Archive for the ‘Education Matters’ Category

Education: Crap for Teachers and for Students Too. Part 2.

March 5, 2017

Education: Crap for Teachers and for Students Too. Part 2.

And so to part 2 – the crapiness of an education system that suits no-one at all, let alone the poor clients – the students. Think about that for a minute – if we were to adopt a business style of model and had to sell education to students how do you think that would work? Would the client – the student – buy what is on offer today? No, they would not. And perhaps that is a good place to start.

What student would choose to be tested from the moment they arrive at school? What child would choose to sit still all day long having a range of information shoved into them that they struggle to connect to? What child would choose to be measured against others and told repeatedly that they are failing in one way or another from the age of 5 to 18? What student would choose to have no choice about the way they learn or the subjects they want to take on their way to a meaningful career? What child would choose to sit in a room of 30+ other students experiencing a one size fits all education, that doesn’t cater to their needs or interests? What child wants to be invisible in that class of 30? What child wants to put up with the poor behaviour of others who don’t want to learn, who are never consequenced enough by the school system to make them behave? What child wants to spend a year with a teacher they don’t like or respect?

Pal's pals@GCSE

The answer is too obvious. No-one does. Yet this is what education is about for too many students. Too many of them are not getting a fair go in our schools. This is not a surprise to teachers, they, as mentioned last week, have their own suffering to endure, but that does not mean that they are ignorant or unsympathetic to the plights of many of their students – except the ones without pens!!

Most of us know what a good education looks like. Most of know that what is currently on offer is not even close. Students know this too. They know what a good teacher is, what they like about learning, what they don’t like and they are all too aware that what they get too much of the time is not what it could be. They also know, because they are not fools, that most teachers (yes, stress on the most) are doing their best and care about them.

And no, I am not going to talk about those teachers who don’t give a shit who should have been axed years ago, or never come into the profession in the first place. Shit teachers are not identified purely by age.

 

So, let’s to a few specifics of how the current government sector (especially but not exclusively) is failing young people:

 

1.Relevance of the curriculum – a good education should prepare a young person for the world – as a worker and a citizen. It should offer them opportunities to succeed, to take risks, to learn about things that are relevant to their world and then take them beyond that. The challenge is to mix the classics and basics of learning and the constancy of the new. It is difficult, especially in our changing world. Who’s to know what bit of learning occurring today will be relevant when they end up out the other end of compulsory education? So, relevance is tricky. But it is clear that some sectors of education, some subjects, are not being as relevant as they could. Take my subject – take English. We could be doing so much with how the media presents itself, how language is being mangled and manipulated, or reading some very fine modern relevant literature. But what are we doing aside from his royal dead-white-male-Godness Shakespeare, who will be done in perpetuity, even as the final flames of destruction engulf the earth? We are doing 19th century literature, specifically Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, mainly in truth because it is short and like its predecessor on the Literature curriculum, Of Mice and Men (that evil American text) can be read in class if need be, and with many students across this land, who won’t read on their own, it needs to be. J&H is a misogynistic tale of self important/self indulgent privileged white men who think they can play God, where women barely rate a mention. Where’s the relevance in that for your average English child? Oh, no, stupid me – totally relevant after all!!!

 

2.Relentless change – how many times can you change a curriculum? How many times must successive groups of students be the latest victims of the whims of a politician? This current debacle of 100% external exams is unfair and will achieve nothing – only hurt schools and students. Several years ago when shifting the goal posts of assessment became the main game, I had a group of bright and able GCSE students who completed the 20% Speaking and Listening assessment in year 10. But by the time they had got to year 11 the 20% had been abolished and added to the exams and now their assessment was 60% exam and 40% course-work. All their brilliant speeches no longer counted. How is that fair? Just as the year my daughter and her mates had the grade boundaries shifted from the January to June series and made harder for those not doing early entry. How is that fair? How can schools predict accurately and how can students have faith in their teachers or the system when the shifts occur arbitrarily and within an academic year? Certainly my current year 11s who are the latest victim of unjustified change (to 100% exam assessment) are bewildered by this and do see it as terribly unfair.

 

3.Excessive examinations – as they start school, throughout primary, as they end primary school; throughout secondary on their way to GCSE’s, where students can have up to 10 subjects many of which have multiple exams and then onto A levels. Every stage an exam. Every stage a life ending exam. How can students be assessed so often and not feel pressure and anxiety in the run up, and like failures afterwards? The pressure is intense. Students are told repeatedly how this particular set of exams will determine their future, that it is the most important thing in the world. Really, every exam they do is the end of the world? Of course it’s not but the system is designed to make them think so, to make everything a ridiculously big deal. No wonder many of them opt out, or find other dangerous ways to cope. Why would you want to be told repeatedly that you are a failure?

 

4.Teacher turn-over and inexperience – last week’s blog was about the recruitment crisis in education and no-one knows about it better than the students. In some subjects – usually Science and Maths from my 10 years here, but English too – have an extraordinary high turn over: just like a revolving door. The difficulty to attract and keep science graduates is also well known, what is lesser known is the impact that has on students. Consistency matters to them. They want quality and care in their teachers but a very close second to that pair is consistency. A teacher who is there for the year, or even the entire time they are at school. For many young people school is the only stable part of their life and knowing the same teachers will be there matters a great deal. Clearly teacher turn over affects their learning and equally teachers with limited experience also have detrimental effects on students, in terms of their confidence and progress. But when an experienced teacher leaves they are invariably replaced by inexperience. Some students have years of change and inconsistency and we wonder why they turn off….

 

5.Lack of responsibility – Students are not held as accountable as they should be. I realize this point seems to run counter to the last one but there is an issue here. Students fail, sometimes it isn’t their fault – and as said the system is too geared around progress and targets, not learning – but at the end of the day teachers carry the can. And some students in their naïve ignorance think that’s a good thing. If they don’t work then they will fail and the teacher will suffer. But of course in the long term the student does. They fail to reach their target and go onto the course of their choice, or a job, etc. In the end the student fails. They haven’t taken or been given the necessary responsibility along the way, they haven’t learnt through their failures in a safe environment and are in terrible danger of making terrible mistakes that will make a terrible difference to their lives. Responsibility is important, we want responsible citizens, we want resilient citizens and the current system where teachers are always expected to do more does not bode well for robust young people able to take appropriate responsibility for what they do and what they say. Does the world owe them a living? Will someone make excuses for them all their lives? The current school system is telling them it will. This is the origin of the snowflake generation and it does nobody any good.

 

6.Lack of awareness of your average teenage beast – this relentless pressure on exams, homework, targets and progress does a brilliant job of ignoring the life of your average teenager. They aren’t consumed by a passion for learning, they do not want to spend every waking hour thinking about their future, about how to make progress in each and every lesson. They care, to an extent, about education but it is not the centre of their lives and the educational powers that be are fools to think that it is – yet their policies and systems behave as if it is. Young people need a life – they need to play if they are young, be with their friends, be outside, play sport, relax, socialize, be with their families. They are entitled to their own lives, not one consumed by school. Really, why do we pretend that school is all there is to their lives?

 

6b.Lack of awareness of your average teenage beast and the dark side – yes life is radically different for young people these days. Bullying has not gone away but as well as stalking the school corridors it now hides in the dark of their rooms. No parent alive now can be under any illusions about how traumatic a place the on-line world can be. Bullies, sexting, harassment, gangs and Youtube videos: all sorts of nastiness is there preying on teenagers. And as they carry the world in their pocket so they can be monstered every hour of every day and you, as parent, as teacher, may never know – might not know until it is too late. Not to mention the lives of those for whom getting to school in itself is an achievement. Where does homework, or meeting a target or passing an exam rate alongside actually staying alive, of coping with the neglect or abuse that happens at home?

6c.Lack of awareness of your average teenage beast and the growth of mental health issues – self harming and depression are on the rise. As is teenage suicide. Students are under more pressure than ever to achieve, conform and belong. Social media has not helped young people, it has made their world more competitive and threatening. Schools are not equipped for the many students with mental health issues, counseling can be difficult to get and in the meantime many of them drift along in haze of hopelessness, believing there is nothing good or worthwhile about them or their lives. We make a mistake if we think their lives are like ours were – yes we had all sorts of problems but the dangers were easier to spot and the world was kinder and less mad. Today, in an uncertain world young people are angry, frightened and powerless. Not all of them see a bright future.

 

7.Not letting them think – this is the serious and present danger of our education system. Gove’s emphasis on facts and exams means things like thinking and exploring and taking risks are verboten. We don’t want creative subjects, Gove says, because they’re soft, they can’t be properly measured. But the creative arts and English as it used to be before the exam Nazis took over, are what create a thinking, moral, questioning society: subjects that foster curious minds and bright futures for all of us. But, hey we don’t want that in the government systems because we’re too busy teaching a load of nonsense in exams that advance not knowledge or the person or anything. (Note: all subjects allow for thinking and problem solving, I know…)

 

8.One size fits all – despite all the emphasis on differentiation, on planning for differences, in support staff to help a range of students, the reality is they all have to sit the same exams and they are all taught like cattle. Our system still looks to the days when teachers had class sizes of 40 and coped. Well the behaviour was under control and those who failed wore the consequences – namely they were held back, or dropped out because their learning needs were not diagnosed or considered. You sank or swam in the old days on your own. And sadly, to an extent you still do. We all sit in this room because we are the same age and supposedly at the same stage of learning. Even though we know we’re not. And so it goes that many children get lost. They have to be assessed in the same way, regardless of where they are developmentally, of their ability or needs. Never mind that so many children (grown adults actually) can’t cope in exams, that they cannot perform to their best – no they shall all be assessed in the same way. Our friend Mr Gove, and Nick Gibbs seems to be joining in now too, calling that rigor. Most of us call it idiotic. But what do we know, we’re only teachers, and they are only children who have no say at all.

 

So, the next time you feel contempt or disdain for a plugged in teen in a hoodie or wearing a skirt that’s too tight and too short beneath a face trowelled in make up, step back and feel some compassion. For a great deal of our young people school is anything but the best days of their lives. Essentially a succession of politicians and bureaucrats has made it that way and they need to hang their heads in shame. (Image from Private Collection)

 

 

Education: Crap for Teachers and for Students Too. Part1.

February 26, 2017

Education: Crap for Teachers and for Students Too. Part1.

Only people living under rocks, or politicians in their infinite ignorance, are under no illusion that Education in many parts of the world is in melt-down crisis – the UK, the USA and Australia, to mention a few relevant systems that are entirely unfit for purpose and sadly in no danger of getting better any time soon. Who is suffering here: students and teachers. Whose voices are dismissed and not heard: students and teachers. After all, who in their right mind would ask those who know the most about anything what they think!!

Swiftie globe

This week in the UK stories are out again about the crisis in teacher recruitment – that for the third year in a row targets for recruitment have been missed. No teacher in the country is surprised by this – not one teacher in Oz or the US will be either. Too many experienced teachers are leaving before retiring and not enough young enthusiastic tyros are coming in the other end. The reasons for this, for both ends of the shortage problem are no surprise, have been clearly articulated for several years now, yet none of those in power are listening. They seem to think that slick advertising campaigns, bursaries for study and the much vaunted Teach First program will make a dent in the problem.

The powers that be seem to willfully ignore the issues and while they do, and continue to blame teachers for the ills of the world then nothing will improve.

Which makes me believe that perhaps they are quite happy with the parlous state of state education in their various parts of the world. After all, we aren’t really talking about private education here … No, we are talking about state funded, government education for the masses. The masses who voted for Brexit and Trump and brought Pauline Hanson back and even returned an Australian Liberal government that has continued to screw the worker and the less powerful since re-election. Think about that for a moment… If you think that right wing, conservative politicians care about the masses you are a fool. You need only look to the appointment of Betsy De Vos in the US to know that things are going to dramatically worsen in the States for students and teachers alike. She’s already said she believes teachers are paid too much…

If they cared, they would do something about funding state education so that it worked (yes, and the health care system too). So that repairs to buildings occurred, so that school supplies could be purchased for all, so teachers could attend Professional Development – especially in this massive time of change (yet a-fucking-gain) and so teachers were paid what they are worth. Yes, state education is a massively expensive enterprise and increasingly – as with health – governments are refusing to spend what is needed to make it work.

Teachers – maligned, over-worked, vilified – are what keeps the whole embarrassing mess from toppling over the edge of the abyss.

Teachers who care. Teachers who consistently go the extra mile. Who work all hours, who spend their own money to make things better, who ignore their own families and lives and even their health. If it wasn’t for caring teachers who go beyond their job descriptions again and again the whole creaking straining edifice would have crashed to the ground years ago.

 

Why is recruitment such an issue? The government here in the UK knows – God knows the teachers’ unions do enough surveys about work conditions and teacher ‘satisfaction’ for want of a much better word. The powers that be know, they just don’t want to face up to it. But let’s spell it out one more time in a simple, easy to read list:

1.Constant criticism from all – politicians, parents, celebs – essentially anyone who went to school and therefore thinks they are an expert on Education. This has been going on for years and continues – it is relentless and then ‘they’ wonder why people leave and why no-one in their right mind wants to step inside a cess-pit of blame and criticism. Really, would you choose a job where you are blamed for everything – where everything you do is wrong, but not the other people in the system?

2.Constant, relentless change to everything – curriculum, exams, assessment, Ofsted criteria – nothing has a chance to bed-in, let alone last long enough to be reviewed and assessed as to it’s worth. Change is not a new thing – I remember sitting in a meeting in around 1998 about the latest changes about to be introduced in the NT and thinking that there’s no point in getting as upset by this as my colleagues were, as by the time the ink was dry on this approved change, something else would be in vogue. I was right – it was an epiphany and it helps me cope here – to an extent. But what is killing teachers in England is the constancy of change – in the 9 years since I’ve been in London we’ve had 4 changes to the curriculum in English – no nothing has bedded in and the kiddies get caught out by it and they suffer more than we do. I won’t even mention the plethora of changes Ofsted has cascaded through to us…

2b. Test, test, test and then test some more. When did education become a series of tests and exams at every stage? What do tests do – tell us things we already know in different ways but what they do more significantly is raise stress levels in students and tell them they are failures almost from the moment they set foot inside a class-room. Oh, and tests/exams/SATs/NAPLAN – whatever you call them – tell teachers and schools that they are failures too. This bit of madness needs to stop too. 100% external exams means teaching to the exam. You ask any GCSE English or Maths teacher in England at the moment and they’ll tell you that’s all they are doing. Seriously, is this the sort of education we want? A legacy of yet another egotistical politician, our dear Michael Gove – dear in this sense meaning expensive and costly NOT beloved.

3.Levels of responsibility – somewhere down the line it went terribly wrong. Teachers are responsible for it all – for students’ progress, for having the frequently mentioned fucking pen, for tissues, for them having breakfast and a good night’s sleep. Oh and we’re responsible for the exam boards whims. Oh, yes we are, as an Ofsted inspector pointed out to me 18 months ago when the grade boundaries were suddenly shifted and we missed our projections. According to him I should have predicted that and taken it into account. Yes, I had to so bite my tongue. That’s the nonsense level of responsibility we work within. Every other bastard in the system has an excuse, so classroom teachers carry the ever increasing can of shit. Accountability is all well and good and fair, but being responsible for everything that moves and shakes and sneezes and shits in your working world is plainly nonsense.

4.Life-work balance – we’re back in the dark ages of vocation, where people became teachers because they were ‘called’ to it and it would be their life and therefore nothing else mattered. When I first began teaching it was a lovely normal sort of job, where I had time to plan good lessons, kept my marking up to date and had a lively and interesting social life. I worked in the evenings or half a day at the weekend to make it all happen but it didn’t stop the rest of my life. When I had small kids I was Head of English and seemed to manage it all – family, friends, extra study, a husband. But now there aren’t enough hours in the day. The expectations are extreme. A number of my team struggle to keep all their balls in the air and it’s not because they aren’t good teachers who aren’t working hard enough. It’s because the system wants too much from them.

5.Behaviour and student needs – this is linked to the responsibility thing. An increasing amount of students are less and less inclined to own their own behaviour. They are not, for want of a better word, socialized – they do not know how to behave and have to be contained and controlled all the time. What do you think happens to learning then? And there is an increase in the needs of students – of students being identified as having ‘special needs’. There is an argument that this is progress, that students are no longer labeled at thick or stupid because they don’t understand or can’t learn in a particular way. Yes, that’s very nice but what about the poor teacher who already has 30 in her class and no support and has to plan for that child too? How do you think that happens? How do they find the time to plan for all the needs in the classroom??

6.Pay – while many teachers down-play this angle, I think it is significant. Teachers carry the future in their hands – we shape the future, for better or worse. So, if the future matters and if you want smart, driven, caring people entering the profession then pay them what they are worth. Education is at the core of a productive, intelligent, creative caring society. Teachers are the centre of that core – the magma of it all, so pay us what we are worth. Increase the status of teaching and people will stay and the right ones will chose it as a career. Remember Walter White from Breaking Bad would never have ended up wreaking all that murder and mayhem had he been paid a decent salary and was able to access affordable health care…

7.Trust – the system does not trust teachers – read this to be clear about that https://debrakidd.wordpress.com/2017/02/20/a-broken-system-progress-gcses-and-sats/ … Hence the constancy of criticism, the constant changes to stop us cheating or ‘gaming’ the system, the odiousness of observations and Ofsted, the prescriptive nature of the curriculum and assessment regimen. I am not trusted to select texts or topics suitable for my classes. I am not trusted to assess them fairly. I have to be observed frequently, my marking checked, paper work submitted to those further up the food chain. I have to have meetings to explain and justify what I am doing. And now, as mentioned in 2b I am preparing students for 100% external assessment by exams. Yes, because I am not trusted to teach and assess fairly and objectively. Never mind that the system created the cheating, no, blame the teachers (and the senior management who endorsed and encouraged this) who have to meet ridiculous targets and so cheat. What other profession suffers under such scrutiny, such a lack of trust in their professionalism??

 

This list is not a secret. It is not something I know and no-one else does. Teachers are unhappy people, their hands are tied by systems and people who know nothing about education, about children and their world. Our education system is run by people who don’t have the first idea of what it is like in a classroom. Most of them wouldn’t last 5 minutes in a secondary school – they would find your average teenager frightening and not know how to speak to them, let alone control them for 45-60 minutes and actually teach them something.

 

Where education is thriving in the world several simple things happen: 1.Teachers are respected; they are valued and important members of society and usually paid accordingly.

2.They are not blamed for the ills of society. The education system is centred on knowledge not testing, on the child learning at its own pace, on sound educational pedagogy – remember that, Piaget, etc??

3.And, importantly, the education system is about the relevant society, what it needs, what its aspirations and desired future is.

This is Singapore and Finland, the places we look to for inspiration. They are not cherry picking bits and pieces from other systems and mashing them together. Their education systems are thought out, considered, be-spoke for their needs. Changes do occur, but not with the whirlwind destruction and rapidity of ours.

Why don’t we stop this constancy of change and listen to teachers, the ones in the middle of the mess, the ones who have had enough, who know what should be happening? Why don’t we ask the students what they want, what they need?

*Next week: the student perspective. (Image from Private Collection)

Why Do Boys Fail in School?

October 23, 2016

Why Do Boys Fail in School?

Warning: this is long and ranty!

I want you to take note of how I have titled this blog. I could have said, as do much of the media – Why do schools fail boys? – but I want to step back from the constant blame-the-teacher, slag-off-the-school culture that is endemic across the media in both the UK and Oz (and the USA). I am pushed to write this blog in response to an article in last week’s Times Magazine (My Son and Britain’s Boy Crisis, 15-10-2016) where a father of a white British boy waxed damnation against the current education system that according to a raft of statistics is failing boys.

He is correct: the stats are worrying. Girls out perform boys at every level on their way through school: by 8 years 83% of girls achieved level 4+ in reading, writing and maths, as opposed to boys achieving 77% (2015); at GCSE level (15/16 years) girls have out-performed boys for over 25 years, with girls achieving 61.8% 5 A*-C grades compared to boys achieving 52.5% (2015). At university in the UK there are 90,000 more women than men. Add to that there are 65,000 more unemployed male NEETS (not in education, employment and training) than there are females.

The stats are of concern for white British boys across all measures and, in what is no surprise to many of us, a quarter of boys start reception (aged 4) struggling to speak a full sentence or follow instructions. (These stats come from the magazine article but are widely known in this country.)

Education in too many parts of the world is not fit for purpose and the current push in Tasmania to make students start school earlier will not help address some of the issues faced by a range of students. In the UK there is an alarming trend to diagnose boys with ADHD more and more, and for them to be labeled failures before they even finish primary school.

The father in the Times article blames teachers and the education system. He states boldly: ‘The gender education gap has been in existence for at least 30 years and is no secret… It is unacceptable that governments of all colours, the education sector and the trade unions have willfully continued to turn a blind eye to the issue.’ These are the words of an angry father.

Understandably he doesn’t know what happens within the education sector or what teachers have to deal with on a daily basis. He sees education in a limited way, as a parent, albeit a worried parent but one with enough clout to have his opinions and ideas published in a large circulation newspaper.

The issue with failing sections of the community is not a secret in schools. We are constantly being asked to cater to particular cohorts; for many years it has been Black-Caribbean boys in the UK; at home it has been Aboriginal students. Now things here have shifted and it is white British boys who are failing most dramatically. In schools we know this, we have them in our sites and are bringing to bear a range of interventions designed to stem the tide of failure.

But, in all honesty, by the time they get to secondary school the rot has well and truly set in. Some students can always be inspired and turned around but to think that schools can do this alone, or single teachers are somehow responsible, is somewhat delusional.

Pal art

 

Let’s unpack some of the issues facing boys (and many of our girls too).

1.School structures – the way education is delivered has not really changed over time: one teacher delivering information, setting tasks, assessing tasks, to the many. Students are expected to co-operate, do their best, ask for help and actively engage in the work. It’s a nice idea but in practice it isn’t the reality. Once upon a time students were governed by fear and corporal punishment; the teacher free to dispense whatever justice they deemed necessary to control the class and get the learning done. Yes, class sizes were much bigger. But teachers had more control and there were consequences for failure – you did not progress willy-nilly through the grades just because you were a year older. No, you could be 14 and sitting in a class with 8 year olds – a bit of an incentive to pass.

These days there are very few consequences for students who neither learn nor behave. While I do not endorse corporal punishment, the powerlessness that teachers have to contend with does make controlling the unwilling and unable a challenge on a daily – sometimes hourly – basis. The amount of paperwork a school has to amass before a student can be excluded is obscenely excessive. A lot of pain has to be endured by many before a student is removed from education. Students do not need to pass anything on their way through school and in fact in the UK we call anything above a C a ‘good pass’. You can get as low as a G and that’s somehow okay too – it’s a result!

2.School starting age. Students start school very young here and, as noted, there is a push for that at home too. I wonder at this indecent haste to push young people into what could be described as a factory system of education… what are we hoping to achieve? The most successful systems in the world – yes, the Scandinavians – start school later and there is overwhelming evidence that starting school before 7 is more likely to be counter-productive. (see article: http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/discussion/school-starting-age-the-evidence) Yet, those who have no understanding of how learning occurs, through play, through a wide range of activities; who don’t understand how development works, (hello Piaget) believe children should be forced into more formal learning situations sooner.

So, why do governments push for early school ages? Because so many children, mainly boys, are already educationally behind, because they believe in the holy grail of formal factory style education?? Because you can blame schools for failure but it’s harder to blame parents?

But the truth is that many kids aren’t ready for the sit still, be quiet and comply regime of primary school. Young children need to be playing, learning consequences, discovering boundaries and books in a more relaxed, informal setting. But the family unit is under pressure, families need two incomes, or more often there isn’t a father: we need to face that problem too.

But, back to early starting – which gender suffers most from being forced to sit still, from not playing rough or outside enough? Oh, yes, it is boys. And so they find it harder to conform, to behave. They are being asked to do a range of things before they are ready and are being failed as a consequence. And then labeled. Failure. ADHD. There is a huge range of research that shows that boys tend to develop later than girls across a variety of skills. This doesn’t mean they are failing, or stupid or have some condition. It simply means they aren’t there yet. But most of them will get there: they will make it, if they are given a fair chance.

dragon -grad

3.The testing regime. I’ve never worked anywhere that loves a test as much as the British Education system does. Let’s test them right from the start, which means, let’s fail them right from the start. The range of tests in Primary school takes little account of the variations in student readiness, in the fact that students – regardless of gender or ethnicity – learn at different rates and just because you can’t do something at 4, doesn’t mean you won’t have caught up by the time you’re 7 or 11.

How would you feel if you were being told you were a failure every few years in school? Wouldn’t you turn off, give up, accept the label? This is what the British system is doing to children, and yes, especially boys. Do you think teachers don’t know this? Do you think they are happy about this?

No, teachers are NOT happy about this, they do not support the plethora of changes that are constantly sweeping through education, that do nothing to help students learn and achieve, that demoralize staff and fail students. But teachers are not listened to. The father from the Times article needs to realize that: teachers do not have a voice when it comes to educational policy. We are silenced. Union bashing is used to silence us. Demonizing us is used to silence us.

4.Recent changes – the Gove changes – do not help under-achieving non-academic students. The focus on academic subjects, on facts, on exams, does nothing for modern students. Gove’s changes fly in the face of a modern world. He has denied the Arts, ignored vocational courses; made the curriculum narrow and mean (rather like him, some might say). He, along with many others, has ignored the needs of the students, those who have to cope in a modern world.

We are told to cater to student differences, to differentiate in our planning, while all the time working towards the same final assessment – exams. Never mind if you can’t cope in exams, never mind if you can’t remember quotes or facts, never mind if you are more creative, you still get to sit the same exam. And we all, from primary school through to A level, have to teach to the exam. How wonderful is that?

Yet we teachers have to implement these changes, despite knowing they are not educationally sound. I teach dead-white British male writers (mostly, with a few token exceptions) to classrooms stuffed with students of all colours, cultures and ethnic persuasions. How do these students connect with such out-dated writing, with experiences that they struggle to make sense of? How do they read out-dated language structures when they don’t read anything modern, other than text-speak on their phones?

How can you encourage a love of reading when a xenophobic Oxford educated white man has taken English back to the 1950s and willfully ignored the modern literary world?

SS1

Yes, it is my job to make the connections, to point out the relevance of Shakespeare today, to show that Jekyll and Hyde still resonates today despite the torturous language and the complete lack of female characters. But my job would be so much easier if there was something a bit more modern that Lord of the Flies, or An Inspector Calls. Yes, the classics matter, but some of them should be from other countries too…

5.The importance of reading. Boys need to read. But a lot of boys can’t. They can’t recognize words or pronounce them. They can’t sit still long enough to read a page, let alone finish a full novel. Is reading really seen as a girly pursuit, as something unmanly? Sadly you would think so in schools. The resistance to reading is palpable – yes, all genders, but especially boys.

Men need to read, to be seen reading, fathers need to read to their sons; head teachers need to support their English departments when they want students to read silently in lessons and not tell the Head of English that ‘silent reading doesn’t show adequate progress, so it must stop’. Yes, I am quoting an actual head-teacher – a man, who told me silent reading was a waste of time, never mind the educationally sound evidence and research.

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6.Fathers need to step up. Whether they are part of the family unit, or weekend dads, they need to take responsibility for their sons’ educations. This means things like reading, like accepting the rules, playing fair, owning their own behaviour; respect for women, especially given that schools – especially primary schools – are full of women. Fathers need to work with schools as mothers do. Fathers need to set good examples for their sons. (Yes, I know, many fathers do and I have known many wonderful fathers, so don’t get offended out there.)

7.Not enough male teachers. Without doubt there is an issue with the gender balance in most schools. Primary schools are traditionally the province of women but secondary schools tend to be female heavy too. In both cases the men tend to hold the senior positions and are not as present in the classroom. This is an issue. Boys do need to see more men in schools. It was similar in northern Australia where Aboriginal people needed to see themselves as teachers, to see themselves in such important positions to help get the message that education was for them too, and significant programs were set up to enable this to happen.

Ask yourself why teaching remains such a female dominated profession. Why do so few men choose not to become teachers, especially primary teachers?

There are some very simple answers here. There has been too much down grading of the profession by politicians (and others) over the years. Teachers are persistently blamed for the ills of society. In English schools teacher are held responsible for the progress of all their students. The students are somehow not responsible for their own progress: no, it is the teacher. How can that be? It doesn’t matter what you have done, you could always have done something else.

The man in The Times article subscribes to this view. The teacher is the problem, the reason he fears for his son’s future. Yes, there are crap teachers, of course there are. But there aren’t as many as you would think. There are also crap students who do not respond to anything, who do not care about their own education or others and who, sadly, are supported by their parents in their destructive ways.

The problem is that young teachers are not staying in the profession and older, experienced teachers are fed up, or being forced out because they are too expensive, regardless of gender. The much lauded Teach-First program has a 50%+ drop out rate after the obligatory 2 years are completed.

The big problem in recruiting male teachers is that the profession has been so demonized, so devalued and relatively under-paid that no male in his right sense would become a teacher, or if he did, remain in the classroom with the students any longer than need be. In primary schools it has been worse, with scare mongering about pedophiles and foolishness about men being too near young children, as if all men are sexual predators.

Men don’t choose teaching because it is not a prestigious or valued profession. If you want more men in teaching then you have to pay more. Female professions are traditionally paid less, and valued less in society; thus it is with teaching. If you want to recruit men and keep them you have to value education in society and stop trying to pull it apart.

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Think on this, those who blame teachers – our Times father who claims to ‘know what bad teachers look like’ – for the ills in education, for failing to meet the needs of students, especially boys. Most head-teachers are men, most PMs and Education Secretaries have been white British men; Ofsted chief inspectors certainly are white British men and yet, as the man in the Times says, the state of education for British boys is a state of national disgrace.

Who should really shoulder the blame for British boys’ chronic under-achievement? This fed up female teacher is happy to point the finger… (Images from Private Collection)

The New 3R’s of Education

October 16, 2016

The New 3R’s of Education.

As the world shifts and changes and becomes both more amazing and more disturbing we need a new focus in schools, a big focus on becoming decent people; citizens of an ever-changing world, able to survive, manage and even thrive in whatever is to come. So today’s schools must focus more explicitly on Respect, Responsibility and Resilience. Once upon a time this used to be the covert curriculum, and much of this rested in the hands of parents. But now it needs to be front and centre in schools too.

 

Respect covers a range of sins and must be paramount as we become a more uncertain world with borders shifting and changing, identity and gender being more fluid and more open, with religious and cultural differences more defined as we become a global community. It is as simple as respect for yourself and for others. But it is so much harder in practice.

There was a time where we embraced the ‘live and let live’ ethos of a more tolerant and accepting view of each other. But now we seem to feel free to abuse, vilify and attack on the slenderest of reasons. Indeed Social Media and the constant streaming of ‘news’ has to take some share of the blame for the rise in hate in society, but it can’t be that simple, can it?

Why do we feel free to berate and abuse others? Where did that ‘freedom’ come from?

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Schools must be vigilant about respect, and in truth, many are trying to address the constancy of social issues that ever creep into our crowded curriculums. Respect is about tolerance, patience, consideration and kindness. It is being aware that others have different beliefs, customs, ways of living, attitudes and ideas. This is important as we don’t really want an homogenous society where we all think the same and parrot platitudes and dangerous ideas that are never challenged. Oh, yes, too much agreement and similarity is a very dangerous thing.

Thus instilling respect as a central tenant of how to live a decent life is crucial. 1.Respect for yourself, so you keep your body safe, so you can express your ideas freely but thoughtfully without hate and vitriol.

2.Respect for others, so they can get on with their own ways of life, be it of a different colour, different religion, different sexuality, different beliefs and ways of doing things.

3.Respect means understanding that there is no right way to do things, that there are many voices, many ideas, many people and we all have the right to exist peacefully in this world.

 

Responsibility is perhaps the thing in schools and society that does my head in most. For fuck’s sake, get a pen, learn how to cook, stop buying sugar-laden shit and expecting to be healthy, vote in elections, accept when you make a mistake and stop blaming everything and everyone else for your shitty life.

Being responsible for yourself, for your life can start early. Simple things like making your bed, putting your clothes in the wash, doing your homework, packing your school bag for the day ahead. Parents do need to build in these little pathways to responsibility early and naturally. It doesn’t mean you make them self-sufficient by 11 but by the time they get to secondary school most kiddies should be able to do a great many things for themselves.

Responsibility means being responsible for what you say and how you behave – under pressure and under normal circumstances – organizing your own life; owning it and making things happen.

Not being responsible is to expect all sorts of other people to make things happen for you and blaming them when things don’t fall the right way for you. So teaching responsibility early is vital for a human being who is self sustaining, accepts that sometimes things are their fault and doesn’t spend their life blaming, in no particular order – their parents, their teachers, the government, politicians, God, ISIS, Pauline Hanson, Trump, Clinton, etc, etc – for all that is wrong with their lives.

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Loving parents and good schools (even when the system is against them – whose GCSE results are they??? Just ask a failing school…) ensure that young people take responsibility for what is theirs and do the right thing in owning both the good and the bad that they say and do. Responsible youngsters become responsible citizens who take on more than just managing their own lives, who take responsibility for making the world a better place.

 

Resilience became a fashionable term a few years ago and there were various programs designed to help make students better able to cope with their worlds when things went wrong. For my mind responsibility and resilience go hand in hand. A responsible person can accept their own short comings and face up to them and do something about them. They are able to work through the tough times and stay afloat.

A person who blames others, a child who is so cosseted by their parents (and yes, schools too) that they cannot cope with slights, or failures is going to have a very tough life. All this helicopter-parenting, this Tiger-mothering of the young does them no good in the harsh light of the real world.

Resilience is perhaps more important than ever in this world of cyber-bullying, trolling and stalking. Young people are more vulnerable than ever to the slings and arrows of others, piercing their young feather-light hides with barbs and poison that stings to the core. Teenagers are horrendously sensitive creatures, their self esteem balancing on a pin head. Of course they are vulnerable and in the glow of their screens, in the dark of their rooms they are more vulnerable than ever. Recent studies deplore the levels of self-harm and unhappiness that young people feel, not to mention the constant stress of exams and that old faithful, peer pressure.

resilience

If there was more respect for others, more tolerance of difference, of the outsider; if we took responsibility for our words and actions from the youngest age, there would be little need for resilience training for the young. But we must be aware that not all of us have the capacity to deal with the tough times, that not all of us have people who care enough to hold our hands and keep us steady through failure, rejection, self doubt, illness, bullying and harassment.

Resilience doesn’t make you callous, it doesn’t stop you feeling, it allows you to deal with the darker side of life and we need to prepare students in dealing with those things, the things that de-stabilise young people – lack of friends; ill, dead or absent parents, abusive families, drugs, bullying, failing to get the grades we expect, or into the uni course we so desperately want.

 

As a parent and a teacher I can bring these three elements to my teaching, to my dealings with young people. Honesty, integrity and authentic relationships with young people matter enormously. They need people they can trust – parents, teachers, coaches, other adults; people who will listen to them, be there for them, tell them the truth, and offer support in a practical and useful way.

Surely at the end of every day what we want is a better world, full of people who care about each other and themselves and are bringing good to the planet. God knows it needs it! (Images from Private Collection)

An English Teacher’s Lament

May 21, 2016

An English Teacher’s Lament

Tis but a little poem today

Because most of my words have flown away

No words

 

This morning I have not enough words

For although the world remains absurd

Nothing startling has fallen from the bough

To urge me to write just now…

 

Instead, in land of exams and data and marking do I dwell,

I must admit it is a living hell

No time or space to set the imagination free,

For the kiddies or for me…

 

There is no time to think, no time to rest

Must teach to that fucking stupid test

Make sure we all do our best

To avoid the ire of the Ofsted pest,

Before the exam boards do their thing

And shift the ground boundaries again.

 

Swiftie globe

Perhaps there is finally nothing left to say on a dull or cheery Saturday

Or is it this just a temporary stay? (Images from private collection)

Shakespeare the Immortal: But is He Really God of English?

May 7, 2016

Shakespeare the Immortal: But is He Really God of English?

If you live in the English speaking world there are a couple of things you cannot escape at the moment – one is the US juggernaut that is Donald Trump, the other that it is 400 years since William Shakespeare popped his clogs. The differences are startling – one was the master of words, the other mangles them on most outings. One lives forever in the heart of poets and romantics, and perhaps one could venture that the Donald has an equally romantic impact on some Americans who long for some version of the US that isn’t the current one.

Today I will spend time with the Bard. The truth is I spent a great deal of my working life with the Bard – as a secondary English teacher you have no choice, especially in the UK. He is everywhere; he is God of English; the truth, the light and the way. Indeed I exaggerate dear reader, but despite all sorts of anguished cries from the young ones in schools across the world, it is impossible to deny his importance on language, on how we speak today and how we make sense of our world.

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Is he loved and enjoyed by the kinder in the classroom: well, on the whole not a lot. He seems rather to be endured that enjoyed and sadly that makes teaching any sort of Shakespeare a bit of a challenge. Over the years I have grown to hate, loathe and detest Romeo and Juliet. It is not a text for 13 and 14 year olds in year 9, yet persistently that is where they first encounter it.

Students notoriously cannot cope with the language; they lose the plot and story in the jungle of words that make no sense. Stopping to read the annotations and explain everything does take the pleasure out of reading the text. There are a couple of traps there – one is that you do not need to know the meaning of every word to understand what is going on and the other, most significant point is that Shakespeare’s plays should not be read by semi-illiterate, resistant students in freezing or stuffy classrooms. No, they should be watching a performance, seeing it live, experiencing the Bard that way.

Several years ago I had one of my many desperate bottom set year 9s – we were doing Macbeth, which was some relief from the tedium of R&J but still, as you can image, it was a trial. But my school was a stroll from the Globe Theatre on Southbank, so we took the whole of year 9 off to the theatre for a schools session. It was remarkable – the players were much more than merely players strutting and fretting their stuff upon the stage signifying nothing. They did their job: they brought the whole thing alive and on returning to the classroom we were able to have the sort of discussions about the play that helped them understand it and appreciate it. The significance of live performances, of action befitting words, of words made meaningful by actors who understand the nuance and wit of Shakespeare cannot be under-estimated.

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Today with the new changes to the curriculum the students are expected to read whole texts again, instead of the key scenes nonsense. And while I agree with the whole text being important, the point about drama is still missed and the opportunities to get students to performances is limited – mainly by schools constrained by budgets that cannot afford such luxuries, either to go out to the theatre or have troupes come in.

Students need live performances to get what’s going on: their unworldly vocabularies, coupled with their limited reading skills simply mangle Shakespeare and deny the magnificence of the writing and the action.

I thank the many and wonderful film makers who have done their best to bring the wonders of the Bard to the screen so we can at least give some feel for how the stories really do go along. You cannot go past either Lurhmann or Zeferrelli for Romeo and Juliet; Polanski’s Macbeth may be a bit dated but it remains one of the best; The Tempest with Helen Mirren is brilliant; A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Kevin Kline and Calista Flockhart is wonderful, as is Much Ado About Nothing with Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson. You can’t go past the Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor version of Taming of the Shrew and you should compare that to the wonderful 10 Things I Hate About You, with the lovely late Heath Ledger.

This brings me neatly to my next point, about the enduring nature of Shakespeare. His plays are continuously produced and performed across the world; his stories are made into modern films, accessible to a younger audience; his stories are remade for modern times. Look up the different versions of Macbeth – Japanese, set in a kitchen, on a rubbish dump. And of course Romeo and Juliet is West Side Story. Jane Smiley’s One Thousand Acres is a reimagining of King Lear.

Why is this? His stories resonate because despite being mostly about noble people – or as my university lecturer famously said about Antony and Cleopatra; ‘it is a great play, about great people, doing great things, in great places’ (the 1963 film Cleopatra owes a great deal to the Shakespearean play A&C) – they are stories about human nature: greed, ambition, desire, pride, foolishness, deception, lust, love. We recognise these things when we see them on stage, we see ourselves or people we know. We watch with horror as characters cannot escape who they are. We watch with joy as problems are solved and everyone lives happily ever after.

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And the language is wonderful. He did have a wonderful ear and as we know was quite inventive. His words and phrases are part of our everyday speech, our idioms come from him; our expectations about romance come from him; Freud looked at his plays as a basis for his theories.

It is well to remember as we celebrate and laud this man, who has stood the test of time, that he was writing for the common man and woman. The theatre was the television of his day and he wrote the equivalent of dramas and soap operas – he catered to the masses. Perhaps that’s part of the secret of his immortality – he spoke to the ordinary man, he wrote the sorts of things that they were interested in. His sonnets are things of beauty and cover all manner of topics too.

So, is William Shakespeare God of English, should he hold such a prized place at the heart of English school curriculums?

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You cannot dispute his influence on theatre, on language, on literature. He is not the only immortal we have (Chaucer, Marlowe, etc), but he is one of the most significant. He should be taught in schools, but perhaps we need to reconsider when and why. This year I have finally enjoyed Romeo and Juliet. Why? – I hear you ask. Simple: it was with A level students who can talk about the text, interrogate it, appreciate it, read it with meaning and nuance, find new things in it. My girls weren’t just getting through it, or reading it for exams. Wonderfully and reassuringly they were enjoying it. And with their enjoyment so came new insights and a new appreciation of the text and of good old William himself.

Shakespeare is our Titan of literature but we do him and the hapless kiddies no good by forcing him down their throats before they are ready for him. Yes, it’s that old educational concept of ‘readiness’ – when the student is ready the learning is good, and easy and fun and lasting. My fear for Shakespeare is that too many are turned off him because they meet him too soon and never find the joy and magic in his considerable works. (Images from Private Collection)

Exam Season: hints for home support – helping the helpless!

April 30, 2016

Exam Season: hints for home support – helping the helpless!

In the jolly old UK as summer tries to get out of bed and rise and shine it is the dawning of the insanity that is exams season here. GCSE’s start pretty much now. A-Level practical subjects have been running for a bit.

For thousands of year 11s Tuesday – thoughtfully after the bank holiday weekend – will be their iGCSE English Language exam. This two hours on Tuesday afternoon is worth 40% of their mark. So, many of them know exactly how many marks they need to get their magic C or better. Providing the moderators don’t downgrade their internal mark and the examiners don’t shift the grade boundaries up again. Which, as many of us know, happened last year.

Pal's pals@GCSE

Passing exams in this country is a bit like playing Russian Roulette – you never really know who is holding the gun and which barrel is loaded and pointing at you. But this year is the last year that year 11 students will have as little as 40 – 60% of exams to pass for English, and other subjects. Next year the world shifts back to the dark ages and we enter the abyss of 100% external exams. (All hail Michael Gove who knows more about education and learning than anyone else on the planet.)

Those of us who know anything about learning know that this is a recipe for disaster, just like starting school at increasingly younger ages, and the relentless desire to test, examine and measure. Next year brings a whole heap of trauma to parents of the youngest and the oldest, not to mention to the poor child and the hapless teacher who now has ridiculous targets to meet based on something that has yet to be tried, let alone tested.

Let’s return to this year – to students needing to pass, to parents who want to support them. Yes, it’s not all down to the teacher!! Ten years ago I published an article in an Australian magazine offering advice to parents to help them help their year 12 child survive and thrive during their final year at school. It was based on personal experience and most of the advice holds up today. So, here are the more relevant parts of that article.

Co-operative Relationships between Home and School

Ask any teacher and they will tell you that when parents, child and school are all working towards the same goals then success is invariably guaranteed. Teachers are highly focussed on achieving the best results for each student in their care. Expect them to know their subject area inside out and have a very clear view of your child’s ability and possible final grade.

If you want regular contact for any reason then let the school know. With e-mail it is easier than ever to have on-going contact. Schools prefer it when you get in touch before a problem arises. Usually issues can be worked out quickly and positively.

Being Informed

The best way to help your child to be as informed as possible. This seems too obvious but many parents ignore Information Evenings, course handbooks and never attend parent-teacher evenings. Make sure you are talking to your child about their subjects. Get in touch with teachers if you are concerned or think they need to know something. Look up courses on-line. All exam boards have sites accessible to the public. There is a plethora of web-sites about all things educational – texts, exam techniques; Youtube has tutorials on everything you can imagine

Health and Well Being

It doesn’t matter how clever your child is if they get sick or suffer any range of anxiety induced disorders then their year will be a nightmare. This is where you can practically support your child. Make sure they eat properly, get enough sleep, keep playing sport and don’t spend every minute studying or, at the other end, socialising such that they never complete assignments.

Stress is a major part of education now, especially during exam season, both for your child and you! Try to keep the house calm. This is not a good time for divorce or too many temper tantrums from younger siblings. It’s helpful if all family members are aware of the challenges and support the chosen child. After all, it will be the younger ones’ turn soon enough!

A wise parent keeps an eye open for substance abuse. During stressful times crutches are used and your child may be suffering more than you realise. Remember to keep an eye on all electronic devices – shut them down and remove them for specified times of the day, otherwise there will not be any sleep and there may be other disturbing things going down. Watch for changes in behaviour, mood swings, weight loss or gain. If you are worried speak to someone at school, your doctor and of course your child. Don’t ignore it.

Your exam stressed out child may struggle with his/her humanity and manners. Be kind, don’t shout at them (too much), take the rudeness/sullenness as a cry for help and take them to Nando’s and a chat. At all times this year keep the communication channels open!

classroom

A balanced approach to school and life – make a study plan!

A student who maintains a balanced life for the year is in the best position to succeed. It isn’t necessary for them to give up seeing their friends, going to the movies, playing sport. In fact, given the proliferation of mobile phones and access to the Internet you haven’t a hope of stopping them communicating with each other. Your best bet is to discuss limits on non-study/school activities. You know your child – do they need a tight lead or a loose leash?

Help get them organised. Don’t assume that the school has taught them about good study habits or organising their time. Talk to your child, point out that a structured approach to life means that they can get their assignments in on time and still watch Game of Thrones and the Walking Dead and spent sometime on-line for part but not all of their day.

We can help our children in so many ways. Cook them their favourite food, do their washing, ensure they have a private, quiet space to study. Read The Crucible with them, proof read their essays, listen to their oral presentations. And when specialised Maths is too much, despite the fact that Dad is an engineer, private tutoring is an option. The essence is to be extra aware of your child’s needs this year.

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Encourage your child to –

Keep up to date with assignments

Seek help when they need it – that’s what teachers are for!

Change subjects early if the need arises

Be organised – draw up a study time-table

Eat sensibly and keep playing sport

Get enough sleep

Have realistic goals

Have a fall back position if the first choice of course or Uni isn’t possible

 

What can you do?

Know what options your child realistically has

Have a contact at the school who knows your child – let them know you care about your child’s progress

Feed them loads of fresh nutritious meals

Watch their health – physical and emotional

Help them organise their time

Get extra academic support if they need it

Keep the home as harmonious as practical

Allow them to opt out of home duties at a suitable time for your child

Keep the communication channels open all year

 

Make a Study Plan

  1. List all the activities your child is involved in
  2. Include sleep, meals and travel time (use it!)
  3. Break the day into appropriate time spans
  4. Week days and weekends will differ
  5. Allow for free time/TV/Socialising
  6. Allow enough time for study for your child –some need more than others
  7. Allow for breaks and exercise
  8. Make sure it’s flexible and workable

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Exams are nasty evil things but passing them is more essential than ever. If you want a good future for your child, one where they are socialised, intelligent, productive members of society then, as a parent you need to put in the effort too. Don’t leave it all to the school with their afternoon sessions and holiday classes. As a parent you need to be involved. It’s your child, after all! Good luck J (Images from Private Collection)

Love Your Children Well

February 27, 2016

Love Your Children Well

There’s no point having children if you’re not going to love them or do the right thing by them. Many people can’t have children and spend their marriages or reproductive years in torment trying everything they can to have children, so for those of us lucky enough to have children it is incumbent upon us to do the right thing: to love our children well, which does not mean indulgently, but right.

dad, dragon ,phoenix

Children can be simultaneously the best thing about your life and the worse. They can hold a marriage together or break it. Often children are not what we expect them to be, they do not do what we expect either, but we had them, we (mostly) wanted to have them, so we must do right by them and by extension our society.

In the course of my working world all too often I see the consequences of children who have not been loved well, in fact, who have not been loved at all. And while some teenagers are indeed terribly difficult to love, mostly the horrid ones are a product of their upbringing. This is an inescapable fact. I’m not going to embark upon a mother or father bashing tirade – Heaven knows I know how hard it is to be a parent. But we are all the products of our upbringing: like it or not, our parents made us who we are. Through love, neglect, fear or indulgence, we were all made by them. Of course we have the choice to unmake some of what they have done, but it is hard to fight against Nurture. Nature plays a monster part too but Nurture cannot be overlooked.

How do you love your children well? Would a list of do’s and don’t’s suffice?

Don’t

Be helicopter parents – let them simply be once in a while; they’ll never stand on their own two feet if you are always hovering, hovering creating all that down-draft, that simply keeps them down!

Be tiger mums – we don’t need to achieve through our children, they need space just to be

Buy them off with toys and gadgets – really, is that how you show love, is that how they learn the value of things?

Abuse them – either with words or fists or implements- shouldn’t even need to say this but children are still beaten by parents on a regular basis and it doesn’t work at all

Neglect them – it is a form of abuse and perhaps the worst – they feel the lack of love, affection and attention deeply- it does untold psychological damage

Allow them to eat so much shit – really, can’t you manage to cook, to provide them with the basics of care that is a diet that nourishes them and helps them grow? There’s nothing wrong with Maccas and KFC once in a while and a bit of chocolate or some Coke on a hot Sunday afternoon never killed anyone. Ah, but the everyday consumption of food laced with fat, sugar and all sorts of chemicals will.

nice in greece

Do

Let them know you love them – tell them, hug them, kiss them, show them

Spend time with them – this is the biggest act of love – be with them, do things with them, that they like, watch their favourite movie, play Lego, dress-ups, etc, etc

Take them places – go to museums, parks, the beach, travelling, show them the world through your eyes

Teach them things – how to cook, how to clean, how to mend things, how to plant a flower and look after it; how to build things; with wood, wool and all sorts of materials. Share your love of things with them, let them feel your passion for the ocean, for drawing, for fishing

Make them responsible – make them tidy up after themselves, clean their rooms, make their own lunch, pack their school-bag, do their homework, do some chores around the house

Read to them – right from the start! This is one of the most important things you can do as a parent. Then read with them, keep them reading, talking about books – readers are better people – all the studies say so!

Listen to them – oh yes, another biggie. Always take the time to listen to them. You must start when they are little, ask about their day, how was school, how are you – then let them talk and listen. If you do this when they are young they will talk to you through the difficult years, or at least, the difficult years won’t last quite as long. Listen to who they are, what they want from their lives. This will ensure that they are part of your life long after they have left home and have lives of their own.

Know who their friends are – this becomes very important as they get older. Remove undue influences from their lives when you can – don’t allow the sly under-hand child who ignores your instructions back in the house, don’t let horrible children be a part of their lives. If you know who their friends are, if they come to the house you meet them and can see if your child is keeping the right company. Believe me this is a crucially important matter as they get older – dubious friends are the gate-way to drugs, school refusal and failure and you could lose them altogether.

Respect their privacy – don’t go snooping in their rooms, on their devices (although there is a fine line here and you do need to know that they are safe in cyber-space) – allow them to be themselves, to have some secrets. But make it clear about time alone in rooms, time on devices – be aware of the dangers there.

Discipline them – you have to. Don’t beat them, but a well placed smack when they are old enough to understand is important. They need to know right from wrong. They need to know how to behave, about manners, about respect and decency. If you don’t teach them how to behave when they are young you have no hope when they are older and bigger than you. Set your lines in the sand and keep to them.

Just say no – they can’t have everything they want, or do everything they want. You can’t afford it and if you indulge their every whim you will create a monster that you don’t like, that nobody else likes much either.

Let them take risks – you can’t wrap them in cotton wool, why would you? Children run too fast, skin their knees, fall of their bikes. Teenagers take drugs, drive too fast, hook up with stupid boy/girl friends who break hearts. But you have to let them be, have to let them make their own decisions and take those risks. It makes them an adult and hopefully they learn from the stupid things and besides, do you really want them too spooked to try anything new, to never travel, never try new experiences?

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I love my children, they are the best things about my life but they were made into people I like (as well as love) and want to be with by many years of effort; by my beloved and I taking care with them. Yes there were tears and regrets, sulks and the odd tantrum, a few disasters, but overall we have triumph. I think I am a good mum, but you have to ask the kinder, they are the only ones who really know if they have been well loved.

If you’re going to have children remember to love them properly. And that means taking care of them: they are not toys or pets, some accessory to drag out and display, not some prize or way to feel better about yourself. Having children is a serious matter, it is a life-time commitment, it really is and if you can’t do the right thing then don’t have them. Don’t make the world a worse place by creating children who have been abused and neglected because you can’t move beyond your own selfish needs.

Look around you, at the plethora of refugees and asylum seekers in our increasingly divided, destructive world and note how many children are in those terrible camps, on those sinking boats. Why are they there? Those children are in such terrible places because their parents care for them. Their homes and countries are destroyed, there is no life there anymore, only danger and death. Parents in Syria and other war-torn places who care about their children have no choice but to get their children out. They take terrible risks but they are good parents doing all they can for their children, hopeful that they can still have a good life. Wouldn’t you do the same thing for your children? (Images from Private Collection)

Don’t Abuse Our Staff: Teachers Excepted

February 13, 2016

Have you noticed the signs all over the place, asking the public not to abuse the staff, not to take out their frustration on the people dealing with them? There was one on the bus the other day; I’ve seen them in council offices and hospitals. But they’re not in schools. Think about that. And consider now the recent findings about the most abused professions – those jobs where people are verbally or physically assaulted during the course of their working day. It’s not the police, or nurses, or even those who work in jails. It’s teachers.

A recent survey found that over 40% of teachers have been abused during the course of their working day and many have witnessed abuse of colleagues – verbal and physical. Teachers routinely have chairs thrown at them, are barged, pushed, sworn at, shouted at; each day brings low level contempt, rudeness, aggression, sneering and refusal to follow simple instructions.

Jac-work1

Recently in London a teaching assistant was attacked by a father outside a school because the TA had the temerity to admonish the child for poor behaviour. The father was having none of this, so he followed her and beat her up, knocking her unconscious, resulting in horrifying facial injuries and long-term damage to her neck. This violent man was given a 12 month suspended sentence, to wit, he was let off. What sort of message does this send the public and the profession?

It doesn’t really matter what the causes, what plethora of excuses exist in the world for poor behaviour, the fact is the behaviour of children and young people in schools has dramatically deteriorated over the last thirty years. Blame the parents, blame the teachers, blame food additives and electronic gadgets, blame the governments – it matters not, teachers are not safe at work and most people don’t really give a shit.

It works like this. All schools have behaviour policies. All schools have the right to exclude/expel on limited or definitive bases. All schools have a shit-load of paper-work to jump through for this to happen. Ofsted judges schools on their expulsion rates and if there are too many you get black marks – because excluding students is a mark of failure. The paper-work trail is a nightmare. For a student to be permanently excluded you need a file as thick as your arm. Unless they’ve brought a knife into school in which case it’s all over. But violence or aggression towards a teacher, well that may or may not result in some form of exclusion, it may or may not mean that child returns to your class, you may or may not have to deal with them again. You have to provide all sorts of witness statements because your word is not good enough. I understand there are untrustworthy teachers out there who do things they should not, but most of us do the right thing, yet we are treated with suspicion.

I had an incident recently with an aggressive boy who barged me in my room. I wrote my statement but his version was that I had attacked him. Fortunately for me there was another adult in the room, a TA, who clearly saw what happened and verified my version of events. But really, why would I lie about such a thing? I’m in a position of responsibility, the incident occurred in front of the whole class and had to be reported. In fact, this boy had been increasingly aggressive and defiant over weeks, had been removed, counselled, but his poor behaviour kept on escalating. He was not interested in behaving appropriately on any terms. In the past this boy has committed similar physical ‘attacks’ on other members of staff. Yet he is still in school. His parents support him. He is their angel. So here is an example of what happens to entitled pampered children – they don’t behave, they are ‘consequenced’ as much as the school can, the family does not support (or often is the cause of the behaviour) and so the child returns from their exclusion, is removed to another class and will undoubtedly offend again.

While my current school is pretty good on serious offenders, the truth is these children return to school, very rarely having learnt any sort of lesson. Teachers tread a dangerous path. We have to maintain our cool and calm under extreme duress: we have to remain the adult at all times. Often behaviour management comes down to some sort of mystical dynamic on behalf of the class who decide whether they will or won’t co-operate with you. Rules and procedures only go so far, some students simply don’t care: their purpose is to disrupt, defy and destroy. If you are lucky as a teacher it will be only one student and you will be able to manage them. But if the whole class goes along with the one, or there are many, you’re sunk and you can’t have half of your class removed because they won’t behave. Because if that’s happening then it must be something you’re doing, mustn’t it? If only you’d follow the behaviour management guidelines, you’d be fine…

 

This is what happens. A classroom is a bit like a pack of wolves. If you can establish yourself as the Alpha-wolf, or if you have the Alpha-wolf of the kid-pack on side then you can manage your class, teach your lessons and be safe. If you struggle for authority and the pack smell your vulnerabilities (you’re new to the job or the school, you’re supply, they know the hierarchy don’t support you) then you become fair game. You will face defiance, aggression and abuse. You will not be able to do your job. There won’t be any learning. The students will not make progress and you will be blamed. There is no win here for anyone.

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Teaching is in crisis. Young people are not staying in the profession, older teachers are retiring as soon as they can, or moving to other professions. More and more of those of us who remain wonder what will happen. We are blamed for the ills of the modern world, we are berated by students, parents and Ofsted; tricked and wrong footed by exam boards; dictated to by government ministers who really don’t know the first thing about education; expected to do more with less time and less money, and somehow, somehow remain sane and devoted to the job.

Students take less and less responsibility for their learning and their behaviour. Teachers are expected to bear it all. If a student fails to make progress the teacher is asked why. If a student won’t behave the teacher is asked what they have done to make the child behave. Successive governments have created this situation.

Once upon a time the poorly behaved child was a rarity, now they are common-place. Once upon a time the failing child was held to account for his own failures. Now it is the teacher who hasn’t taught or managed well enough – it is not the child who has failed to learn or own their behaviour.

Perhaps it’s time to switch things back again – to place higher expectations on students for all aspects of their life in school? Learn, behave, bring a pen, become a decent citizen. And let teachers be safe at work, like most other professions. Before there are no teachers left… (Pictures from Private Collection)

Students – love them, hate them, they keep you going…

July 18, 2015

Students – love them, hate them, they keep you going…

Last week was about the destruction of the profession of teaching, why it has become almost impossible to see a future as part of it. This week, reminded by comments on my blog and the joy that is the student beast, I must write about them, the students: the creatures that frustrate, annoy, winge and complain eternally but ultimately are the centre of joy in the world of education.

Yesterday was the final day at my latest school. It was one of those happy-sad occasions. I am pleased to be moving away from a senior management team for whom I have absolutely no respect, but sad to leave behind some colleagues and my students. The students are where the tears and sadness really reside. As always, it will be the students I miss, the students I remember.

Goodbye

This year’s highlights:

*Liam, in year 10, who has all sorts of social, emotional issues – think Christopher from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – spoke for the first time in years, and then offered to read and responded when called upon.

*Georgia, in year 9, who was permanently in trouble, every lesson really, and struggled with the basics, but a bit of bribery, a letter home (of praise), a chocolate and the tide turned and after Christmas – one day I noticed she hadn’t been in trouble since the term began and she was now making progress. Once the change was in it stuck.

*Jack, in another year 9 class, who was an absolute shit elsewhere but good as gold with me.

*Erin, in year 10, a silent sweet thing suddenly came to life with a stunning speech about art and her love of it.

*Lauren’s version of Lennie (from Of Mice & Men) in our court-room drama – one of the best I’ve seen.

*Shennay, of the ‘your an asshole’ who moaned and whined her way through the beginning of every lesson who managed to end the year with a C in course-work and her mock exam, despite very shaky beginnings.

Shennay

*Ryan, from year 12, was openly homo-phobic, said he would reject any of his children if they came out to him. Another student, George and I embarked on a furious discussion denigrating his position, completely ignoring whatever essential bit of English we were meant to be focusing on. George and I were concerned about Ryan’s ethical and moral soul and so the discussion raged for the lesson. A few days later Ryan confessed that he had gone home and thought long and hard about what we had said and had changed his mind – George and I were right. His homophobia, if not cured, had been smacked about and permanently dented.

*Lauren, Sarah and Kaitlin presented a dramatic re-enactment of key moments from the year in 0-6 with Lauren’s appalling Australian accent – she had the phrases right, though!

*Year 9C lining up to hug me good-bye with gifts of flowers and balloons – even my bad boys – and trying not to cry.

*My 6th form tutor group for their intelligence, humour, recalcitrance, confessions, need for advice, trust and love. It was lovely to spend the first 20 minutes of the day with calm (not really awake) teenagers who don’t have to be shouted at, who can engage on matters in curious and interesting ways. I love them – Y-06, probably my all time favourite tutor group – although my St Pat’s lot were pretty wonderful too. And, you get a whole different level of gifts from older students!!

Yr12 prez

What I am reminded of is that young people matter. That literature and books and writing and spelling are important but it’s the other stuff, the bit about life about becoming a decent human being, one with confidence and a belief in themself that matters. My cards are full of those ideas: thanks for the help, thanks for listening, for being there, for believing, for making me a better person, for liking me even though I’ve been a shit most of the year.

I will miss my collection of Jacks (all cheeky lads), Ruby, Ella, Erin, Shennay, Georgia, Paige, my Liams, Dylan, Harriet, Katie, Kirsty, Paige, the Katelyns, Emily, Lauren & Sarah, Connie, Issy, Beccy, Shaun, George & Ryan and the others who have passed through my door this year. Some will remain large in my memory, others will fade but my memory of this particular school will be based on them, and it will be a good memory.

Flowers & balloons

My students remind me why I do this, why I continue to do this and why I rail against the machine – there is so much more to education than a C in English, or good GCSEs. We must remember that education is about the child, who will become a person, hopefully a decent citizen, one who will make a difference too. Happy holidays all. xx (Images from Private Collection)