me
For as long as I perceive my skull as hollow
I’ll find information to swallow
Despite the knowledge that I’ll never be quite filled
It doesn’t matter at all, I’m strong willed.
I’m sorry, I’ve digressed as usual
And so as not to confuddle you all
I will summarise
My lengthy, rambling surmise.
I wrote this.
And this and all of this
And so my fragile coup de grace
Is that every moment is just fragile glass
So Quit Your Worrying
And instead enjoy the scurrying
Passage of not knowing everything
But trying to. And the joy
Of making all of life your toy
As you find the beautiful wonder
Of the freeing, magical splendour
Of this vast, mysterious, land
Because for you there’s nothing planned
You are free. No linear storyline
No certain future, it’s all fine
You are the heirs to everything you touch
And there is nothing in the world too much
For you to handle, if you bother
To fill a day, then fill another
With all that you can bring to living
And never stop intellectually giving
To yourself, and those around
Do not be afraid of the loud sound
Of trying to do everything that can be done
Your silence doesn’t serve anyone
So upturn mountains, paint the sun
Create worlds, reinvent fun,
Splitting the atom is so passé
Compared to what wonders may come your way.
You own this little bildungsroman
So make it as giant as you can
One moment, sorry, while I interject,
There is at work a slight subject
That may come across as arrogant,
But I assure you it is relevant,
It is the topic of my deepest fear
And that is that I’m simply dying here
I don’t mean that I fear if my health is fine
I’m sorry, I have to borrow a singer’s line
To describe the midnight-waking fear
That “I’m not really here’
My fear is I will waste all this
And that it won’t matter if I did not exist
As far as I know I have one life
One shot at this so full of strife
But for the fragility I’ll not worry
And I’ll walk through in no hurry
Because this world is more than enough
Isn’t it okay to believe that, well, stuff,
Is worth our exploration?
Our fascination? Our delectable, devour, er, ation?
That there is simply enough here to see
To drink in for one eternity?
That we as fleeting people exist
In just a blink of this world’s iris
And that fraction of a slice of time
Is ours, it’s what is yours, it’s mine
And so why, why? When surrounded by such amazement
Do some insist on being sofa’d and stagnant
Why do we insist on letting moment’s fetter
When you could free them for something better
Live. LIVE for no one but yourself
Live because some ill health
Could strike you in the dead of night
And snuff out what sits here, wonderful and bright
Please understand I don’t aim to fear
I’m merely trying to press on you what’s dear
And what should be dear to you
Is. YOU. Your dreams, and to them being true.
And there you are, alone at last,
With heart and volume falling fast.
So turn it up. Embrace your skill.
And tell the world you’ll never. Never. Have your fill.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

I'd rather be a teacher than hate myself.

I have sat through an increasing number of briefings and meetings and strategy groups and focus units and coffee mornings and informal chats and other such bollocks over the past few weeks that have started to show a dangerous trend in my school. This horrifying trend is that of the bureaucracy of teaching's upper-middle-management. These (and I hesitate here to use the word) teachers are part of the increasingly middle-heavy structure that needs to constantly affirm its own existence by the use of sophistry-laden presentations dripping with data and spreadsheets and 'visual strategy' and online resources that do absolutely nothing for teaching apart from making things that teachers already do needlessly convoluted, all wrapped up with the insistent deployment of the word 'tracking'.

There is no denying that education is a business. I have spoken about this before and it was, I hope, abundantly clear that my feelings upon this are not wholly positive. I do, however, understand that it would be naive to think that people do not want to have careers in education. For many achievement is rooted in the belief that they must aspire and perspire their way through strings and strings of data in order to progress through the mess of payscales and that by progressing through this they are instantly a success. The aspiration culture of twenty-first century western society is one which is inherently selfish. It is obsessed with numbers on e-pay slips and epithets of rank; head of, director for, specialist in. I don't really care that people want to earn more. I think we'd all like to earn more. It is the effect on the quality of education that is to my chagrin. What I am seeing is that the press of careerism is actually making teaching worse. It is making the lives of teachers harder and, what is worse, it is putting into higher positions those who manipulate others to compensate for their own lack of talent and passion.

My problem is with the obsession with the whole school project. This seems to be as popular with aspirational leadership candidates as class-A drugs are with hookers. And is equally as destructive. Suddenly, without any training or knowledge or, really, interest, Maths teachers are leading literacy, Linguists are developing Art for All and God knows who is leading SMSC. But surely, I hear from your hoary throats, any work on these key areas of development are valuable. Surely even the focus on them is as good as anything. Well. Sorry (I'm not sorry.) it's not. It is tokenism based purely on an aspiration that ignores the point of a whole school project. A whole school project should lead and develop. If this is so then why are there five different whole school literacy directives going on in my school? And, more importantly, why do none of them work together? It is less a case of the left hand not knowing what the right is doing and more of the right hand writing down nonsense while the left hand erases what has just been written.

It is at the very core of being a teacher that you should be interested in your subject, but most of the people running these programmes are not interested in anything beyond their own paychecks. The whole-school project is needless sophistry run on false enthusiasm. This week a teacher started a debating club and called it the first debating club the school has ever had, despite the literacy club that has run for the last eighteen months and has run debates as part of it, or the debating club that ran years before but died due, partly, to a lack of leadership support. And why does this teacher not realise that they are not the first? Because they don't give a shit about debating. They are more than happy to ignore the work done by a normal teacher in order to further themselves. They have the gift of the upper pay scale and its inherent access to resources, people, publicity and the ability to wonder around school promoting while most other teachers are taking registers or, Gove forbid, teaching.

Teaching doesn't want the Dead Poets Society style of teacher. (in terms of teen suicide rate, that is probably a good thing though.) It doesn't want the exciting, interesting and knowledgeable teacher who loves their subject and loves teaching it and shows signs of a number of mild mental disorders. Teaching wants the grinder. It wants the worksheet-laden, numbers in boxes teacher who has career ambitions and uses the lexicon of the middle-manager. I don't get it. I would rather teach, would rather try my hardest to impart a love of my subject through my passion. I would rather be paid an average wage and be honest than do something I don't care about and manipulate students and other staff to make myself appear better.

I will leave you with a pipe dream as hopeless as my script for Mighty Ducks 4 (Duck University) ever making it to production:

I want to work in a school where every teacher has time allocated with which they have to pursue a project of their own. The caveat: that this project should be in subject (at least vaguely) and of their own interest. An art teacher could produce a sculpture for instance; a Geography teacher, a study of erosion or oxbow lakes (or any other available stereotype); An English teacher a study of literature or a piece of creative writing. Every year the school would publish a yearbook of these projects. Can you imagine a school screaming with pursuit of knowledge? Students would be encouraged to join in themselves if they wanted to, but the profound idea underpinning this is that the school would be alive with modeled learning and development of what teaching is.

I don't know. Maybe I don't really get teaching after all. Maybe I was sold a profession that doesn't exist. Maybe I'm just a bit rubbish really.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

You can achieve your potential.

A while ago I was asked to deliver an assembly to a group of 'High Achievers' in years nine, ten and eleven. I was to talk to them about achieving their potential. I could not think about a subject more full of rubbish than this particular one.

I decided long ago that, to the best of my ability, I would not lie to students that I teach. I would try my hardest to tell them the truth, or at the very least I would be honest to myself; that I would not tell them anything that I was not proud of or believed in.

I therefore approached the task of talking about the ethereal concept of potential, something that I fundamentally do not agree with, with all the enthusiasm of a slug at an all you can eat chinese buffet. So I decided to be true to myself. I decided to be as true as I could be. I present you with a transcript written from my notes for the assembly. Now, obviously, this may not be exactly what I said because the nature of public speaking is, of course, transient in its delivery and application. I will do my best to recreate what I said from a scrawl of red-penned wonder.

"Students, I am here today at the invitation of Mrs. Bun the Baker's Wife to talk to you about achieving your potential.

It is a lie.

You cannot achieve your potential because your potential is a lie.

You are not destined for anything beyond that which you work for.

I am here because I am told that you are all the highest achievers in the school.

In all truth you are probably here because you have a small genetic mutation that causes you to think in a slightly different way to others of your age. This, apparently, is your potential.

This does not mean you are destined for greatness.

This does not mean that you will succeed.

The only factor that controls how high you can achieve is how hard you work.

Sadly, the school cannot help you enough. Your teachers cannot help you enough. If we, as a school, were to take one hundred students and only teach them alone and teach them as well as we possibly could then we would still not achieve all A*s because, in the end, some of them would lack the ability and some wouldn't work hard enough.

You have the ability.

Unfortunately, no-one in the real world expects you to be anything other than another husk of a person slowly paling into insignificance as you wait behind the counter, or desk, or forecourt of another dead end job waiting to either have children, or die, or have children and die.

This means, perversely, that you are totally free.

You are free to do what you want to do, and most importanly you are totally free to fail.

You should never be afraid to fail because it is only through failure that you will ever succeed at anything. Failure is good. It is how you learn. If you want to be incredible you must welcome failure with open arms. You must walk with failure into the darkness.

This may sound strange but you should actively seek out failure. Do this by by attempting things that are too difficult. The exceptional student will bother to hunt out things that are difficult because they  enjoy the pursuit of knowledge and the process. They see success not as a goal hanging in front of them. They see it not as something that can be achieved; they see it as a continuing journey. A mission. Success is not a moment. It is not a letter on a piece of paper, or a pay packet, or a brand new TV. Success is a lifetime. If you want to codify success into a single moment then it is the last moment you live. It is a smile on your face on a hospital bed, surrounded by your loved ones. It is in that moment when you look back and see all the things that you did, or tried to do and you smile and think 'I did pretty well there'.

That lifetime, for better or worse, that continuing mission starts, predominantly, now.

The next three years, give or take, will decide which doors open up to you and which never can. 

Let me give you an example: I will tell you a story about a friend of mine. He was not a great academic. He did not do exceptionally well at his GCSEs, in fact he just about scraped his way into the sixth form at school but he decided, after nearly failing his AS levels, that he had a reason to do things. He wanted to become a Doctor. A fairly inauspicious start for such a difficult profession. So, he retook. He retook everything. He fought his way through every moment to do the things that he had failed at the first time correctly the second time. He did not get onto medicine at university but he had pulled his grades up high enough to give himself the chance. My friends and I did not see him, pretty much, for the next year because he did everything he could. He volunteered, he studied, he barely slept, and he got onto a course. Not the course, but a course and he jumped from that course to the one he wanted because he worked. He clutched every opportunity and went for it. Within a few years he was top of his class. Last year he got invited to travel abroad on a summer programme to study brains. He will be, i have no doubt, a top neurosurgeon in a few years time. Why? Because he failed, he learned, and he worked hard for what he wanted. 

One of the major reasons that this friend did well is because he wanted to do this. He wanted it and he enjoyed it. He did something that interested him. How many of you, honestly, go out and find things out about the world around you because it interests you? I am a little bit notorious in this school for having an exceptional subject knowledge. I can tell you why this is. It is because when I see something that interests me, or I don't understand, I look it up and try and understand it. We have, at our fingertips, the greatest intellectual resource ever invented. And what do we use it for? Pictures of funny animals and selfies. Use it! Find out things. Stuff. Anything. Learn. Enjoy the process of learning. Allow yourself the luxury of becoming more knowledgeable. One day I wanted to find out about Locks. I don't know why. I just was curious. Amazing things river rocks. Raising boats up, lowering them down. Fascinating. Now I know about locks. I know about how they're built, about that sometimes you need a lock that raises boats so high that they have to go in a little box, called a caisson. The biggest one of these, incidentally, is in Belgium, and lifts boats 73 metres. Now, that's probably not that interesting to any of you but it is to me. I love the fact that we, as humans, designed and built these structures and I adore finding out how they work. In a lot of ways it does not matter what you are interested in but it matters to be interested because that pursuit, that need to know about something is what could make you an exceptional person.

Every year, about this time, year eleven students come up to me and ask whether they should do AS English next year and, in general, I ask them all the same question. That question is 'What are you reading at the moment?' And every single one of them who tells me they're not reading anything gets the same response: 'You shouldn't do English.' This seems harsh, yes, but there is no point in doing a subject that does not interest you. There is no point in doing something that you do not care about. Most of the students I deter are trying to do the subject because they think it is a wise choice, or a good option or it'll look good on their CVs. I tell them to thing about what it is they want to do. I tell them to go and be masters of their own futures, to follow their interests, to try and find things to pursue, and fail, and eventually succeed at. And I tell you, in closing this assembly, that it doesn't matter if you aren't ablt to do it now. It only matters if you find something easy. Go out there and find something that you can't do. Because it's not that you can't do it. Don't say to yourself I can't do this.

Tell yourself:

I can't do this YET.

Thank you."

I was actually quite proud of myself that day. I'm not entirely sure my line manager was though. If you are interested in booking me to come and speak to your disillusioned youth,  I can also do balloon animals. Requests to @calamityteacher