Posts Tagged ‘students’

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?

R&J

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)

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)

 

End of Term Blues: Why am I still teaching?

July 11, 2015

Why Am I Still Teaching?

It’s nearly the end of another teaching year – too many to count now! But I end this year sad and uncertain: what is my purpose, what am I actually doing as an English teacher in this country, under the latest changes?

Up until recently I have been confident about the importance and purpose of my subject and my job. English is central to the life opportunities of the young, as is Maths (yes, and other subjects are important too!). English is about the basics: reading and writing, but it is so much more than that – it is about communicating, thinking, creating, exploring, arguing; using the imagination. Well, it was, and maybe it still is at home, in Oz. But in the UK, with every change that is implemented English becomes an impoverished subject; ironically like most of the students whose life chances it purports to support.

In the reaction to the endemic cheating or gaming of the system through Course Work and then Controlled Assessments, key questions were not asked. No-one scratched their head and said: Hey, why are all these schools and teachers cheating to get better results? Why is this happening? Dots were not joined and so we have a subject that should be about nuance and thought, time and consideration, about planning and editing and drafting that is being wholly externally examined. My subject has been bastardised by people who have no idea about English and certainly not the first idea about young people. My subject has been hijacked by people who did not struggle at school, who have not listened to teachers or parents, who reside in some sort of alternative universe where education is stuck in the 1950s.

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Here are some questions that should have been asked before the latest changes were made.

1. What is the point of English in schools?

2. How can we make this subject relevant to non-readers, to those who don’t write, or see much of a future for themselves?

3. What skills and knowledge do we want them to have?

 

I used to think the point of English was to foster a love of reading, to encourage students to read for information, for pleasure, to develop their own language and ability to extract meaning from a text, to think about ideas and meaning and come to their own considered opinions. Fiction’s purpose was to start a dialogue, to tap into their experiences and move them beyond that, to consider other views, other world’s, other ways of being and seeing.

Reading lead to discussion, exploration, arguing, justifying an opinion. It led to accepting there were other points of view, other ways of seeing and understanding things; it also showed you were not alone, not the only one feeling the way you did. Reading lead to writing – personal responses, essays, critical analysis and creative responses, a story, a letter to a character, an extra chapter, and alternative ending, something original using an element from the text. Writing meant thinking, planning, writing, experimenting, crafting, drafting and editing before producing a final product worthy of ‘publication’ or assessment. Not a tick box exercise about triplets and wow words and as much punctuation as you can shove in to get an extra mark.

How many skills can you identify from that paragraph?

There is a large body of evidence that shows that reading fiction, especially good quality well written fiction, is good for us. It enhances empathy, our ability to connect to others, to understand people and how to work with them. Reading also develops our ability to concentrate, to sustain activities, as well as develop our vocabulary and understanding of how language works – the nuts and bolts of punctuation, sentence structure, vocabulary choices and effects. We learn how to be good writers from being good readers.

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But the new curriculum is not about love of anything – certainly not books or kids. There is nothing modern or particularly accessible on the new list for GCSE – a raft of Shakespeare, as to be expected, 19th century texts that many will never access – Great Expectations is a great story but too long; Pride and Prejudice a bit too much romance and marriage; Jekyll and Hyde may be short but its language is impenetrable. Most of the 20th century texts stop short of the 1960s. I’m not sure what these texts bring to a modern child, how they will find reading less of a chore, a king-size bore from the xenophobic list created by Michael Gove, the master educationalist.

I’m not sure what future the politicians see for young people, I’m not sure what they think they will achieve by a retro Sabre-tooth Tiger curriculum that takes no account of the modern world, of the impact of technology on language, on the way we create and receive information. I wonder what world these students are being ‘prepared’ for.

dead angel

I wonder how I will connect texts and tasks to their experiences, to make them see the relevance of what we do for 5 hours a week. I wonder how I can resist the pressure to make everything we do about exam skills and preparation, because that will be the push, the fear from above about exams now that we have nothing else to tell us how students are progressing.

I wonder how much longer I can do this job, dictated to by idiots and fools who have no idea what it’s like to be a teenager, to be at school, to be constantly tested, to prepare for a future from within an education system that is not fit for purpose. (Images from Private Collection)

A book: the best present

December 13, 2014

As the holidays loom for us all on both sides of the world I wonder how many of you are planning some lovely indulgent reading time. Perhaps in bed, as the rain howls and the snow flutters down, or on the beach, baking yourself all crispy like the Christmas turkey.

xmas pres

For several years when I was at uni wading my way through English and Psychology and reading books that were chosen by their thickness of spine I rebelled at Christmas and read and re-read Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds. I actually loved it. And like others was not impressed by the TV mini series that eventually followed. But for a few summers it was my un-wind and de-stress book. Indeed I took my banana lounge out into the sun, turned up the cricket on the radio and read for hours. It was bliss.

So when I went anywhere, traveling, even if only to the beach for the day, I packed a book. It seemed to me a book was an essential item. Needless to say I packed a ton of books when we went to China for three months and read my way through Schindler’s List amongst others. My poor boy had a list of classics he was expected to read given his age and greed for knowledge. I am pleased that he remains an avid reader despite his predilection for the Sciences. He was less than impressed by not getting a book for Christmas last year.

One of the best present for me, forever has been books. You will not, dear reader, be surprised by this as I am an avid reader and writer as well as seasoned English teacher. I can’t remember my first book but I know books have been part of the business of gifting all my life. I used to get an annual of some description – name completely eludes me – but it was expected and enjoyed for many years. Birthdays are also great times for books.

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What surprises and saddens me is that if I tell my students that we give books at Christmas many of them look at me in horror and amazement. A book – as a present – why? Well, clearly they would be aghast given it seems to cause them physical pain to open a book in class. To read a book outside of class wouldn’t even occur to them. It absolutely does not. What has happened to the world?

I wonder at a world where books don’t exist. It reminds me of Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury’s book where a future society outlaws books and any that are found are burned. Ironically many of my students would approve of such a world. Reading for them is a sort of medieval torture, something they must be forced to do. Worryingly this attitude does not reside only amongst the bottom dwellers of our fine educational establishments but abounds amongst many of the brighter stars.

phu reading

Disclaimer here: not all students are anti-reading, not all hate books, but a worrying amount do.

I wonder why so many are profoundly anti-reading, anti-books. It’s not just the screen-generation; it’s not just the attention spans of the much derided goldfish. It has to be in the home, it has to come from parents who also don’t read, who don’t value books or quiet, or the imagination. (It’s what’s called a trans-generational effect.) Ah, and there’s the thing – too many of our young people lack an imagination. Too many have no inner worlds of their own based on some magical place they read about and appropriated for themselves. They like a book on the screen: they know the stories of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings but they only know them as imagined by the producers of these films. Peter Jackson’s imagination dominates the world. How sad is that?

I am reminded of my China experience here. I’d read The English Patient not long before we visited in Shanghai and it was out on DVD. One of the exchange students offered to get it for me but I knew it was too soon between reading and viewing. I knew that the DVD would disappoint me, it would not be true to my version of the book, and worst of all, the book would be diminished for me. So, I waited, and for a number of years before I watched the film of the book. And I was not disappointed. I ended up loving both versions. I re-watch and re-read and am happy that my version is still in tact.

A Christmas book story. Last year my beloved big girl bought my beloved the first books of The Game of Thrones and the first two series on DVD. We entered into an agreement: that we would not watch the shows until the books were read. My husband was encouraged to re-boot his reading through this slightly briberous (sp!) arrangement and so we have been true. Books come first. Always.

xmas & books

Reading is not just about the imagination, about the writers and the readers. It is about many things that make us human, that reinforce our humanity.

 

Here is a brief list of why we should read and encourage those around us to do the same-

1.Reading helps your vocabulary, and understanding of grammar and expression

2.Reading fires the imagination, it enables you to think and dream

3.Reading enhances your empathy through getting into the heads and lives of characters and traveling with them

4.Reading tells you about life – its magic, its beauty and its tragedy

5.Reading tells you you’re not alone – there are others out there like you

6.Reading allows us to experience things we might not dare try in life

7.Reading enhances your ability to concentrate and focus on matters

8.Quite simply, reading makes you a better person, a more compassionate person, a person who makes the world a better place

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I know books speak to us differently and that’s as it should be. Books from different times of our lives mean more to us too, but there’s always a new book out there waiting to be discovered, devoured and shared. Make sure you share the books you love. Buy books for Christmas and keep your fingers crossed that Santa has one for you too, so you can sneak off after all the festivities and escape to another world of wonder. (images courtesy Private Collection)

Tis the Season to Cough and Splutter

November 22, 2014

It’s dark and dismal outside and inside it’s germ infested misery. The only consolation I take from my current bout of coughing and hacking is that I am very far from alone. I am surrounded by sickness. I am struggling on at work, having already had a couple of days off, not enough to shake this beast off, but enough to rest and return to the fray.

Because, dear friends, as most of you know, Teaching is not one of those professions you can’t just leave be for a few days while you lie prone fighting off the latest infection or ailment. No, children still have to be taught, or at the very least, supervised. They won’t wait patiently, silently on your desk for you to get back and so you minimize your days off, knowing you will return to chaos and that you aren’t really well enough.

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Teachers famously do not take off enough time when they are ill. It is the guilt monster – the knowledge that someone else has to do your job in your absence, and that the kiddies just won’t learn as much when you’re there. Regardless of your prowess in the classroom, someone else will not manage the darlings and little of worth will happen and most likely your room and resources will be trashed. Not to mention the likelihood of extra relief lessons when you get back, in that sweet way that cover-supervisors make sure you ‘pay’ for your day(s) off. Thus my workplace is festooned with teachers who can hardly speak for coughing, hardly move for pain, and plough on, not allowing themselves to get better.

No, it’s better all round to struggle in, be sick, prolong your recovery, and spread your germs around. After all, you probably picked your latest bout of flu from the darlings. And your migraine was probably caused by them, and your back or neck or other pain is exacerbated by hours on your feet, and your chronic tiredness is certainly caused by trying to contain and control the teenage beast and force some learning down them, while they cough and sneeze all over you, expecting you to give them a tissue!!

bedrest

Here’s what you should do.

1.Get a flu shot – governments should give them to teachers free – in fact I worked at a very sensible school (in this regard) who provided free flu shots for all staff every year.

2.Dose yourself with Echinacea and Vitamin C as soon as the snuffle or cough starts. Get medicine into you. Get cough lollies and suck hard and often.

3.Keep hydrated – water especially, tea, coffee and lovely hot lemon drinks

3.Rest if and when you can – do not push yourself and prolong the suffering. Sleep as much as you can.

4.Take time off and get properly well before rushing back – no-one thanks you for it and you do make yourself iller for longer. You also don’t function properly when you are ill or in pain. You make mistakes and get things wrong – you can cost your work-place a great deal through stuff-ups when you’re sick.

5.Eat chocolate – as much as you like, it is medically proven that chocolate in all its forms makes people better. I think toast does too.

chox

So, go to bed. Stay there. Settle in to sleep for as long as you need. Get a nice book, have someone make you a hot drink and bring you a treat of your choice and just stay in bed. Ignore the world. It will still be there when you finally emerge – recovered and able to cope with it all again. (Images courtesy Private Collection)

GCSE’s – bring on the ungrateful

May 3, 2014

In some parts of the world children are dying because they want to be educated. In some parts of this country children would rather die than be educated. Think that’s a bit harsh for a Saturday?

Well think about this. This week 230 Nigerian girls were kidnapped from school while studying for their final exams – who knows what has happened to them and lord knows their government hasn’t been doing a great deal to find out. They reside in a part of their country where going to school can be fatal. This week my year 11s came back from their latest gee them up and boost their confidence assembly with this: ‘Why should we care about our education, why should we have to do anything about it?’ Coupled with a general: ‘Oh my god, are you going to make me work this morning when I’m so tired from the weekend?’

Needless to say I was not terribly compassionate to those who have complained this week about how much they have to do to get their C, or make progress in English. No, I’ve been singularly angry with those who don’t care, with those who think it’s all a joke, all somebody else’s problem. (Please note there is a disclaimer at the end regarding sweeping generalisations and students.)

I am appalled and disgusted by the attitude of too many children I have met over the last six years who simply don’t give a shit. Fair enough, my non-teaching friends are thinking, let them fail. And in a fair world we would. But Education in England is not about the consequences of your actions, or even learning; no, it’s about teaching. Specifically it’s about league tables, year on year improvements, and meeting and exceeding targets, that actually are not realistic or based in any sensible or rationale logic, just some massaged numbers.

Education is not about learning at all! It’s not about the students (and their families) taking responsibility, no it’s about teachers and schools busting their guts to get the numbers, to not fail, to not have Ofsted breathing down your neck, to avoid being bullied out of your job or sacked, or ending up in Special Measures.

At the moment, across the country teachers are offering extra lessons, spending weekends at school, creating booster packages for home study, running residential weekends; are doing everything they can other than write the exams themselves to get their students over the line. Teachers sit in meetings where management asks – what else could you do for them? Why isn’t management asking the students – what else could you be doing for yourself?

Why are schools chasing students to attend classes, offering inducements to attend extra lessons, ringing them up to remind them to attend extra lessons, allowing extra time for everything, even driving to their homes to pick them up for the exams? Why don’t students and their families care enough to do these things for themselves?

The poor woman who was stabbed this week was doing such a thing – in school on her day off to teach an extra lesson for her GCSE Spanish class.

Indeed, why do teachers care more about students’ results than they do, why are we working harder than they are for their GCSE’s????

In other parts of the world students are desperate to be educated, some walk miles and miles to get to school, some get shot on the way, especially if they happen to be a girl (remember Malala) and their schools do not have remotely adequate facilities. In other parts of the world students compete fiercely to get into the government schools (Shanghai) because they know if they don’t they’ll never have a decent job and there is no welfare to prop them up the rest of their lives. In other parts of the world students take responsibility for their learning; they read, they complete their homework, they focus in class and do their best.

pal studying

Here, in failing schools across the country students don’t care. They want to be entertained, because education must be fun! They don’t want to be in class every day or work effectively when they’re there. They don’t read and wonder why they can’t pass an exam. They get to year 11 having done bugger all for too many years and wonder why they aren’t going to get a C. And they blame their teachers because finally it starts to sink in, school is nearly over and what the hell am I going to do – it must be someone else’s fault…

And you know what, it isn’t actually all their fault. It’s the system that is failing them. Not their teachers, who are as much the victim of the pernicious focus on league tables and Ofsted as they are, but a system that has taken away the students democratic right to failure and to their own true success.

They exist in a system that is not about learning, not about becoming a worthwhile person, a person who doesn’t understand the worth of an education because they have not had to work for it. No, they are failed and continue to fail because schools are not allowed to fail and so we spew out endless young people whose C is not theirs, who haven’t read an entire book in years, who don’t know how to think, who have been drilled and coached and had words and phrases shoved down their throats so they know how to pass. But they don’t know anything worth knowing about English.

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In Shanghai and other places there are consequences for not learning, for not trying. Schools work because students and families respect education, know that learning is the only way to a good life, self respect and security. Teachers are respected, not blamed. Education is valued.

Gove’s reforms are doomed. Not just because he’s an egotistical idiot, but because he is dealing with the symptoms, not the underlying cause, not the disease at the heart of education. Ofsted and league tables breed lies, cheating and all sorts of scurrilous behaviour. Exams are a blunt instrument, but given everything else in the system is singularly lacking in refinement and finesse what do you expect?

It won’t be until this country looks at itself, at its issues, its massive gap between the rich and poor, and creates a bespoke education system, one for all the people who live here, not just patched in from bits from the rest of the world, that all children will have the chance of a good education and a better future. Someone really should be asking how you can have such world class universities as Oxford and Cambridge and such a third rate government sector… someone still needs to be joining the dots much much better.

Singapore and Shanghai looked inward, looked at themselves and what they needed and then they changed their systems. The best performing Scandinavian countries do the same. They didn’t cherry pick from the rest of the world and now look at them!

Disclaimer: I have taught some amazing and hard working students here, those who have really cared about their education and were impressively decent people. I still do! I have also worked with some amazingly dedicated and hard working teachers. Teachers and students are not the problem, not at all… (Images from Private Collection)

What I Really Want to Say to Students

January 25, 2014

Patience, tolerance and knowledge: this is the way of the true teacher. The ability to hold one’s tongue when all around you tempts you to open your gob and say what you really want is the true test of skill and strength in the classroom. You may want to speak the truth, as you see it but you can’t – you are the teacher, the adult in the room, the one who is trained, educated and above vengeful verbal vitriol. No, actually, it’s because if you’re truthful to the wrong sort of child you can lose your job.

I have known teachers who said what they wanted, but they were by and large feared. Certainly I’ve had robust relationships with some of my classes, but thats tended to be with senior classes, who’ve got their act together, who you don’t need to pretend with, where the whole ambiance is quite different. I remember my Writing Workshop classes from St Pat’s fondly, where the whole world was up for discussion and I was brutally honest about their work and their behaviour and they were all completely cool about it.

 

So, if I could say what I wanted…

annoying bears

Do you really think I care about your pathetic life?

I hate you too, you fat ugly bitch

You’re a spoilt brat and your mother is a stupid witch for allowing you to become so arrogant on the basis of nothing at all

I’m only paid to care about your C

You are destined for the gutter – sooner rather than later I think

Perhaps if you weren’t so ugly you’d be nicer

Clearly my 30 years experience means nothing in the face of your amazing intellect

Yes, fail, I don’t actually care

You’re right I do think you’re dumb as dog shit

How stupid are you?

You’re calling Lennie thick…

Yes, there is no point to Shakespeare, to poetry, to stories, to books; there is no point to anything at all, so go off and shoot yourself now and save the rest of us your pointless whining and moaning

My dog is smarter than you, better looking and infinitely nicer to be around

Have you left your brain on the bus?

Do you have any thoughts at all, one lonely one, even?

Yes, you are stupid and lazy and will amount to nothing

You really think someone is going to employ you when you can’t even bring a bloody pen to class…

Don’t open your mouth ever again as all you say is shit

This is the biggest load of crap I have ever read, there is nothing redeeming about it. I’ll just throw it in the bin, where it belongs

Your writing is unbelievably boring

Silly me, you are a Princess, I forgot, no-one call tell you what to do

I forgot, you’re here to be entertained, not to learn, not to work but to have fun. Oh deary me, how could I forget that I’m not a circus clown.

No, of course you can do what you like; so can I, so next time I see you on the street I’ll run you down in my car

I can’t wait for you to get into the real world and get smacked down for speaking to someone else the way you speak to me

It’s just as well your mother loves you

I’d throw myself under the nearest bus if you were my child

Shut up now and forever

Just get over yourself

Fuck right off

mr rude

But what I say instead is…

Oh, dear

Never mind

I’m sure you can get a C if you just apply yourself

I would prefer it if you sat here, in this seat this lesson

When you’re calm we can go over this again

Perhaps you could listen now

You do need to apply yourself

Learning isn’t just about fun, you have to do some work to pass

I’d like you to go outside for a while

I’m here to help you

huggin pbears

 

Indeed I need to add consummate liar to the list of professional attributes at the beginning of this blog. Being able to lie convincingly seems to be the central skill of my job. As Lady Macbeth says to Macbeth in their murder planning phase ‘look like th’ innocent flower, but be the serpent under’t’ (Act1, scene5). It seems I’ve been following her advice as long as Apple have been around, so no doubt I’ll manage to keep doing it until I am blessed by full and complete retirement. (Images from Google Images and Private Collection)

 

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.

Tough Talk on Teachers

January 14, 2012

Omigod, Michael Gove is now getting tough on bad teachers. Are we surprised, dear reader? Not a bit. Of course he was going to this place, of course he has to have a more direct swipe at the teaching profession. Not enough to change and review all and sundry, now we must, simply must, address the on-going problem of bad teachers.

At this point let me refer you to my blog 9 Thoughts about why Education is not as it should be, especially point 1 – ‘every new minister of education thinks they have the answer’. So Gove is doing just that. He is the master: he has the answers.

We’ve been down this road before. If only head-teachers had the power to get rid of bad teachers then everything would be fine. Well, here’s the thing – they do have that power. But most of the time they’re too casual, too lazy to follow the processes fairly to get the result they want. Most teachers in this country are bullied out of the profession, not processed out. The stress and strain of constant observations, meetings, paper-work, poorly performing and badly behaved students does take its toll.

And actually what is more important, and this is what Gove needs to understand, is that it is this process that does a great deal of damage to students’ education. Teachers go sick. Relief teachers come in, some-one sets cover – is it relevant, is it okay? But even if it is good work the students are unlikely to co-operate. Even the best kids are notoriously poorly behaved for relief teachers. They think they’re having fun, giving the teacher (or succession of teachers) a hard time, but we know (as they do, really) that the only people being damaged are themselves.

Kids need many things in schools to be successful and make progress. Good teaching is certainly one of the main planks. But consistency in teachers is another central tenant. Let me say it again, students need consistency. They need someone they know, trust and will work for. Inner-city kids are more needy: they don’t have much consistency in their lives – school is about it. Teachers are some of the few adults they can trust and rely on. Even poorly performing ones, Mr Gove.

Gove’s bag of tricks say to the profession – we don’t trust you. You need to be monitored, assessed, graded and some of you need to be sacked as quickly as possible. He also assumes that Head-teachers know enough to identify bad teachers and are professional enough not to target or bully a member of their staff simply because they can. This just isn’t true – they are many inexperienced and inept Head-teachers who do bully people out of their school and out of the profession.

As I said – processes are already in place: they simply need to be followed, carefully and properly. And, here’s a thought, if there are so few bad teachers, why the need for this indecent haste, surely a good head-teacher will want to remove bad teachers in a way that is both fair and seen to be fair? The principles of Natural Justice, surely need to apply here?

This simply  grand-standing  from Gove – “look at me, I’m tough on bad teachers”. What about bad bankers – you know, the ones who bankrupt the country? What about bad doctors who remove the wrong organ and kill people? What about corrupt policemen, who are in cahoots with the media? What about politicians who fiddle their expenses and cost the tax-payer thousands? What about all those ‘bad’ people? I think we might mount an argument that they do far more damage than a handful of bad teachers. Are we lacking some perspective here?

Why are teachers singled out for so much vitriol? Why is the profession under such constant attack? The truth is teaching in this country is seriously hard work. Read the TES subject forums, where teachers post candidly about what they do – not just in preparation for Ofsted but as part of their normal business. No other part of the community spends all day in a room with 20-30 young people – being responsible for their behaviour, their learning, their socialisation: dealing with their aggression, their ignorance, their resistance to anything that will improve their lives. Would you do it?

Here’s a suggestion, Mr Gove – sack the bad teachers, the inept head-teachers, turn every school that struggles into an Academy, but pay good teachers what they are worth. If Education is so important to the future of this country then good teachers should be paid in accordance. Surely a good teacher is worth more to the country than a footballer?