Posts Tagged ‘politics’

2016: Traumatic and Toxic

December 28, 2016

2016: Traumatic and Toxic

Well, it was a year wasn’t it? A catalogue of death and damnation and one wonders, given we still have a few days to go, what else might befall the planet?

Many years are much the same as others, and pool and blur into an indistinct hue once the moment has passed. Some years we remember: those where we succeeded; where lives started; where we met important people; where we traveled; changed jobs, and yes, lost loved ones.

2016 could be called our global annus horribilis, just like the good old queen had a few years ago, when amongst other things Windsor Castle managed to go up in flames. 2016 has seen the passing of many of the greats of the entertainment world – we kicked off in January with the death of David Bowie, followed swiftly by Alan Rickman and the floodgates whooshed open. I am not about to list the plethora of passings – it is too many to mention. Some celebrity deaths bit harder than others and in our celebrity saturated world it became impossible to keep up with the tributes and the ceaseless march to immortality. Once rock n rollers died young or faded into obscurity, this year they died in greater numbers than before and not the young and not from celebrity excess. No, we lost them to cancer, and illness and oddness (Prince, what actually happened there?) and to a more limited extent old age – Leonard Cohen was in his 80’s.

There must be something in the air, some cosmic disturbance of the energy surrounding the planet, something that has shifted us off orbit and decreed this a year of death, disaster, and disturbing changes.


Has this been a particularly savage year or is it just a symptom of age: of the age of the departing celebrities, our own ages and of our modern age of instant information? Once the spread of such news would have taken longer. But we knew within minutes of the public announcements that our beloved stars were gone. George Michael died on Christmas Day – we knew about it Christmas night. I was just getting used to Rick Parfitt (Status Quo – the morning music of my youth thanks to my brother, blasting it through the house as he ate his cornflakes, toast and Vegemite) being gone when there was George Michael, one of the iconic music figures of the 80s & 90s, gone as well. And, as I write, Carrie Fisher has died too.

Some deaths will effect some more than others. Yes, there was so much about Bowie, it was hard to ignore and yesterday BBC Radio2 was devoted to George Michael with a bit of Status Quo thrown in. Some of these artists had a massive impact, their songs marked people’s lives; they meant something beyond just great music and amazing performances. Celebrities matter these days and ones that were around for key moments in our lives are mourned like friends, are missed like friends. So, for some it has been like being in the ring with Muhammed Ali, whom we also lost this year, or the like – going the twelve rounds, getting knocked down, getting up only to be knocked down by the next death blow.


Celebrity deaths are traumatic things but the increasing toxicity of the media is perhaps far more to worry about this year. Several brutal and vicious elections were contested. And to continue with the boxing analogy, the gloves were well and truly off. The EU referendum in the UK was vile and ugly. It marked a low point in an area of life where we have come to expect gutter like behaviour: politics. As you well know I am no fan of Michael Gove, and everything I loathed about him was on display; arrogance, lies, contempt for all and sundry, no care for ordinary people, only ever about his own agenda. Never mind that both sides ignored the consequences of a campaign run on sound-bites and misinformation, never mind that a politician was murdered and that hate crimes and racism has spiked since Brexit, all that seemed to matter for Gove, Boris, Farage, Cameron and Osbourne was their opinions, their agenda, their egos; no, nothing really concrete or honest about what was going to happen next. I guess the best thing was that many political careers were wrecked in this democratic farce but what are we left with in this brave new world of looming UK independence and the lurch to the ultra-conservative right?


Across the pond the unthinkable happened and an ‘unelectable’, sexist, racist, hatred spewing geriatric was elected. How did the world get Donald Trump as president of the most powerful nation on earth? Would Hilary have been better? Who knows … But at least she had some experience and has spent her life in public service. The Donald seems only to have spent his life in service to himself. And why did so many people who were not his natural constituents vote for him?

No, I would not have voted for him, just as I did not vote for Brexit but the fact that so many did and effectively voted against their own self interests (you too, Australia) does make me wonder about democracy and the blatant lack of consequences for those elected on ridiculous promises they have no intention of keeping.


Regardless of your feelings about Brexit or Trump, or about who deserves to win, what is most reprehensible about both of these elections has been the unprecedented level of vitriol, misinformation, false news and outright lies. But no-one seems to really care. Hey ho, another politician has lied. More tax breaks for the rich, more pain and restriction for the poor and less able, in the US, UK and Australia too. Do people get the government they deserve when they are so deliberately misinformed about what is happening and what will happen when the election is over? Do ordinary people really deserve this level of toxic contempt from those who govern us?

And let us not ignore the media in this – the legit media – whoever they are these days and the alternative media, who may or may not be giving a thoughtful alternative to the gate-keeper news of the big papers and big networks. Where does this level of bullshit come from? Yes, the various media and tech barons across the world. Do you really think Rupert Murdoch or Mark Zuckerberg aren’t influencing the masses, making normal folk vote the way they want? Mr Face-book himself needs to take a long hard look at the amount of acerbic vitriol that was parading as news on his platform, his octopus like platform with tentacles across the world poking into the impressionable minds of all sorts of unwary, unwise people. Does he think Face-Book did not influence the US election, does he really think his locks and bars stop the shit getting through? As to Murdoch, why is such an odious old man allowed such power, enabled by slews of policy making wonks to do his bidding?


How do you tell real news from fake news? How do you tell what is a toxic real story and a toxic made up story? Why are we buying into the slanging matches that are the comments on various articles, where we seem to prefer to ignore the argument and go straight for the personal attack? If people disagree with our view then clearly they are stupid, and should die or be raped, etc. Yes, these are the sorts of comments that are now common-place. There is no space for disagreement, you are either with me or you are the enemy. And so we scurry to safe places, behave like snow-flakes, ignore unpalatable truths and live in an ever increasingly dangerous world.

Perhaps this year’s gaggle of dead celebrities have seen too clearly how the world is turning to the dark side and have got off?

It’s been a shocker of a year. Not one to be repeated, but I fear things will not suddenly be better in 2017. Perhaps the death rate amongst the talented and exalted may slow, but the toxic state of the planet is not going to suddenly turn and shift to the light, move back to some sort of balance.


Your job, dear reader, is to learn from this horror show of a year. Hold your loved ones close. See your old bands and favourite musos before they go. Do your best to behave with honour and decency. Do not get pulled into the vortex of bile and slander, on-line or in life. Teach your children well, lead them to truth, let them discern the lies, enable them to stand up for themselves and what is right without resorting to violence and verbal assault. In the old Aussie Rules parlance, let’s play the ball and not the man. (Images taken from Private Collection)


a small poem of despair

June 18, 2016

A Small Poem of Despair…

Tis the season to be hateful

To incite violence

From the faithful.


Far right, far left

All are quite bereft

Of behaving at their ethical best.


We should hang our heads in shame

For all of us are to blame

For tolerating extremism

Homophobia and racism,

For allowing too many lies

From our political masters and their allies,

From the unholy mess

That is the national and international press.


There is no high moral ground

Simply hatred scattered all around


So for fuck’s sake make sure you vote

Democracy is on the ropes

And you are its last hope


Brexit, Trump and Turnball

An unholy trinity that don’t bear thinking of at all!! (Images from private collection)


An Allegory: The Cowboy and the Idiot – Part 1

November 9, 2013

Once upon a time in a place that could be nearer than you think and not so long ago as you’d like, an old cowboy looked around the town and wondered how the new sheriff was going to cope. The town was still a bit rough, a bit ragged around the edges despite the years and the various waves of change sweeping through, but its heart was in the right place and most of his work was done here.


The new guy was less than prepossessing to say the least. Crueler people, and there were many in the town who cheerfully called a spade a spade and a fool an idiot, would not find it possible to see what it was that had elevated this man. The cowboy looked at the sheriff, peered into his pale watery eyes, failed to find a chin, or anything defined about his face. His complexion was pale; pasty really, and his hair was mousy and dirty-blond under his new black ten gallon hat that sat uncomfortably on his head. His colourless lips quivered over his over-bite and the cowboy was put in mind of a blobby jellyfish. How would he survive in the heat of this place?

‘You’re one of my heroes,’ the sheriff said to the cowboy.

The cowboy nodded. He was used to being admired. But not liked very much, well by a select few but that didn’t matter: he had a job to do and all that mattered was that he did it well. He looked to the horizon, to where he needed to be sooner rather than later, to where his new boys were waiting for him.

‘There’s a lot to be done,’ the sheriff said looking around the dusty town, at the saloon, the bank, the store; down the street to where the church sat, seeming to watch over them all. He didn’t really like that he would be able to see the graveyard from his desk. ‘Will you be staying long?’

The cowboy shook his head. ‘Need to be moving by the morning. Be out of your way then.’

The sheriff’s hands shook a little as he rested them on his skinny hips, standing with his legs astride in what he hoped was a dominant pose. ‘I thought you might be around for a bit so we could chat. You know, shoot the breeze about how to tame this place, make it the promised land like the boys at home want us to, like those other places are.’

The cowboy almost smiled. ‘No. It’s time for your sort of law enforcement, you were elected to sort out this place, so you need to begin as you mean to go on. I’m not the sheriff, just a lone cowboy doing his best.’

The sheriff allowed himself a smile. ‘Ah, Mick, you shouldn’t under-rate yourself. Between us we’ll turn this county around and show those boys back home in the big smoke how to run things. And then, who knows what triumphs will follow?’

The cowboy nodded. ‘Yep. We’ll make a difference. But you here, in your way and me out there in the wilds, in my way. From time to time our paths will cross but for now I’ll let you settle in and get the measure of the town yourself.’

The cowboy gave the sheriff one last look up and down and wondered what would become of the place. How aligned were they? Could this weed of a man make a difference or was he just bolstered by his devoted supporters and his own rampant ego? Mind you, as the cowboy well knew, a big ego could take you a long way. If he was to give the sheriff any advice it would be to trust his own instincts, not to listen to the nay-sayers and especially not the hedonistic, ne’er do wells in the saloon. If he had his way the whole place would be blown sky high. This land, this hot, dusty inhospitable environment was a place for work, hard work and no shirking. It was a place for devotion, for determination, for sacrifice and courage. He knew these things as truth and expected others to come to that truth as well, willingly or not. He knew his single minded approach to law enforcement, his own maverick brand of justice was the right thing. He guessed that as the new sheriff was a fan then he would be in accord with the cowboy and they would make the land over in their own image.

wyatt earp

The idiot watched the cowboy fade into the sunset and felt a shiver of determination wash over him such that he stood a little taller in his shiny new boots and stretched his giblet neck to assume an altogether bigger posture. He would shake this town up like nothing on earth. He knew, as sure as eggs were eggs and the sun rose in the east that this town was gonna change. He smirked, as he was wont to do, these townies hadn’t a clue what was coming. He knew what he wanted, and this place bore no resemblance to the sort of town he wanted.

For a moment his vision glimmered in the heat: he saw the golden age, a place and time when the world was as he wanted, where it was just like where he grew up: where things were good and right. He would have that time again. (Images from Google Images)


Gove v Teachers – Round X

December 9, 2012

Have you read the weekend papers? If you’re not a young teacher but an older-type one then perhaps you’d better not. The article in the Sunday Times is grim and an example of incredibly biased reporting. Ah, perhaps I should take in for my KS4 lot to tear apart??

The glove are off: our dear friends Michael G is after teachers’ pay because good teachers – no, sorry – good young teachers should be rewarded for all their hard work and efforts and extra hours by getting the pay they deserve. They should be able to move from approximately £21,000 pa to £50,000 in six months if they are worth it. All young teachers, it seems are worth it and shouldn’t be constrained by out-dated modes like pay for experience and age; or the hard won teachers’ pay scales.

boxing gloves

Mm? So, where are the good older teachers – do we not exist? In Michael Gove’s world and the Sunday Times, it seems not. Clearly they envisage a world of Teach –first’s and young, enthusiastic teachers, all with passion and energy, willing to work extra hard, motoring up the food chain to be in charge of everything by the time well before they are thirty. Well, good luck to them.

There is a serious flaw here, and those of us who have been teaching for years know. In fact, those teaching for a few short years with a degree of awareness and intelligence know too. You need to put in the hours to develop your skills and your craft. Teaching is a craft. There is a reason for the pay progression by years and experience – most young teachers aren’t that spectacular in their first couple of years. Many have flashes of brilliance but good teachers become so through experience. Good teachers, no matter what their age, should be rewarded.

war o theacers

In fact, my own utterly delightful Teach-first reminded us all of Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour theory in his Outliers book. The idea goes that to reach expert level in your field you need to spend 10,000 hours mastering that skill. So, the theory about work says you need five years to become proficient in your field. Interestingly enough when I worked in the Northern Territory of Australia that was their line in the sand about applying for promotion. You would not be considered ready for your promotion assessment until you were in your fifth or sixth year of teaching.

It made sense: the first year of teaching you make all sorts of rookie mistakes, the second year, if you’re smart you don’t make those mistakes, you make others! By the third year you’re developing well and probably ready to take on year 12s and by the fourth you’re actually adding to your school and department, so by the fifth – your 10,000 hours, you have mastered your field and ready for the next challenge. Although, I would be very hesitant to say that it is possible to fully master such an fluid and every changing profession as teaching.


So, why is there such a rush to take young teachers to leadership when they are not ready? Why is there such an emphasis on young teachers being the only ones of value in schools these days? What’s happened to experience and wisdom, to a calm steady hand; one that knows what’s important and what’s ephemera?

How can an inexperienced head-teacher really judge fairly and objectively the worth of a teacher to the profession? Because, let’s be clear here, many head-teachers on the basis of the rush-through Teach-first, Future Leaders programs have not had the requisite 10,000 hours at the various levels on the way up to be prepared to run a school or make valid judgments.

snarling wolf

Talent, hard work, dedication, spark and flair – all these things should be rewarded. But to overlook wisdom, experience, gravitas in the headlong rush to break unions and push teachers out of the profession, will only weaken the schools that need strengthening and will not deliver anything for the kids.


The pay-scales are there for two very good reason:

1.Experience matters and is worth it and is hard won

2.Head-teachers are not always objective rational beasts: they have their favourites; they have their ‘to die’ list – they are like all of us; fallible and flawed. I am on my 17th head-teacher – I speak from experience.


Again, I can only wonder at a government and a minster hell bent on ripping into teachers once more, blaming them for all the ills of education in this country for the last 30 years. Ironically, teachers know that to help students make progress you emphasis what they can do, show that you believe in them and tell them they are worthwhile human beings.

happy PB

A shame that governments and too many head-teachers ignore this bit of truth about the world. (Images courtesy Google Images)

Bullying – a lifetime calling

October 13, 2012

We like to think that bullies from school somehow got their just rewards, that somewhere someone bigger and nastier than them got them back. And you were karmically rewarded for your own suffering. But, sadly just as bitchy girls grow into bitchy women, so schoolyard bullies grow into workplace thugs. It may be subtler and harder to pin down, but bullying in the adult world is endemic.

I find this terribly sad. I was one of those bullied as a child. I was never sure why. It was girls much, much older than me who seemed to find it amusing as tough grade sixers to monster a child in grade two. It must have made them feel wonderful. There was a girl in my class (grade 2 still – must have been a great year) who played the more devastating bullying games of you are my friend, you aren’t, you can come to my party, you can’t. Essentially she was a bitch and one of my happiest days was when she left school at the end of that year – off to torment someone else, somewhere else.

For years then I was free of torment, had friends, got on with my life, went to uni, got married, had kids, made a life. But now I find myself in a work-place where bullying is endemic. It is part of the culture it seems. Is it because that’s part of the culture in this country?

It is, of course ironic, because, as well you know I work in a school, where we’re meant to protect the kiddies from such nastiness, where we have anti-bullying policies but where bullying of the staff is a daily occurrence.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve worked with bullies in the past and dealt with too many students who are failed by school anti-bullying policies. When faced with bullying most schools fail to deal with it adequately. At my last school students were clear that bullying happened and no-one on the vast pastoral team had any real idea it was going on or dealt with it effectively.

It seems to me that bullying is one of those things we know we’re meant to abhor and need policies for but very few of us know how to deal with it effectively, either when we know others are being bullied – our own children, students in our care, friends  – or ourselves.

Part of the issue as an adult is the shock that you are actually being bullied, that you’ve somehow let someone do that to you. It offends your decency, your professionalism, your sense of self-worth. It’s often a sneaky thing, a subtle undermining of your value, your ability to do your job. You’re set deadlines that you can’t meet, not because you’re inefficient but because the deadlines are unreasonable. You’re set a task but not told the parameters of the task, yet if you ask you’re considered incompetent: how can you not know how to do that? You’re signaled out for an offence and ‘dealt with’ while others who commit the same crime are let go. You’re called to a meeting with an hour’s notice and an agenda as long as your arm. How can you be prepared? You are expected to perform in a particular way but nobody else is and if you are found wanting you are called into the office. You may even be disciplined.

Bullying at work is designed to under-mine you, shake your confidence, isolate you, lessen your performance so you can be legitimately sacked, or end up succumbing to illness from the stress of dealing with the on-going bullying.

Bullying at work is carried out by your superiors; someone with power. Think Devil wears Prada. Sometimes by people who are threatened by you: who find something about you, personally, or your performance, unsettling. Are you too good, too qualified, too experienced, do you show them up in some way; are your methods or philosophy not in accord with theirs?

Yes, your work-place may have a swag of lovely anti-bullying policies (ours is Dignity at Work) but try getting one to stand up. Try complaining about your bullying Line Manager. Doubtless they’ll be protected when you complain because the organization itself will be incapable of recognizing the problem and manifestly incapable of dealing with it. Or, even better, they didn’t realize what they were doing, just a misunderstanding, really and truly.

I think the truth of bullies being deeply insecure people holds but it matters not that they may need help themselves, they cause an enormous amount of damage in protecting themselves. Careers and lives are ruined by bullies.

Bullies are everywhere. They run large businesses, banks, governments; they work in entertainment, they manage schools. If you think Jimmy Savile wasn’t a bully you are severely deluded. There was a man with a nasty dark secret to hide and he used his position to abuse and bully young girls and then anyone who stood in his way.

What do you do if you’re bullied at work? Leave. The evidence shows that people who lodge grievances or complain about their bosses never win. Invariably they are bullied even more, forced out of their position, no matter their worth or ability.

What you should do (but you’d probably get sacked) is follow the advice some parents give their children. Hit back: hard, fast and nasty. Some people are never bullied, they’re the scary, mad ones in the corner: the beserk warriors from Norse legends.

Find a bit of the beserk in you – hit back, find the weak point of your bullier, and go for it. Stop worrying about being liked, being the good guy; stand up hard and strong for yourself and your colleagues. At the end of the day bullies are only bullies because we let them be. (Images courtesy Google Images)

Don’t Blame the Teachers; Think of the Kids

September 18, 2012

Isn’t it sweet how Gove and Clegg look so chummy in their recent publicity shots for their grand announcement about the revamping of the exam system? Isn’t it wonderful how they’ve worked together to over-come the malaise in the education system to rescue standards and improve kiddies’ chances?

Did you read the twaddle in yesterday’s papers? They know about education, about the scandal of re-sits and re-takes and all about English course-work, which actually, boys, no longer exists. It was flushed away in the recent over-haul of English courses, leaving us with the travesty that’s just occurred.

Yet again politicians are interfering with education. Gove has already imposed his will on Primary school curriculum and now he is doing the same for the exam sets for secondary students. Has he talked to a teacher? Does he know what it’s actually like in schools in the UK? No, is the answer. He thinks we are the problem and we have failed the children. We have dumbed everything down in a search for the bottom, in our desperate quest for improved grades and places on the league tables.

Here’s the thing: teachers don’t have a say in what happens in schools. Some collection of people miles above them in the food-chain make the decisions, usually without consultation, or with that faux consultation where your choices are all bad. We just get to carry out orders. It’s more like a warzone, where the generals and commanders sit miles back from the action but tell us what to do, especially what we’re doing wrong. We’re the ones who go out to be shot. Remember Gallipoli?

I’ll tell you what we’re doing wrong- we’re failing generations of kids by this constant measuring and examining. What other country is as obsessed with testing and examining as the UK is? All Gove’s research should have told him that social mobility is not improved by exams. We’re now going to fail oodles more by this retrograde step – the EBacc – which will push the poorest students further away from uni or decent choices about their futures. We will have a 2 tiered system, where some subjects are valued, and therefore some skills, and some subjects are not.

Wither Music and Art, DT and ICT? Where are the creative, making subjects in this brave new education world? Gove and Clegg have thrown us backwards, not taken us forwards. Young people need to think for themselves, be equipped for a changing, evolving world, not just know facts or recite poems (although all of that is nice). They need to be creative, resilient, tough. They should be able to enjoy a range of subjects at school to know what they’re good at, to make choices about their futures based on interest and skills. They should be able to learn without everything being about an exam at the end of it.

Have Gove and Clegg thought of the current batch of students who have just suffered through the latest exam debacle, only to be told their qualifications aren’t actually worth anything? That, really, as everything’s been dumbed down, they are just dumb, dumber than those who were educated in the good old days, when rigor and standards meant something? Seriously, why do we listen to these men?

These fools are busy telling me I’m responsible for the failures of their system. They tell me my students are dumb and unworthy. They’re telling me my daughter’s GCSE’s aren’t worth having, not to mention her choice of A level subjects.

These fools haven’t the first idea and as soon as people realize Education is simply a political football, a way for politicians to grandstand and stay in power and we ignore them, we’ll actually be able to look after the students, teach them things worth knowing and be much better off.

Parents, teachers, students: we’re all in it together, not the politicians. It’s time to tell them where the fuck to go.

Education does not need to be in a classroom-sized box

July 16, 2012

Have you read the Sunday Times piece (14 July 2012) An online class apart? It discusses a US firm’s plan to set up a Free School offering lessons over the web. On the one hand it’s claimed it could transform education in the UK, on the other, it is the end of the (education) world as we know it.

As always, the truth lies somewhere in between. Mention Free Schools in some quarters and the pitchforks come out. Mention importing anything educational from the US and the lynch party will be there before you’ve finished your sentence. Yet, we know Free Schools thrive in Scandinavia and that Ark Academies are based on the US based Kipp Charter schools and the Ark Network is one of the biggest academy chains in the country, boasting enviable success.

Predictably politics is right in the middle of the latest educational buzz. The unions see on-line schools as a threat to teachers, believing Gove will use it as an excuse to employ less teachers as a virtual school would need less staff. This time round the application failed, but there is no need for fear here; in fact this sort of schooling is not unique to the US and should not sends tremors of anxiety through us all. It should add to what is available and give a whole range of children and families more choice.

Do you know that over 80,000 British children are home-schooled? There are out of mainstream education for a variety of reasons including religious, health, bullying and for ideological reasons.

Did you know that in places like Australia many children can’t get to a mainstream traditional place of education and that many of them are educated at home through distance education? I’m sure you’ve heard of the School of the Air – which broadcasts primary education out of Alice Springs and Katherine in the Northern Territory. These institutions have been educating children in some of the remotest parts of the world for years, initially over the radio, now through a range of on-line and super-duper technology. For secondary and post-primary education there is the NT Open Education Centre in Darwin.

These three schools have been delivering high quality learning outside the classroom box to generations of happy students – students who go on to university and careers just as traditionally educated children do.

I worked as Head of English, ESL, Literacy and the Library at NTOEC for five years. They were some of the most interesting years of my career. As well as the usual imperatives from succeeding governments who were all going to make education – especially Aboriginal education – better, we were at the forefront of technological endeavours in Education. We had our own print based materials based on the curriculum, teaching students from grade 8-12, so right up to university entrance. We were moving into a stronger on-line presence (I’m sure they’re there now!), using email as well as other emerging technologies to interact with our students.

Students did not suffer from not being in a classroom. Students had a weekly phone call with each of their teachers; small classes could be set up across the miles through the wonders of technology where poetry could be taught, discussed and debated. Students could email (if they had access) as and when; were entitled to visits; as well as coming into town for a yearly residential week of classes, to be in the ‘big city’ of Darwin and to meet other students.

Let me detail the range of students such an establishment can cater for. And this is highly pertinent to the UK situation as well. Students come in all shapes and sizes with a plethora of needs. Traditional education can’t hope to effectively cater for all: in fact, we know it doesn’t.

Distance – or on-line – education does a great deal for many students. Not only those for whom mainstream school is not available, to wit, distance ed’s traditional audience, the student out on a station, helping mum and dad run the place, or on a remote Aboriginal community where mum and dad work. But also for students who travel, who have been expelled, or who can’t cope in mainstream for whatever reason; girls who got pregnant and couldn’t go back to school with a baby; prisoners; RAAF personnel needing to up-grade their qualifications; Aboriginal students who need to move beyond primary education. We also had students who were travelling overseas, or who were ill and couldn’t cope at school. We had some who were being deliberately home-schooled, but not as many as you might think.

Some interesting things happen in this type of educational setting. Students, free from the off-task, time wasting antics of their fellow classmates, make better progress. They can complete subjects quicker than within the traditional time allocation and be accelerated through their studies. Or they can take longer, go deeper, ensure understandings. They can do nothing but English or Art for a term, then go onto History and Maths and Science. Students can make informed choices about their own pathways through the KS3 & 4 (equivalent) quagmire. They know what has to happen in order to get to KS5 and beyond, but they can make their own choices, supported by parents and school.

Our young mothers were able to take the maximum time allowed for KS5 subjects, coming in to the building on days they could get child-care to study intensely in the library with on-hand teacher support and guidance. We set up interest groups and extra-curricular stuff for local students who had fallen through the cracks of ‘real schools’.

Class sizes were smaller, due to the more intense relationships and one to one contact. My department was no less qualified, or devoted to their students. Student-teacher ratios still applied and we were not a significantly smaller department for our numbers compared to traditional schools.

Fear of the unknown stops us moving ahead. Students thrive in a variety of educational structures. Distance education, or on-line learning, is one that offers much to many. It can be a challenge to teach in that environment, to not see the shiny faces in front of you – although I guess Skype will have sorted that out – to not have the interaction of a whole group. But the intensity of the experience for some students is reward enough. You’ll be more challenged as a teacher here, the students are more independent, more likely to know what they need and how to get it.

The on-line future is here. It will be part of the UK teaching and learning experience very soon. It should be now. It’s time for all involved in education in the UK to move into the 21st century –put students first, their needs, their differences and stop trying to make education a one-size fits all. Who knows, perhaps one day they’ll stop examining everything that moves in the belief that it’s the only way to know if a child has learnt anything???

This Teaching Life

March 25, 2012

Having just vowed not to blog but to get down to some real writing – ie the bloody book – I stumbled upon this old thought about teaching and even though it’s not the end of the Summer holidays (but Easter break beckons) there are some things worth remembering here about this really quite noble profession.

This Teaching Life

It always happens about half way into the long summer holidays, the pains and joys of the last year having subsided, the terrors and fears of the New Year begin to threaten the horizon. Yes, I am a high school teacher. And right on cue, it seems I dive for the classifieds looking for alternative career paths. This is the time I look at B&Bs and Pubs across the country and wonder if we could make it work. I consider exotic foreign (well paid) postings and day-dream about retiring – alas, still too many years away.

But what I’ve done this year, as well as my regular desperate search for ways out of the profession, is compile a list of the things that make it all worthwhile. In most matters in life, especially such things as work and such impossible things as Education, it’s best to see the glass as filling up, not draining away. It helps focus my mind on the good things about teaching and kids: of which there are many.

  1. Two of the best texts I’ve come across in recent years have been through student recommendation. Jess R reviewed Donnie Darko in such an intriguing way that I was compelled to watch it. Heidi C insisted I read The Lovely Bones. I delayed and delayed, until after she had finished school in fact, but when I finally read it I was blown away, as she knew I would be.

I am reminded that students teach me things too.

  1. The best poetry I have read in years was by an anonymous Year 12 student whose writing gave me goose bumps with her exquisite handling of language and subject matter. She was better than I could ever hope to be.
  2. I couldn’t stand Tim in year 9 and I had written the worst report of my life for him. But he became the intellectual giant of my year 10 class and has signed up for my Senior English class this year. I can’t wait.
  3. Seeing the light of understanding come on – Tony Q when he saw Media Watch and A Current Affair and saw exactly how the media manipulated the truth
  4. Having the plumber turn up to fix the hot water system and finding he loved Macbeth five years ago with you, so you’re guaranteed a good job
  5. Having kids smile and wave at you, shout out Hey Swiftie, whether off the back of a bus, in the mall or the gym
  6. Having kids change lines to be in your class
  7. Having kids list your class as one of their favourites in their valedictory book
  8. Knowing that while you don’t connect with some kids, with many of them you do make a difference
  9. Knowing that there’s a lot of rubbish in Education but that in the classroom it’s still about relevant information, being entertaining; plus a consistent set of expectations and consequences
  10. Remembering that 95% of kids just want to be liked and get on with their lives. School is a necessary evil for most of us.

I know that teaching is an undervalued occupation in society these days and yes, I’d like more money but being with young people on a daily basis gives me great hope for the future. There are some wonderful, intelligent, generous, kind, funny, caring teenagers in this country (Australia and the UK) and it is a cliché, but teaching can be a rewarding job where you do make a difference.