Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Teaching and Watching

So it's the summer, right? And you're already bored, right? And it's inevitably going to rain, because it's England, and that's what it does, right? So, get yourself on Amazon and order up a load of DVDs, and being a teacher, or that should possibly be being a Teacher (it comes capitalised with your NUT membership) you inevitably can't leave your job behind, so why not take a hint from the Calamity Teacher Brand (tm pending) guide to what to watch when you miss school a little too much, but don't want to get off the sofa/out of bed. I have included OFSTED-sanctioned summaries of every film so that you're absolutely sure of what you've learned from the experience before you even begin.

1: Dead Poets' Society
A man breaks every rule in the staff handbook then encourages students to go against their parents' wishes until one of them commits suicide. Hilarity ensues. 

2: History Boys
Overweight paedophile teaches young student the value of their holistic education while indoctrinating an NQT into his own way of thinking. Lovable paedo gets caught fondling a student and is saved from a disgraceful dismissal by his untimely death. Hilarity ensues. Also on the AQA reading list so it's like doing homework.

3: The Breakfast Club
Five bad boys with the power to rock you students demonstrate their diversity through the medium of forced ubiquitous punishment. They are badly supervised and this causes negative behaviour to propagate. In the end no-one learns anything. There is also a musical montage.

4: Coach Carter
Inspirational educator is accidentally hired as a sports coach instead of a Principal. School sport is presented as being unfathomably important and this is why Ashanti ends up pregnant.

5: Harry Potter
A consistently failing and dangerous independent school is followed in a unprecedented 7-year study where the school consistently resists academisation by a clearly more organised and benevolent power. A student council raises its own private army in fierce defiance of Voldemort the DfE. IN THE LAST FILM THE SCHOOL IS TURNED INTO AN ACADEMY AND EVERYTHING IS OKAY THERE IS NO NEED TO WATCH THE LAST FILM. NO NEED AT ALL. GO BACK TO SLEEP. EVERYTHING IS OKAY.

6: Teachers
Precursor to Educating Essex makes a household name out of Andrew Lincoln. longitudinal study shows why Labour was always wrong about education. Always.

7: Donnie Darko
 Parallel universe parable demonstrates why teachers should always STICK TO THE CURRICULUM; a number of teachers go off-curriculum to teach dangerous texts and non state-sanctioned theories. This torrid arrogance leads to deaths and destruction. There's another paedophile in this one, too.

8: Perks of Being a Wallflower
Boy deals with worrying relapses in mental state by studying extra-curricular core subjects. Quality teaching

9: Summer Heights High
A drama teacher, a independent school exchange student and a youth delinquent are the centre of this reality-tv expose of the failures of an Australian school system that doesn't have the EBACC.

10: The Inbetweeners
Series follows four sixth formers who are consistently supported by an excellent head of sixth form and a supportive, enriching, school experience and all go on to excellent post-18 opportunities in the worlds of work and university. Hilarity is abundant in this riotous coming-of-age drama. There is also a paedophile because, well, of course there is. 

Enjoy your summer kiddies, because I'm watching films.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

There will be a story there.

I have always assumed that the birth of a school followed a secular immaculate conception. That schools just sprang up, or had always been there. I find it hard, still, to work out where one finds the space to place a fully formed school in a town, or village, or extra-urban part of Hounslow.

When I left teaching last year, I wasn't sure of when I would return, but I told myself that I would only come back to do something that I could really get behind. I had one ill-fated interview at a very prestigious school, but it didn't feel right, and they didn't like me, so the choice on that one was very much taken out of my hands. But then something came up.

When I left my last school, another teacher (among many) left at the same time. This teacher was also taking a break from classroom teaching (although he did little of that in his role as a director) but he wasn't off to study, he was off to plan. Plan and build. He was off to put a school where there had previously been no school. But, more than that, he was off to answer a question that we all think from time to time; 'What would I do if I was in charge?'. And his, most wonderful of answers?

'We're going to change education.'

I offer my insincere apologies here for the mixed pronouns, but it was necessary to facilitate some inconsequential gravitas. 'We're going to change education.' it's a wonderful phrase. It's brave, it's possibly stupid, but it's all that is right. As you can probably imagine, that sort of statement sought me out from my high-brow literary malaise. I was convinced. I wanted to be part of this, or, at least, I wanted to find out what 'this' was. Turns out 'This' was the 'that' that I wanted the 'this' to be.

In short order, I had an interview, I got the job, I started becoming something. I started co-writing a story. Others were involved. Others are involved. We are becoming something and that thing feels gorgeous. A lot of what we're doing in September isn't totally defined. A lot of it isn't set in stone, or fleshed out or down on paper, but that is so wonderfully exciting. There is no set way of doing things yet, so the teachers get to define how things are done We are not encumbered by history. When we looked at the options for what to teach, we decided on what we wanted to teach. As in, what interested us. When I chose set texts for GCSE, I made a conscious decision to choose what excited me, not what was easy. I chose texts specifically for their wider ramifications; the opportunities to teach off-field. Off-spec. Off-kilter.

Going away from the teach-to-the-test rubric is the point of the school. The point is to teach. to actually teach. Not to check boxes in ever-decreasing circles, but to take steps in ever-increasing bounds. We want to engender a culture of wanting to learn. Not being tricked into it. We seem to have an obsession with 'tricking' children into learning, and that we have to 'complete' sections of education. The education is something that can be 'finished'. Screw that. Lets change the ethic. We're trying to change the ethic.

There is a lot of top down dictum in education. A lot of people making their own decisions and a lot of people below them just 'doing their best' is spite of this. Is it your best? Is it the version of you that you want to be? Be your own hero. We are. We are trying to change education one student at a time, one school at a time. Part of it, though, is who we are surrounding ourselves with; Passionate people who believe in themselves and their causes. People who question the status quo and value their own learning as much as their students. This might sound horribly arrogant, but I am starting to realise that teachers easily become very negative. It is very easy in staffrooms for teachers to enter spirals of negativity that effect our working lives. Instead of being proud of what we do, we surround ourselves with people who bring us down. The school that I have been temping at as a cover supervisor is quite close to the new school, and I have been innundated with negative energy about what we are trying to do in September. We are seen as a threat and a risk and a group of people playing at education. It has worn me down at times and given me undue doubts, but then the moment I have conversations with the other September teachers I am instantly filled with excitement. It's been fiercely dichotomous. I have found myself feeling displaced from both. But then I started to ponder, then wonder, then with enlightened wonderment filled myself with hope. Then I realised it wasn't hope. It was the feeling I should have.

I Love This Job.

I have missed it, and being a cover teacher has just entrenched this by showing me a pale imitation of what teaching is. I want to be around other people who aren't curbed by some underhand need to whine. Now I whine a lot, I know, but I will never tell anyone that I don't love my job. And, I reckon most of you do, too. You are reading blogs about teaching. You are on Twitter. You care. And most of you seen to want to change teaching so that it is more teaching, and less bullshit. So get the people around you who believe in what you believe in and start changing what you want to change at the ground level, and make sure people know what you're doing and how you're doing it. Don't suffer dictum in silence. Build narratives between teachers and other teachers, between teachers and students, between students and students. Make your own environment. Talk to each other. Come out of your classrooms and share practice. Don't be afraid of being observed by your peers, or of collaborating with other subjects or other schools. Don't be afraid to take ownership of yourself.

Be a heroine. Be a hero. Be the teacher you want to be. Don't be afraid to be positive about things you believe in because, you know what? You believe in them. Be the most positive person you can be about what you want to be positive about. This process of preparing to open a new school has taught me to be proud of my ideas and proud to be positive. It's a strange thing, but I feel like much of the education system, both as a profession and a public service, rewards a lack of ingenuity. I want to stop that. I am with other people who want to stop that, and we're stepping up to the plate. Fancy going up to your own?

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Planning backwards

I read this blog post this week, and I thought about one of the major points, that is, planning backwards from A-level. In September, I am going to be Lead Teacher of English at a new school where I am the only English teacher (Department nights out are going to be wild (or, alternatively, just me, in the pub, on my own, crying, into a half drunk pint of absinthe.))

Anyway. I like this idea of planning back from A-level, but I also thought about planning forward from A-level. As in, I want to plan the student that I want to leave my department, so I sat down and started to think about that student. I asked myself a very simple question: How will I describe the eighteen year old student graduating my school? Specifically, a student with an A-level in English. I jotted down a few traits before a reasonably important realisation:

The Student:
  • Well Read 
  • Respectfully Outspoken
  • Creative
  • Pragmatic
  • Confident
  • Respectfully Cynical
  • Able to Find Perspective
  • Positive.
I thought, not a bad list. The student would be able to stand up for what they believe in, and root their beliefs in an appreciation of others. They would be calm and confidant, speak well, but not try and overly control others. A great, and it was here that I found a word that has fallen a little out of fashion recently, citizen. A Great Citizen. An Ideal. My Ideal,yes, and therefore fallible and imperfect, but an ideal adult, to an extent.

This is not, then, planning back from the qualification, this is planning back from the person. This is end-result holistic planning. Notice how many of those goals are achievable in English. Go on, have a look, I'll wait.

Back? Good, let's begin.

Planning has become an exercise in filling time. Or times maybe (S operative.). It is an exercise in picking out nice neat little Lego blocks and lining them up to make a perfect shape. But that isn't really planning at all. What that is is filing. Filing children away. Planning in order to place children from the future through the present and into the past. That is not, though, how things really work.

The child that turns up in September is just a version of a later adult. That later adult exists in a plural form and is irrevocably linked to the child. It will be affected by a million unforeseeable circumstances, but if it is guided by an expectation of it being exceptional then the negative versions of itself will slide away. When was the last time you thought about the potential adult that your lesson was effecting? When was the last time you really thought about long term planning in the real long term? A lot of schools are happy to paint words like 'Success' and 'Resilience' about their doors, or write it under the crests on their blazers, but how much does that influence the actual teaching? And what does that mean? I would think that for most schools success means something that arrives in an envelope in a few weeks time, not a moment of clarity in thirty years.

Planning is not about lessons, not about blocks of time. Think of it more as painting a model. When you paint a model you have to lay down the basecoat, and it has to be right. If it doesn't quite stick or is the wrong shade then later the model will be a mess. As you go on the areas of work become smaller and smaller until you are dotting the eyes with a brush with a single hair. The thing is, that all the way through you are painting the same model, and working with the same ideal, it is just that you do the basic things first and work towards an end result that is incredibly complex. Planning is this. Plan for the best adult, and the student will become that.


It's all in the name

I am an 'Outstanding' teacher, in an 'Outstanding' school, and I am being bullied, day after day, by a group of year seven students.

When I ask them to do something, they ignore me.
When I ask them again, they ask me why?
When explain, they tell me that they don't have to.
When I tell them they do, they tell me they don't.
When I threaten them with detention, they tell me they won't turn up.
When I tell them to move seats, or leave the classroom, they laugh in my face.
When I send for on-call, they are suddenly silent, obedient. The on-call teachers, for the most part, look at me as if I'm mad. They look as if I have no idea what I'm doing. I ask for detentions; no-one turns up. I ask for sanctions; nothing happens.

Perhaps I make too much of a job title, but I know this truth to be self-evident: I am a cover supervisor, and for a great swathe of students this very fact obliterates my face and replaces it with a target. Teaching, at its very core, is a balance between behaviour management and the ability to convey information. There are many other factors, but at its core, these are two essential traits. I am not here to talk about conveying information, ideas and skills, for that has become nigh on impossible for me. I am here to talk about when behaviour management becomes impossible. because a single thing is broken: Not hearts, nor minds, (although mine are beginning to unravel) but the facade of repercussions.

You are more than welcome to disagree, but in my opinion behaviour management is based on a lie, and that lie is the the teacher somehow wields a power over the students that is unbreakable. Students fear things. Some fear detentions, or their parents, or being shouted at, but when it all boils down and dries out to the white grainy stuff that really screws up non-stick pans, students wield an overpowering amount of, well, power. Any class is only a smidgen of self-awareness away from breaking the spirit of a teacher. There is a moment when the class becomes the mob. They realise that the teacher is, essentially, powerless; that they cannot stop everyone at once. That, if their transgressions are spread wide enough and loud enough, there is no way that they can be controlled. In short, you can't kick a whole class out.

The cover teacher, then, is an easy victim. They rarely know names, rarely know systems and protocol, and regularly have to deliver boring textbook work. The cover teacher has difficulty building any positive relationships because their job is profoundly to tell students what to do. For students, the pervasive culture is that the cover teacher is a target, and they turn as entire classes towards this. Detentions are hard to set without a classroom, or names, or any knowledge of protocol and escalation. Other staff are too busy with their own work to adopt classes from others and so minor transgressions go ignored and this escalates. The next time a class is covered they ratchet up their behaviour and have no way back. There is no reset button for children gone feral.

So I'm another cover teacher being treated like shit by student after student, day after day, and I just put up with it and do whatever I can to make my life a little easier, all the time knowing that the students' time is being wasted, partly by themselves, and partly by a system which fails to support. But I think what is behind this is a tacit acceptance that a cover lesson is allowed to be wasted. This, surely, is indicative of a pervasive culture; that learning, and work, are only valued and accepted by students when they are told that they are in an environment that they are conditioned to appreciate. How sad is that? That we have engendered a culture in students that they only look to learning in little blocks. I (probably irrationally) blame learning objectives. This is learning, we tattoo on their little faces. This is it. I am the lord of teaching and listen up, we shout at the top of our teaching voices, because I am about to show you measurable learning. Look at my almighty powerpoint, for looking into it's depths will reveal to you the secrets of your future. Now go and write a fucking poem in groups.

And then, all the while this happens, it is children that suffer. Their wonderment is worn down and worn away until their belief is such that value is only placed on these things that they are told are important. And then beyond this they become fixated with the same culture of accountability that we do. They only listen to the people that tell them to listen to them the most. They only do what they think is directly related to their grades. They are being receded into something basic, and ignorant, and unthinking. We feed them only the food that we think they need, and this dry boredom means that any change is feared and becomes the catalyst for real nastiness. The mob only likes the driest of chicken, and if it is not fed it, it will gladly roast piggy, glasses or no.

Perhaps I am over thinking this whole affair. Perhaps I just keep seeing a class that is genuinely nasty. All I know is this; In my former job I pressed the dreaded on call button twice over two years. I the last six months as a cover teacher I have pressed it almost every day.

I am an 'outstanding' teacher in an 'outstanding' school, and I cannot control a group of year sevens and I don't know what to do about that anymore.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Inspire me, I dare you.

It has become the opium of the masses for those who gaze with longing eyes on the pay packet of the Senior Leader. It's perfect little form must fit, must be the right size for the pre-formatted box, or as I am seeing increasingly, it must fit between the windows of the corridor, to be read once by a proud director and then forgotten to the slowly abrasing elbows and shoulder of a thousand rushing, barging, ignoring students. It is that haven of soundbite; the inspirational quotation. It is the Quote of the Week. The appropriated gobbet that holds within its words some pervasive message of peace, of hope, of hard work paid off, but it really just sits still, bathing in the blissful ignorance of one long dead. I told you I was ill, he said.

But alas, If the opium of the masses is the (in)famous quotation, then I am on harder stuff. I am the smoker with the hand-rolled cigar, the craft bear drinker, and I wear a tweed cap. Ironically, of course. I love a quotation, but I can't stand the humdrumery (definitely a real word) of so many of them. They are chosen and presented without thought, without care and without any student consideration. I apologise if this next statement pulls tears into the eyes of some aspiring Ministers for Education, but painting quotations on walls and putting them on boards during form time to sit with little to no acknowledgement doesn't make students cleverer. It doesn't make them more conscientious or aspiring because for the most part the quotations that swill around the hi-tops of students on their diurnal passage look as if they have been saved up from Christmas crackers.

I like quotations that come from unlikely places. I love those that are challenging to preconceptions. I adore those that are unique. Anyone can find a quotation that talks about how hard you have to work to be a great success, or how every child is a unique little butterfly. So how about showing your students a different angle? Perhaps the gravitas of:

  Two possibilities exist: Either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying. – Arthur C Clark

Or maybe, to counteract "It'll be okay" syndrome:

This is your life, and it's ending one minute at a time. – Chuck Palahniuk (Fight Club)

 Why not use these moments of un-curriculumed freedom to have a look at events from a alternative perspectives:

We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita; "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." I suppose we all thought that, one way or another. – Robert Oppenheimer, Inventor of the Atomic Bomb

But these are perhaps too conventional still. How about any of these:

Who was the first man to look at a house full of objects and to immediately assess them only in terms of what he could trade them in for in the market likely to have been? Surely he can only have been a thief. – David Graeber

You can go home again, the General Temporal Theory asserts, so long as you understand that home is a place where you have never been. – Ursula Le Guin

If you want to watch telly, go watch Scooby Doo. That programme was so cool; every time there was a church with a ghoul, or a ghost in a school, they looked beneath the mask. And what was inside? The janitor, or the dude who ran the water slide. Because throughout history, every mystery, ever solved, has turned out to be not magic. - Tim Minchin

When I went to the Yellow Cab Company I passed the Cancer Building and I remembered that there were worse things than looking for a job you didn't want. – Charles Buckowski

If they give you lined paper, write the other way. – Juan Jimenez (also the preface to Fahrenheit 451)

I think of writing as a sculptural medium. You are not building things. You are removing things, chipping away at language to reveal a living form. – Will Self

Being God isn't easy. If you do too much, people get dependent on you, and if you do nothing, they lose hope. You have to use a light touch. Like a safecracker, or a pickpocket. – Futurama
My advice is stand firm for what you believe in, until and unless logic and experience prove you wrong. Remember, when the emperor looks naked, the emperor is naked. The truth and the lie are not "sort of" the same thing. And there's no aspect, no facet, no moment in life that can't be improved with pizza. Thank you. – Daria Morgendorffer
I had to look in the dictionary
To find out the meaning of unrequited
While she was giving herself for free
At a party to which I was never invited
- Billy Bragg

1. You can't win. 2. You can't break even. 3. You can't even get out of the game. – Ginsberg’s Theorum

I have never found anywhere, in the domain of art, that you don't have to walk to. (There is quite an array of jets, buses and hacks which you can ride to Success; but that is a different destination.) It is a pretty wild country. There are, of course, roads. Great artists make the roads; good teachers and good companions can point them out. But there ain't no free rides, baby. No hitchhiking. And if you want to strike out in any new direction — you go alone. With a machete in your hand and the fear of God in your heart. – Ursula Le Guin

Most of the wind happens where there are trees. - Paul Muldoon

Look at all those things. Lovely ain't they. But my greatest advice? Find some of your own, from people you respect, and then you can talk about their words to your students. All of the aforementioned will be used from September, along with trucks and trucks of others; an ever changing cloud of words that turn black and rain and snow and then open up to the sun but never fail to have an impact because they are part of a dynamic conversation.I think that the current teaching ethic is one that rewards stasis. Despite its outspoken chagrin of coasting, it rewards systems that stay the same. But ideas that put things in place. Hmmm. Putting things in place. That is a vile little goblin in itself. Stop putting things in place, because that just means that they are to be left. If you paint something on a wall it will be ignored because that is its inevitable function. Talk, change, EXIST AS A CONVERSATION.

Just, in all this quoting and quothing, remember:

A witty saying proves nothing. - Voltaire

Oh, shit. I think that's just formed a paradox. 


Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Out of order

I've been hearing this phrase a lot recently:

That's well out of order

and it's been grating on me. I hear it a lot from students, and very occasionally from staff about students who say it a lot in some kind of reflective ironic joke. The staff will grow out of it, but I'm not sure that the students will, because they seem to be indulged again and again, not just in my school but nationally. Perhaps internationally, in the Anglo-centric forum at least.

What grates me, as if I am the most sweatily warm of own-brand cheddars, is that students appear to be confusing truth with unfairness. Or, perhaps not truth, but honesty. An example, I hear you cry from the orchestra pit, well: I was wondering through a school recently, when two teachers walked along the bottom of a stairwell of whose stairs I was, well, walking down, behind two unbeknowing students, chewing. One teacher said to the other

'I'm so frustrated with him. I've put on revision classes after school every day and he always says that he is coming and never turns up.'

to which the other, their line manager, replied:

'You've done everything you can. If they want to fail, then let them fail.'

The students in front of me, bedawdelling their way down the stairs, piped up at this point.

'Did you hear that? That's peak that is.'
'Yeah, well out of order.'

I stopped, then, on the stairs, and waited for the students to go. It was lunchtime, and I had no need to enter a convoluted defence of an ethic that the students clearly didn't care for. I was, however, galled. Disbelieving.

Perhaps it is just me who sees the fundamental issue at the core of this little anecdote, perhaps it is not. I believe, firmly, that teachers have a duty to provide as much as is possible for their students, but I also believe that students need to learn that, for most of their lives, very few people will go out of their way to help them. Life is a tough old place, and people lose jobs and go bankrupt on 'That's out of order' attitudes.

I feel like this entitlement to a teacher's daily misery is propagated by the unrealistic standards set by government on achievement and that this in some way reflects upon teachers. To illustrate, there is that old idiom: You can't do the exam for them. Unfortunately, it would seem, teachers are being forced into a scenario where they feel like they have to and students are beginning to get wind of this, and it is creating a cancerous, damaging attitude of entitlement, as if many students know that their teachers will be judged on their progress and so assume that teachers simply will not let them fail. The adage of failure not being an option has been inverted from an expectation into a student-led tacit threat. You can't do that, you're not allowed to let me fail, is becoming a rousing chant of an increasing number of lacklustre students.

To finish: A friend of mine rang me recently. (Yes that's right, I have a friend)He is a sports coach at a very big and successful club. I asked him how his team were going to do this year and he said, quite nonchalantly, we'll do okay, but we just don't have the personnel. I was awestruck; what a refreshing attitude. Sometimes you don't get the students, and it's not your fault as a teacher that all their parents seemed to have only drunk Lead-Based Sunny Delight while pregnant. (unless it was, of course, and then you should be rightfully ashamed.)

If they really want to fail, who are we to stop them? All we can do is explain the consequences, teach as best we can, and afford the opportunities. It is their life to live.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

You Can Be Anything You Want To Be

I would like you all, as a class, to imagine that you are all grown adults and, as we have told you that you all can, you have achieved all of your dreams. So, close your eyes now, and think. You are waking up on a wonderful day in perfect town, where you all live. You have got up and dressed and you are now on your way to work. Now, remember, each of you will be different in your goals, but you are all on your way to work. Some of you will walk. Some of you might ride a fancy road bike. Others will have an expensive car. Maybe you'll drive it, maybe you won't, but your on your way to work. You've left your lovely house, perhaps it's in the suburbs, maybe it contains a wife, or a husband, or two cats and a dog. Maybe it's up a private track behind a set of ornate gates or maybe it is high up at the penthouse of a skyscraper. Sorry. I sidetrack. So, you are on your way to work. You have a smile on your face and it is a wonderful day for you to be alive and so you think; what better way to get to work than with a nice fresh coffee, or tea, or maybe a hot breakfast and so you check your watch but you know that work won't mind because, I imagine, most of you own your own companies, or work for yourselves, or maybe you don't work but, hey, you're going out for a coffee anyway. So you, living your perfect life, amongst other people living out the dreams we've told you that you can all work hard and have, walk up to the till to buy a coffee and my question to you is:

Who is serving you that coffee?

Which of the other students, other dreamers in this room doesn't get to live out their dreams because they have to serve you your latte? Who stands there, and smiles and secretly hates you and themselves and looks, jealously, upon your perfection and serves you your coffee? Whose dream is in the dust amongst the floor?

But you don't worry about this, because you got your dream. Someone didn't, but that wasn't you. You're doing fine. So you get to work, and you turn in your projects, and everyone loves you and you're doing just cracking. So you say to everyone that you're just popping out to grab some lunch, and so you pop into the supermarket to grab a few things and maybe one of those nice sandwiches as a treat. And you pick up your things, and put them in a basket, and you go up to the till and there is another person, sat there, passing things she can't afford in front of a scanner, because she didn't get her dream. But don't worry: your teacher said that you were going to get your dream, so you did. But. Wait. Her teacher told that to her as well. And she worked, didn't she? Or did she just think she was working? Did she just want her dream a bit, whereas you wanted yours a lot. You wanted yours more than anything else.

But there's, perhaps, another story behind this. Maybe that Coffee guy is living his dream, just not yet. Maybe he's at night school, or he's writing a book. Maybe that till girl is working so she can pay for uni. They are doing this because they value their education. They value their dreams. Their dreams change things. They fulfill their operators and they make the world different. Maybe Coffee guy is a volunteer lifeboat man, and checkout girl is a thesbian in the evenings, or she's researching something minute and underfunded but fulfilling.

So is your dream really your dream or is it just a bit of a concession? And, and here is a dangerous thought, does your dream actually matter? Does your lovely dream job contribute to anything? Does it make things better? does it make you better? What has happened in this wonderful dream day that has changed the world?

Your teachers are increasingly preparing students for lives where you either fail to live up to your own expectations, or live up to expectations that are, frankly, useless. You will graduate school to get jobs that allow you to do exactly the same things that you are doing at school; performing the minimum in tasks in order to spend the rest of your hours browsing the internet and documenting your humdrum lives for others to browse. You will participate in a great amorphous mass of perpetuating nothingness. You will be happy, sort of, but you will be doing jobs that have been created, essentially, so that people have jobs. Our economy is the preserve of the service industry. Most people don't really do anything except move things around so that other people can move them back.

Most of you will be perfectly content with this. You will stop doing arts, and sciences, and humanities and you will lose interest in pursuing anything. There is an interesting term: Pursuing. Pursuit of learning, of fulfillment through personal improvement is, surely, the point of life (in lieu of having any concrete theological solution (If God in any form suddenly appears and tells us the point of humanity was achieved in 1981, with the invention of the potato waffle, then I will gladly rescind this post*)). It doesn't need a label, it doesn't need anyone to qualify it with an EBACC or a sticker or a sew-on badge. Your dreams are consistently pigeon-holed into sensible twenty-first century friendly boxes: I want to be an accountant when I grow up. I really want to work in sales. No-one wants these things. Not really. These things barely exist. Every one of should want to change the world. Content is a dirty word. Content is a word sold to you by people who can profit from your quiet obedience. You should want to live without dead time. You should aspire not to be cogs. The problem, of course, is alluded to in the start of this little talk. Not everyone gets everything they want or, what they want is useless. So, what is there to do? To do, is to remind you that life isn't a desk. Life is in your heart. Life is in your head. Life is your own fulfillment, not your teacher's or your boss's. But please, for your own sakes, be ambitious. Care. Give a shit how your insignificant spark of life on this tiny planet in some backwater of the galaxy is spent. You probably only get this, and your dying every single second. To quote Fight Club, This is your life, and it's ending one minute at a time. Go out and be a revolutionary. Go and, to quote Whip It, be your own hero.

Here endeth the assembly.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Teaching With Epilepsy

One day, about three years ago, someone said something very strange to me. It was quite a simple statement and, oddly, I cannot quite remember it verbatim. I can tell you where it happened; on the steps leading onto the Mall at the bottom of Regent Street. I also can’t tell you who it was that said it. I know it was a man, and I know second hand that they were an off-duty paramedic. What they asked me, pretty much, was how long I’d been epileptic. This was strange for two reasons. Firstly, because I didn’t have a clue where I was, or what was going on and secondly, because the only thing I did know was that I’m not epileptic. Well. I wasn’t epileptic. Or at least I didn’t think that I was.

I was diagnosed with epilepsy soon after I developed it at age 23. I had a couple of seizures; it would appear, before the above mentioned one had me taken by pure chance to St Thomas’ hospital in central London. It was quite a worrying time, especially when my neurologist told me what it was that had caused those seizures; Reading. I am allergic to reading. Not Reading (the large Berkshire town (which wouldn’t, actually, be a terrible thing to be allergic to. (Although it does have a sizeable HMV and a really good Waterstones)) But reading. Books. I am allergic to books. I was told this mere months before starting my PGCE in Secondary English. Oh doesn’t life hand us the greatest of ironies?

A note, A little deviation: I do not suffer from a particularly bad variety of Epilepsy. I average about a seizure every few months. Effectively, I have the Epilepsy version of a badly sprained ankle. Many people don’t really have the first idea what entails epilepsy. They think that if you stare into a flashing light you have a little twitch on the floor. I stare into flashing lights all the time. I’ve even done the doctor’s test for photosensitive epilepsy (it’s horrible) and I am most definitely not floored by flashing lights. A decent book on a long railway journey however, and the entirety of the First Great Western railway network is all kinds of flashing delayed signs.

However infrequent, I have pretty bad seizures; the kind that cause you to be unconscious and twitch and bite the sides of your tongue off. The kind where, when you come to and try and phone someone, you can’t unlock the screen despite the code being your date of birth. (This, I’m afraid, actually happens. I am now banned from having phone pincodes). I read somewhere that having a seizure causes the same fatigue as running a marathon, but I am always pretty sceptical of this sort of arbitrary comparison.

I was diagnosed just before the beginning of my PGCE and my offer had well and truly been accepted. Theoretically, I guess, I could have just rung up the university and explained to them and gone back to the very average receptionist job that I was temping in until the course started and then just lived out a life of being wholeheartedly boring and regretful. I don’t really go in for that sort of avoidance of adversity so I just got on with it without thinking and then, suddenly, on my first placement, people starting making a fuss of me, asking if I was alright and if there was anything they could do and suchlike and I had difficulty in (and even as writing this I can’t quite find the verb.) achieving the humility required to actually admit that I was different in my needs. We tailor so much to our students because of so many things but we are often too proud to admit that we need help. Or maybe sometimes we are just a little surprised that people actually ask if we need help.

I used to talk to my students about my condition. I think that it is important to be an ambassador for epilepsy. There is this great fear of revealing anything to students about ourselves but I don’t see the point in avoiding a situation where students can be holistically educated. I didn’t walk into a classroom and say ‘Hi, I’m your new English Teacher and I’m an epileptic.’ But if a student follows me along the conversational road of why I get the train to school and not drive I don’t see a reason not to explain why the DVLA took my licence away.

It is a central responsibility as teachers to be carers. One of my students asked me once to adopt her and I’m not entirely sure she was kidding. But how can I care for others when I can’t guarantee that I can care for myself? That is the fear. That I should never really have been doing this profession and so, when the post-seizure sadness comes across me and I spend a few days staring into the middle distance because I can’t trust myself to read then I tell myself that what I can do is use my experience to teach my students something. I can teach them what epilepsy is. And what it means to live with it, even in my diluted form. And what is most important is that I can teach them what it taught me: That sometimes life is annoying enough to seem cruel and it’s not personal or, even if it is personal, if you think of it in that way it will ruin you. So all you can do is quote Vonnegut with ‘So It Goes’ and get on with what you wanted to do anyway. And I’ll wear purple trousers on national epilepsy day and I’ll give an assembly or two and I won’t be afraid. Because having an illness is just a thing that happens. And I won’t let it stop me doing anything.

As regular readers will know, I have taken a little sabbatical from teaching to go back to university and study for a masters under the false assumption that I look just about young enough not to be a creepy mature student. I have to read a lot but I know that it is what I want to do. I have to run the risks because if I just coup up and cry about it then I won’t get the chances again. I won’t lie, things are tough. I spend a lot of time worrying. Seizures aren’t nice. When I’m about to have one I lose control of my internal monologue and it just spews words out at random. I can’t speak so I can’t warn anyone what is about to happen. Then I black out. When I come to I’ve normally bitten off both sides of my tongue and I don’t really know what’s going on. I wouldn’t wish them on my worst enemy. I also don’t expect sympathy for it. I can’t change it, but I have had to change me a bit. I still get fed up with people telling me to be careful though. It gets annoying, but I know that they care.

I will go back to teaching, I am sure of it. And I hope that I am surrounded by staff as accepting and kind as those were at my last school. They gave a shit, regularly and compassionately. They gave me lifts, helped me with marking and made sure I was okay. When I did have seizures they covered me the next day and forced me to stay at home. They were probably a good chunk of the reason I never had a seizure in front of children. I never wanted students to suffer because of me.

It’s taken me quite a long time to write this article and I still don’t really know why it exists. It’s part motivational speech to myself, part plea for wider awareness and, I hope, a little bit of inspiration for others in similar situations. It’s amazing how helpful your friends and colleagues can be, and what you can get through if you really want to. Right now I am sat in a university library surrounded by books that I am allergic to, and I couldn’t be happier.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015


This post is about fictions, and as such, it is entirely real.

Ali is not a real student. There is a real student called Ali. There are many of them, but there is also one in particular. There are also many students who are fictional Alis. These Alis are to Ali what fiction is to fact; an overlay. Perhaps to understand the fictional factual Student Ali, I must first tell the tale of the factual fictional student Calamity Teacher. I will not call this student Ali, because that would be confusing, yet Calamity Teacher is far too unwieldy and unyielding. Therefore instead I will rename our factual, although fictional, Calamity Teacher key to Ali, Ally.

Ally was a good sportsman, and the past tense article there is important despite the very presentness of this article's past. Ally was a good sportsman, and this insured that Ally's presence in lessons seemed more past than present. Ally, though, unperturbed by the tolling bell of exam hell, was safe in the knowledge that he possessed safe knowledge to ensure safety in exams assessing knowledge. In short, he lacked the impetus to drive himself to achieve higher than was absolutely necessary as was mandated by the stern looks of teachers and the government directed scales of improvement. So Ally worked away tiredlessly instead of tirelessly, although with sport sure to prevent a middle-aged spare tire he tired not of dreaming of himself in a future present dreaming of a future present past glory sat among the medals of a schoolboy's present future. So he daydreamed like an innocent Lucia away with faeries concocted, not of real things, but of hopes for real things, leading him further and further way from the concreteness of bits of paper, stamped as were, and instead posted fanmail to himself that read with things like 'you're my inspiration' and 'I dream of being like you' so like a listless wanderer who carries on and on around the world first stepping through ports that look and sound familiar to home but just jar slightly in colour and then sets sail until they cannot see home and lose the concreteness of whether it existed at all and whether it actually happened whatsoever and so lands somewhere that is so different the traveler's eyes lose sense of what they are meant to see, instead preferring to see all that is different as the same and all that is the same as null and void and off through deserts the wondering walks, alone but carried through by ever-fading memories of origin, or purpose, or point, and endless walks the traveller, world-weary yet still walking, sets foot again on boat and finds himself in a new, strange land so different from the one he left he realises that there must be no explanation for it except that it is his home.

So Ally didn't care for school, and nor did school for Ally, but she persevered through testing times and managed through the changes of life, until becoming, average grades in hand, A teacher, not a sportsperson. Because, for all the missing        , and the shouting at teachers with assured, and quite correct superiority, Ally was but a child that didn't know their way and didn't find it until a few kind words from wordsmiths of a certain kind convinced him that he was the talent she always thought she was, it was just for it to work then for it work for it then was the clear and obvious solution. It was realization that mattered so much, not unreality.

So from Ally to Ali and back again to Ally, in a way. Ally falls to Ali as Ali falls to Ally, away from both and still together. Ali was a student, fictionalised in his factuality, that in him Ally saw a version of him so true that Ali could have be Ally, for all he was worth, with a rapacious intellect but not of the impetus to carry through more than just, 'that'll do'. He had that natural turn of phrase that sits and dwells and eats up days in lucid, lingering wonderment, and almost heaven-sent gift of words. And in that package of Ally that Ally saw in Ally he interposed the trueness of his own life. He placed his ever-present past onto the present future of an Ali he saw as Ally, and therefore assumed that this boy who had no time for her lessons, would one day become a caring, compassionate individual, the likes of which Ally saw, or hoped to see, ever day mirrored in the bathroom mirror,because Ali was not Ally, in any frame of mind or time but the obsession had grown and grown bigger and monumental. It became all-encompassing, woefully universal. All Ally could see was Ally, despite the assertions of those that could see only Ali. And, of course, because there is a moral to every tale, Ali did not become Ally. He merely became another Ali, one slightly further into the future of what was now the past but had been the present and this Ali, despite the efforts of another Ally, was no Ally.

Ally's past mistakes were still past mistakes and Ali's present ones did nothing to change this. When Ali did not show signs of becoming a better Ally, Ally blamed Ali for not being the Al that she felt he should have been and blamed herself, her past self, her future self and a trifecta of portraits of a different Ali to that which really existed in the past, present or future. But really it was a mistake to paint an honest face on an already dishonest portrait. It is always a mistake to overlay one's self onto the selves in one's charge because cannot be more than one, as in it can only ever be a singular, and every other singular only a singular and not a plural form and so, either one judges oneself as oneself or one judges another one as oneself; something that is always a fallacy of being. One cannot be more than one man or women, and when children are involved they are not a multitude of ones, or rather, they are each ones in their own right, stood as they are beneath one head and in one's charge. One must remain one, and , that is to say, share one's self by being one's self and knowing that every other self is just as unique and just, but not exactly as unique and just as the self, that is your self, or one self, that views it. Ally thought that Ali could atone for past mistakes, but Ally forgot. The past is past, and the future is a place where other people live.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

How To Build Your New Academy.

With all this new legislation, there is going to be an awful lot of new academies and free schools knocking around in the near future, and the rate they'll be getting through head teachers, you never know when you'll get the call up to the Big Chair.

Now we all know that the two most important things for a head about opening a new academy are six figure salaries getting your photo on the front page of the local dishrag and getting to design your own logos. In this heady 21st century world of myBook and friendFace branding is everything. The iPod generation treat their schools like they treat their, well, iPods. Every school needs to have a focus, a specialty, an ouvre. You have to stand out if you want to be on the front page on the TES.

Now, we know that we can't all be out-of-the-box, blue-sky thinkers; that's what we have educational consultants for. So, if you have all the creative talent of that year nine boy whose name you've forgotten, then you can use the table below to create a totally awesome corporate identity bound to impress the Department of Education like nothing you've ever seen.

Just follow the table down, selecting an option from each row and you'll find yourself with your perfect brand within minutes!

Thank you for your time and good bye, I'm afraid I'd write more but I have to go to a very important meeting about the opening of the West Medway Learning Community Multicultural Free Academy.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

How Many Letters are There in Head Teacher?

Yesterday I asked a non-teaching friend of mine a very pointed question. He didn't see the point because he didn't know the context until afterwards, but the question was this:

What is the lowest qualification you would need before you put it after your name on an email?

Interesting question, that. I thought, anyway. He thought a little, and we mulled, and I asked him a further question:

If you were the Head teacher of a school and your name was written on that school's sign, what is the lowest qualification you would need before you started listing them after your name?

He came to a reasonable consensus with himself that an MA was questionable but a PHD was a definite. At some point, I guess, that you are considering why I asked my embattled friend this set of traps entirely set to facilitate my own particular brand of oral diatribe. The seed of inspiration for these questions was my journey to University. I just happened to be stopped at a set of lights when, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed fine old building and happened upon, by virtue of its sign, the knowledge that this was a centre, nay, institution, intended for the education of the minds of those knee-high and circle-running. And there, in a place that I must say I was surprised that I had never seen it before, for, be it maybe tree-leef covered, it was bright blue and yellow and littered here and there with letters.

So I, knowing that my time at rest was limited by the lights, hastily took in the name of the school and its specialties and honours and then, half-hidden, but in clearplain sight, at the very base of the sign was, in prouder letters you could rarely see, the name of she whose charge the school was in. In big bright letters her name went on and then it went on again and then again it went on passed the normal place a name would be and there were letters on their own. Or perhaps best described as Letters; All capitals. BA (Hons) PGCE. And then the lights changed and I was on my sun-dappled way and in between trying best not to die, I wondered what possessed anyone to declare, loud, right there, the qualifications inherent to their occupation. I would think the gravitas of being Headmistress was enough. Is it not enough? Not enough to be excellent? Instead everyone who walks passed has to see that you did go to university and lo did you pass the very exams and essays and hurdles and forays that are required for your name to be on the board.

What makes me sad about this, and it really does make me sad, is it devalues the point of being a head teacher/principal/overlord. Headteachers are meant to be headteachers because they are really fucking good at developing students. Ooooh, strange that, isn't it? the idea that a Head is there because of their students, and not because of the letters after their name. Letters, I add because it's relevant, that are the same as 90% of their own teaching staff. I think that I am somewhat evangelical about the motivation of teaching, but I think that our profession is losing a lot of selflessness on the way. I really hate the savage careerism that is being written into the education lexicon. This is why I don't like the rubric of schemes like TeachFirst, because they press teaching as a viable alternative to big city careers. It isn't It's not an alternative because it isn't the same. I have no problem with people who want to be bankers and accountants and middle managers (actually I do, but not in the way I don't like TeachFirst), but teaching is not the same, in the same way that teaching is not the same as being a paramedic or a volunteer firefighter. Teaching is about children, not you. It's not about the letters after your name or how big you can print the letters of your name on a great big sign on a great big trunk road. Do you even need your name there? No. What you need is the phone number of your school so that you are accessible, and if you really want to brag about qualifications, brag about the ones that you students get.


Mr. Calum Mittie Ba (Hons) PGCE BAGA (lvl 5)

Saturday, 31 January 2015

How I Imagine Pay Negotiations Should Go

Headteacher: Hello, Please come in. Take a seat. Can I send my PA to go and get you a cup of tea?
Me: Oh, cheers, yes please.
PA: How do you take it?
Me: No sugar, but an almost obscene amount of milk.
Head: Excellent choice. Well done. How are you finding the school?
Me: Yeah I have fun. It's a great school. I enjoy working here.
Head: Well, Great. We love having you here too.
Me: Thanks.
Head: Good. To business. We'd like to offer you a ridiculous amount of money to continue working for us at this school.
Me: Well, I'm afraid that is not going to be enough. A ridiculous amount just doesn't cut it. I'm afraid I am going to need an obscene amount of cash instead.
Head: I like your chops. I think we'd be doing you down by paying you an obscene amount of cash. We're going to put a package together for you including an unbelievably stupid amount of money instead.
Me: It'll be tough to live on that, but I think I can get by.
Head: How about you get this chocolate cake as well. Right now.
Me: It is a pleasure doing business with you.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

An Open Letter to Whoever Stole My Bike

To Whoever it is That Stole my Bike Tonight,

Yes, sure I am angry. Sure that tears were shed. But my overriding attitude towards you is pity. Pity, because you will never have the experiences that I had on that machine, because that was more than a machine to me. That bike was my life.

I remember the day, nine years ago, when I was given it by my parents for my eighteenth birthday. The sheer unbridled joy of the thing. The wonderment of the thing, the sheer speed of being smitten by it. I remember the summer rides, the commuting to my first real job, the hard times riding in the snow and the good times riding with friends, old and new in the summer sun, wheels whirring on hot tarmac summer lanes under sieve-skied leaf-strewn skies.

You won't get to have those memories. You won't get the excitement of new parts lovingly installed. The oily sparkle of components under late-night-garage-light. Even if you do exactly the same things that I did, with exactly the same people, you will never love that bike as much as I do.

So, what are you going to do with it? I guess you'll sell it. Maybe you already have. I hope you get a massive amount of money for it, because if you're out stealing bikes then I guess you must need it. Just so you know, I am a student, currently paying for a Masters degree out of my overdraft and my savings. Over the past two weeks I applied for jobs at four shops and three coffee shops. None of them got back to me. Next week, hopefully, I will have a job that will keep me going thanks, in part, to good friends. Now my finances are going to have to cover the taxis and extra trains I will need. But regardless of where my money goes. I will have good friends.

There is something that, however much money you collect. can't buy. It's my freedom. I am not allowed to drive. Being diagnosed with epilepsy four years ago took my license away from me. Did you know that? No. I guessed not. I guessed that you didn't think about who was on the other end of you little bolt-cutter adventure. That bike represents the last vestiges of freedom of transport I have. So when you stole my bike you made my life a mass more difficult. Not terminally, not painfully, perhaps. But it's going to be more than an annoyance.

So there will be other bikes. People have already offered to lend me them. My house insurance should help out, and I am surrounded by loving, caring people who I'm sure will offer me help without me asking at all. In the long term this may not affect me that much, really. But still. Still. You have stolen my bike and that is the point, isn't it. It is my bike. It is not yours. You have stolen my bike. It will never be yours.

Thank you.
You have successfully ruined more than my day.

If I Had My Way...

I imagine that as teachers we have all had the same fantasy. (WHAT? - editor) No. Not the one with the people dressed up as animals. No. The one where someone suddenly bursts into your classroom and tells you that the government has decided that you, and only you, are the Minister for Education that Gotham Albion deserves.

You're thinking about it now, aren't you? You're thinking about your perfect school. About what you would do. So. What would you? Abolish the independent sector? Pay EVERYONE more? Remove the CD borderline?

I've been thinking about this recently. I can't remember who it was, but recently someone who is not involved in teaching asked me what I thought was wrong with teaching. I just had so much to say that I couldn't really come up with a coherent answer. I just pinballed my way around topics, constantly using the words 'of course there is also...' to start sentences. But then I went home, and thought and thought and came to a couple of core ideas, and (unlike my attitude to sandwich fillings) they are by no means revolutionary. It all just hinges around providing the best possible education and experience for as many students as possible. It's a core of parity across the system, not postcode lottery education. It's making sure that no matter what the home life of a student is, school is encouraging, providing and exciting. Is that so revolutionary? Fuck no. I believe that I would struggle to find many teachers that don't want a better situation for their students. It is how people want to go about it that is at odds.

If you involve yourself into the educational twittersphere and voice your opinions adamantly then you will be sure to receive some rebuttal. Someone won't like your opinion on Free School Meals or your plan for Burgerology to be part of the core curriculum. But aren't you just arguing for what you think is best for students? Yes. You are. It's just that the locus of what is best is a fuzzy and indistinct centre. Teachers will argue and they won't back down often because teachers are ratchet spanners: You can push them further and further one way, but they very rarely come back. 

A lot of the 'problem' seems to be that being a teacher has, as an inherent quality, politicisation. Teachers seem to have those awfully sticky things: Views. Some of them even have Opinions. Teachers are messy things built up upon layer and layer of daily sermons. For Cthulu's sake some of them even read things! And not just the METRO! And, therefore, they actually care. Teachers have a real view of their profession. They have ideas about how they would want to run it themselves beyond just identifying the negatives. The thing is, teaching is a lot like politics. Just like politics, it is not that the core ideal is that different; it is all in the nuances of interpretation.

And the point? This isn't a bad thing because it models to students that things aren't clear cut. Teacher's disparate views help everyone. The seemingly petty arguments on process mean that teachers are consistently engaged with the core principle of teaching: Making it count for students. I love that teachers care enough about their profession to rise up on the internet and pseudonymously scream their faces off. A lot of people who read this will probably shake their heads at this, and understandably so. Arguments are counterproductive if all you do is shout.

I love that the profession is so full of ideas about itself that it bleeds them through its eyeballs so keep arguing, please. I beg of you. Don't be shy; you are a teacher, after all. Just know this: The job isn't about you at all. It's not about your ego, or your wealth or your legacy. It is about the kids ego, their wealth, their legacy. And if they follow you and become a teacher too? Well that's their own stupid fault, isn't it?

Thursday, 8 January 2015

The Case for Conceptual Literature

My regular readers (Hi Mum!) will know that I am not teaching this year; I'm doing the learning instead. I'm studying for an MA in Modernism and Contemporary Literature, and the quite esoteric nature of the course has made me think about the distance between the English A-Level syllabus and the current trends in literature, particularly conceptual literature.

One of the things that surprised me when I started this course was that I was surprised to see Literature like Kenneth Goldsmith's Fidget. I was surprised to see works that were so revolutionary that they questioned even the integrity and purpose of the word literature. I was surprised to see it, not because of the nature of the course, or the institution, but that through GCSE, A-Level, a Degree and my own rambling reading, I had never seen anything like it before. After lecture number one on conceptual poetry I had difficulty reattaching my face, so much had it been taken off.

So I was forced to have a little check of myself and question what it was, really, that I knew, or thought I knew about literature. I have long thought myself a pretty up-to-date student. I've read a lot of things that other people wouldn't touch because they are shocking, or controversial, or push the boundaries of form. Stuff like Sarah Kane's 4.41 Psychosis, or Will Self's Dorian, or A M Homes' The End of Alice. Difficult stuff, but, inevitably, not that relevant. Why not that relevant, and relevant to what? Not relevant because they are the sort of works that are bought by and given awards by the sort of people that our students absolutely aren't. Fundamentally, these, and pretty much anything in a bookshop no longer looks anything like a student's life.

What do our students' lives look like, in literary terms? Twitter. Facebook. BBM. (Definitely not MSN messenger, God rest its troubled soul.) The literature that students come into contact with most is abbreviated, disparate, instant. To quote Kenneth Goldsmith himself,

What do people read? People read Facebook posts and they read them, I believe, very carefully. They read a Twitter feed. Y'know, short forms. Things that have information. But poetry, and literature, at this point? I'd say less so.  (Source)

 He's right. Most students read. They read a lot. More than we think they do, it's just what they read does not fit in with a 20th century schema. I am not suggesting that at the start of the lesson everyone gets on Facebook and we do a close textual analysis of their ex's mate's sisters latest status about last night's dinner but we should be having students look at what is actually happening now in literature. Questions of authenticity, spontaneity and digital culture are critically relevant to 21st century living. The question of whether Literature with a capital L actually has a place in modern culture as we currently conceive it is something that may well shape these students expectations of their own lives. (In fact, get them to look at their Facebook wall. Might be quite interesting.)

At the last school I worked at, Twitter was blocked on the school network through the innate fear that schools have of social media. This is primarily based on a fear of salubrious types grooming students for sex rings/religious cults/UKIP (Delete as your area dictates)but what I found appalling was that teachers had Twitter blocked as well. An entire piece of 21st century human existence stymied by the fear that teachers might gossip on it instead of do their marking. 21st century humanity is one of multiple digital and real-world selves. We are chimeras that exist both in cyberspace and realspace. Our students are digital cyborgs; to them the internet is as real as the classroom; Facebook is a life in itself and it is far more relevant than any Victorian novel because for 99% of the canon of English literature the digital cyborg did not exist. It is stupid to unleash students into the post-education world thinking that literature is not relevant to them at all.

In the tradition of editorial rhetoric prolepsis, I should now anticipate the argument against. It is an age-old one; that students should be forced to crawl while we know that they can run. English Literature is a wonderful subject because, unlike Maths or the Sciences, sometimes you can jump to the back of the textbook (read as: Burn the stupid piece of crap) and students will understand. I don't need to teach basic literary theory for students to understand Goldsmith. I need them to think. I need them to think about their own lives and then care about the future. It's not that hard.

I should probably, wittily, appropriate someone else's closing statement for my own in a kind of self-referential didactic wonder, but I'm not. Instead, a challenge. Throw out your lesson plan for Monday and tomorrow set a KS5 class a website for their homework. This website. Or this one They don't have to read it all, in fact, to quote Goldsmith again,

I don't expect you to even read my books cover to cover. It's for that reason I like the idea that you can know each of my books in one sentence. For instance, there's the book of every word I spoke for a week unedited. Or the book of every move my body made over the course of a day, a process so dry and tedious that I had to get drunk halfway though the day in order to make it to the end. Or my most recent book, Day, in which I retyped a day's copy of the New York Times and published it as a 900 page book. Now you know what I do without ever having to have read a word of it.

Tell them that they don't have to read it at all. Tell them that what is really important is that they think about it. Some will think it's utter shit that they could've done themselves. But isn't that the point?, that not only could they have done it themselves, they probably have.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Teacher

Teaching is a tragedy of a profession because it reminds us that we're going to die.

Our peers age with us, and the inexorably slow tide of time makes the ravages of age near invisible. Beyond the occasional 'Was that really that long ago?', there is little identification of the expansion of the collective past. Every year we see, or don't see, those that long(er) ago we shared a classroom, and lessons, with.

Students, however, don't age with us. They are always the same age. Not literally, but functionally. There is always a sweet year seven class and a horrifying year nine set. Every year they start school and every year they leave school, too. Every year we will get a little bit further away from them. Every year the popstars on pencilcases look younger. The fashion, stranger; the colloquialism, more bizarre. I might not have been teaching long, but even I found the distance growing.

And then there is the creeping sense of Envy.

They say that school is the best time of your life. I don't know who they are. I don't want to. It's a crap idiom because they missed off a two words: In Hindsight. School was great. Did I realise that when I was there? Hell no. I occasionally take chagrin against the plethora of TV 'reality' shows that seek to make the layman understand how difficult teaching is.They regularly foreground difficult teenagers, stupid hours and budgets smaller than one of Patrick Bateman's dinners in size and expenditure. What they can't put across though is the sense of unfulfilled childhood that drives many teachers.

I have this belief that I have had stymied by many but, I think, they might have gone home and a little worm of doubt might have filled their stomachs down in the place that remembers bad things you've done far longer than it should. The belief is that most teachers are teachers because they want to atone for something they did, or didn't do, at school. For myself, it is the overriding feeling that I could have done academically better. I know others for whom the opposite is true; they feel this sense that they were not hedonistic enough as children and, although they don't go and get smashed in a classroom rave, there is a sense that just being at school again is a second chance. Maybe I'm wrong. (If you fancy a discussion about it then come along to my next classroom rave. It starts at 15:45 on Friday. Room 86b. Bring your own booze.)

I think what is so difficult is the perception of time. As teachers we are trapped in a constant analepsis with our own pasts being played out in front of us over and over again. Students, though, exist in a wonderful state of hopeful prolepsis. I can't speak for primary school, but there is a state of hope and expectation in secondary school that is near-infectious because, in secondary school, every student always seems to be on the cusp of something. All they can do is predict their own futures. They might be in that inchoate adulthood when they are covered in spots but they can anticipate a beautiful future accepting whatever award they want. They are always, unrealistically or not, on the very verge of everything wonderful happening for them. It is what drives them forward, maybe not consciously, but it's there. The moment where they stop predicting, and working towards, their ideal future is the point where they become retrospective and start worrying about the past. In school, for every student, there is a chance. An opportunity. A moment. 

You've probably heard the moment a student becomes lost to their past. It is the point where they stop saying could and start saying should. It is the hallmark of us as teachers and adults. The saddest thing in schools is watching students and thinking 'I should've been like that.' We can use that, though. Our regrets are powerful things. We can build ourselves forward instead of taking ourselves apart. Regardless, though, of our relative happiness, teaching will always have the maudlin static of growing older as we constantly compare ourselves and our peers to our students. It is inescapable.

But the strange thing? Maybe it's the extensive holidays, maybe it isn't, but when I left teaching to go into postgraduate education three months ago, I really didn't think I was going to go back. Wait, no, that's not the strange thing. That's just being tired of bureaucratic shite. The strange thing is that I kept reading the TES. The strange thing is that I kept writing this blog, kept mucking about on twitter. The strange thing is that I keep talking about teacher, keep thinking about lessons, keep looking at things and wanting to teach them. The strange thing is that I feel out of the club and it's just not the same.