Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Divide and Commodify

If you don't know who Zoella is, then I don't blame you, but in the upward osmosis of teenage trends, it surprises me that any teacher doesn't.

Zoella is the internet moniker of a girl (nee woman) named Zoe Sugg, and she is the most successful debut author of all time in terms of first week sales. She is an internet phenomenon, and what is most interesting to me, is that she is a brand. The 24 year old Sugg began her public life as a video-blogger, peddling videos on such diverse topics as fashion and fashion.She became the au fait sounding board for teenagers. She also became an embodiment of a type of wonderfully short-sighted aspiration culture.

The current teenage zeitgeist is obsessed, even more so than ever, with the ordinary becoming extraordinary. From the sabbath-borne diurnal faux-splendour of X-Factor through to the flash-fame of the vinetastic, the whole of youth culture is rooted in the magic of the non-famous becoming famous, and, then, sadly, infamous. It is the latter part of this that triad that is oft-ignored by those wishing to, even vicariously, live the fame.Our students, are most of the demographic of the products that our made out of these quick-fix fames.

And so, from the realms of verbosity to internet video logs (and what a chasm that is). The issue is not with Zoella's vlog, it's with her book; A novel that has been slammed this week for using a ghostwriter. Many are suggesting that it is not that she used a ghost writer, but that she failed to admit it, that is the heinous crime, and I sort of agree there, but I also see why there was no upfront honesty: because Zoella and her fast-famed ilk are brands. They masquerade as real people, yes, but in the end they are a sell-able item. Companies now commodify reality and integrity. They appropriate its integrity and rehash it into something with a little more sheen on its bonnet. And the sad part, the reason why I, an amateur education blogger, am writing this? Because the demographic that small town heroism sells to is teens. And vulnerable teens at that. Those that cannot be cynical enough to see that they are being sold to are those that are often in most need of integrity to sell themselves to in order to remove themselves from difficult lives.

The sad thing about this is there is not much we can really do about it. Most advertising targeted at teenagers is already more ethically dubious that a KKK debutante ball. We can't change the media (at least not quickly), and equally we can't change the pervasive lust for money amongst a vast swathe of the community (and I use the word community more loosely than McDonalds use the term 'Healthy Choices'). What we can do, however, is to make sure that students know the reality of advertising and how it aims to manipulate them. Zoella is a victim of a corporate desire to consistently gauge out the sterling that line the pockets of teens. They identified that Sugg is not a novelist and so, probably, filled in the gap with someone who was, and who didn't have the prerequisite fame needed to top the book charts.

So there is something else at stake here; the faith in talent. All this presents to students is that even if they are the most stunningly talented novelist in the world, they need a public, famous, media-trained face to get themselves heard. The old adage of hard work paying off is false. If you don't want, or cant work hard then you can buy the shortcut and 'forget' to credit. Fairy tales are only accessible to those who are sponsored by big business. Every character in this tale has sold out. Every character has taken on an facade. Every character has lost their self on the alter of the commodified daydream. Nothing on screen is real.

So there you go, kids, want to be successful? Be ready to sell out at every turn. Oh. Wait. Screw that. Tell your students to question everything and be themselves. No surrender.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

It Is Only Our Perception

Yesterday I went for a teaching interview, and also yesterday I was turned down for a job.

It's not the best thing to have happened. It ranks pretty high up on my giant board of 'Shit Times I've Had.' (if you're interested in what the leader board looks like. It looks like the deranged creation of someone who worked simultaneously on SMTV live and Eurotrash)

The school was exactly what I am not: Refined, traditional, reserved. It was wonderfully, Britshly, lavish, but not quite in the way I'd have liked to be. I imagine it had a poor outlook on standing on chairs to teach and using books with swear words in as stimulus material. I didn't fit in. The school that I left in August was pretty new and fairly rough cut in places, but one of its primary ethics was to try new things in teaching. It tried hard to be a bit unusual and new in the way that it practiced. This didn't always work out, but there were a lot of teachers on board with it. One of the things it really valued was the relationship between students and teachers. The school was in an area where a lot of students had difficult backgrounds; for them, the staff there often treated like members of their family, and teachers really put an emphasis on building relationships with students based on positivity and happiness. I liked this. To leave that school was a wrench. (13 to 28mm adjustable, thrown straight at the head)

In light of my old school, my behaviour management ethic can be summed up with a statement I have appropriated from the deputy head of one of my PGCE placement schools: 'Try your hardest not to put them in detention'. So how do I manage behaviour? I try my absolute hardest to form positive in-classroom relationships. So what did I do in my interview lesson? I taught a deadpan and almost threatening lesson.

Wait. No I didn't. I taught as I teach; Light-hearted. I tried to demonstrate who I am as a teacher. And I am pretty pleased I did. In a way.

I received the classic feedback call last night. I knew I hadn't got the job because they had six candidates and sent three of us home at lunchtime. I find it a giveaway that the job's not yours when you don't make the final interview. I was pretty interested to hear what they said and tried to be as gracious as possible when I got the feedback, particularly as I was pretty despondent, and they also managed to ring me while I was on the toilet. What they said you've probably already guessed. They told me that I was too quick to be humorous in my lesson. I was too loud. (Read between lines: I was too energetic, perhaps. Or not traditional enough) The three candidates that got taken through to the afternoon were all quite reserved, quite meek people. Perfectly lovely, but very... conventional. I am none of these. 

The irony, perhaps, is that the very reason that they didn't like me was the very reason that about 18 months ago OSTED told me I was outstanding. The lesson I taught in front of OFSTED was, if anything, a lot more mental. When the inspector came in I was stood, on a chair, shouting and laughing.

The strange thing is that they were totally right not to hire me, even in my tear-stained eyes. The school performs insanely well every year. It was judged Outstanding fairly recently, and regularly comes in high up the league tables. They can clearly recognise talent in staff. So, why was an Outstanding school right to not hire a formally Outstanding teacher? Because we both would have regretted it.

They would have kept trying to make me teach in a manner I didn't enjoy and I would've been pushing against them to do something completely different. It would've been a catastrophe. That doesn't mean that I am happy with their choice because I don't personally view the teaching onus in that school (as I experienced it) as being particularly positive. But I don't know that for sure. I saw a little slice of life there. An amuse bouche of the school. And any rejection, be it by Amy, in year 7 in 2001 when I asked her to dance at the school disco, or being cut from an interview, is pretty galling. perhaps, then, I am only telling myself that the school did the right thing because it stymies the nagging insecurity of being told that you are not good enough. But the insecurity is often misplaced. it is not that you are not good enough. It is that you are not right for that setting. Schools must be art galleries well curated. Starry Night does not belong in a room of conceptual sculpture in the same way Rock Drill should never be in a room of Goya.it is all about, to coin one of the Head Teacher's own words, perception.

Moral: forget OSTED judgements and apply to schools or hire teachers, that fit in with your ethic because happy staff are as important as happy students.