Posts Tagged ‘teaching’

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)

 

Advertisements

Don’t Stand so Close to Me

October 7, 2012

So sang the Police many years ago about a young teacher and a sexy pouty teenage student. He was tempted, there was gossip and tension, wet bus-stops and warm cars, and it was a great song. But it’s not a great story in the real world.

As we watched the story of the Maths teacher and the 15 year old student unfold we knew it could only end badly. It is not the thing of great romance or tragic suffering: an intimate relationship between a teacher and student is always wrong. Every time, no matter the situation, the orientations of the players or the reasons. All wrong. All ways.

A teacher’s role is one of privilege, of responsibility, of care and due diligence. It is normal for students to have crushes on teachers. God knows, my daughter has had a crush on her wonderful English teacher for three years. My best mate at school had one on our hockey playing, Holden driving Science teacher, such that we trawled the A block corridors at lunchtime hoping for a chance encounter and a smile. It all came to naught, as it should.

Yes, some teachers marry their students. Yes, affairs do happen. Remember the case from the States several years ago where the PE teacher became pregnant by her 14 year old student lover? She ended up in jail. At the moment there is another teacher-student relationship storm brewing in the USA and the case of the runaway Maths teacher from Bournemouth is yet to run its sorry course.

What was he thinking? He’s twice her age. He’s in a position of responsibility – in loco parentis, it’s called, where teachers act in place of a parent. To wit they care for the child, keeping them safe and relating to them appropriately. Let’s leave aside the fact that many parents do not relate appropriately to the their own children and look at why cases of student-teacher relationships are and should be taboo.

You can’t get away from the immense imbalance in power. A student is young, vulnerable, highly impressionable. They may not be all that innocent, and they may be very compelling and sexy and tempting but they are young, unworldly and unknowing. The teacher is the adult and must remain so at all times. If you don’t understand that a distance must be kept and that you cannot indulge in an intimate relationship then you are in the wrong job.

Parents, students and the wider community trust teachers with the young people in their care. It is an awesome burden, but one we should be proud of. Remember that the public rate us in the top 3 of trusted professions: this matters. It matters because it is about the future of our society, that we do make a difference. Thus we cannot abuse that trust.

That’s not too say that it can be hard keeping that professional distance. When you teach in deprived areas, or have students who are more vulnerable than others it can be all too easy to form close attachments to students. Sometimes they need an adult in their life who cares for them, who goes the extra mile: someone upon who they can rely and trust. It is right that teachers fill that role. But at the end of the day, the teacher must go home to his/her life and so must the student. Phone calls, text messages, FB etc are not on. The line in the sand must be observed: the relationship has to remain professional, even if extremely caring. The teacher is the adult and must remain the adult, in control of the situation, aware of their own feelings and the students.

As I’ve blogged before relationships are what matter most to students, what affects their learning and their lives. But teachers who go beyond the ‘rules’, the expectations of a caring teacher, do a great deal of damage: to the student – now and later in life; to the school and to the profession at large.

 

 

How do you avoid the trouble Megan’s Maths teacher got into?

1. Be aware of your feelings, know they have become inappropriate and deal with it – transfer, or get help from someone before it’s too late

2. Never be in vulnerable situations – don’t see students alone if you suspect their feelings or your own; never ever meet them out of school

3. Do not share your contact details with students – work emails for assessment purposes is one thing, private contacts another altogether

4. Thus avoid being friends with students – current and recently former on FB – be wary of how the student is connected to others who may be in school still and privy to private info about you that can compromise you

5. Do not share Twitter accounts for the same reason, or home emails, or blog connections. Remember the electronic world can be an evilly connected place –who knows who is watching and for what diabolical purposes??

6. Finally, if you know or suspect something unseemly regarding a colleague you have to report it. There will be someone in the school looking after CP (child protection matters) who can advise you and ensure something untoward does not happen, either to the student or to your colleague.

We know teaching is a minefield. Students can and do lie about teachers. Teachers can and do abuse their positions of trust. Many of us deal with needy and vulnerable young people every day. They do not need to come from impoverished backgrounds to be needy. We need to know the lines in the sand. We need to observe them at all times, to reflect on our interactions with young people, to ensure they are safe and able to navigate their way (often with our help) through some challenging times.

Remember, never stand too close to them… (Images courtesy Google Images)

How Many Faces Do You Have?

September 8, 2012

No, I’m not talking about madness or hypocrisy, although we could come close in this discussion, but consider the faces you wear to get through your day. Are you yourself, your true self all day long, how many masks do you wear?

 

The truth is most of us wear different faces for different occasions – Eleanor Rigby ‘wearing the face she keeps in a jar by the door’ to which Lennon and McCartney then ask – ‘who is it for?’ For years I was bamboozled by that lyric, loved the intrigue of it but now it makes perfect sense: most of us have faces we keep in jars all over the place. Perhaps the jar by the door is where her face for the rest of the world resides?

 

 

I work in a profession where you present a certain version of yourself to an audience every day. Yes, teaching is too akin to performing to avoid the actor/audience analogy. By the version of myself that my students receive can’t be too far from the real thing or my lack of authenticity will shine on through and I’ll fail miserably with them. But I can’t be who I really am; it’s not appropriate for them and a bit too exposing for me. Some of me does not belong to the rampant teenage beast.

As I interact with my colleagues it also holds. A level of professionalism must be brought to interactions. I can’t joke, gossip and swear my way through the day. I can, at times, with colleagues who are trusted friends but for the greater hierarchy I must put on a face that approximates who I am, that suits them and doesn’t compromise me. This is hard but necessary. The world of work is a precarious thing, despite what some might like to believe, it is personality driven. I need to work so I present a version of myself that suits the circumstances. When I can no longer live with that version of myself in that workplace, to wit when I have become too personally compromised, I must move on.

It’s one of the eternal struggles: who am I, how should I behave? My lovely baby-girl is caught in this struggle at the moment: a wish to be more assertive, to be less soft. She wants to grow a harder shell, but for the world, not her friends or family. Is that what Eleanor Rigby’s jar holds, a harder shell, a mask as she moves from the security of her home?

 

 

We are different people in different situations. It is as it should be. Our true self is something precious and wonderful and it does not belong to everyone. We are cautious with some people, mistrusting and therefore present a resistant face, a position that allows us to wait, judge, consider before we reveal more or even all of ourselves. Remember falling in love, or making new friends – you try out different bits of yourself with them, testing, checking before committing your true self to the relationship.

Animals tell it as it is. Cats mistrust the world, they only go to laps they want to sit in. You may pick it up, but if it doesn’t like you it won’t stay. Thus my beloved came to be the one, as Siska, my fluffy white Persian bucket of mistrust, preferred his attentions over other suitors and to mine! Dogs are the same. My big woof is the gentlest, most divine thing around the house and out walking. But get a post-man or a God-person knocking on the door and his inner beast arises. He’s not that fond of little yappy dogs either and ignores them with disdain.

 

 

Knowing ourselves is hard: sharing our true self with others is a fraught business. Think now, how many people can you trust to be absolutely you, in all your glorious contradictions and foolishnesses? They are your true friends. And you know what, they are being true with you too. It’s the only way true friendship and love can endure.

 

 

 

Keep your face in your jar, have a collection of jars, a range of masks; it makes sense. But don’t lose yourself. Remember what Judy Garland said: ‘Always be a first rate version of yourself and not a second rate version of someone else.’ Make sure your faces are authentic versions of you, keep your true friends close and you will remain intact, a person of integrity: someone who can live with themselves and that, my friends, is really quite something. (Images courtesy Google Images and Private Collection)

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.

Traveling Girl 2

February 5, 2012

(Link to Traveling Girl 1 – published October 3, 2010)

How many places in the world were there? Surely there was a place where she could be happy? This God forsaken blight on the planet, lost in time and humanity, on the west coast of nowhere was not the place for her. How many towns had gravel instead of grass on their footy fields? How many towns had a pub on every corner? How many towns were as full of people who didn’t really want to be here as this place?

It had not been a good six months. Foolish liaisons yet again – would she never learn? Friendships that were based on the slippery surface of proximity. A job that was neither wonderful nor terrible but not fulfilling either. Not much chance for literature and writing here: Friday nights in the pub, Saturdays at the Laundromat, Sundays preparing and marking. And so many grey days full of rain and clouds. Oh, what a gothic place to be, as miserable as any Bronte novel – weather within as bad as weather without.

And naturally with her spirits so blighted she’d terribly  been sick – bronchitis moving into pneumonia it felt – so she went home for two weeks to be in a familiar place, if not a familiar bed, and contemplated her future. Two years, the conventional wisdom went, before she could return to her sweet riverside hometown. But would she survive that long? All parts of life were failing and she had lost her faith in the future. She had not written a thing and she was neither an inspiring teacher nor inspired by the profession.

In August a telegram came. A position in the farthest place on the continental mass to the north of her insular island home: a chance to change her destiny. She demurred only a second, only a moment to check with a friend about life up there: all good, it’s all great, her friend confirmed, go, you must go. She accepted the job, made arrangements and delivered her resignation with joy to her less than supportive principal. Well, he’d never liked her much, nor had taken the trouble to disguise it, so how could she not delight in telling him (metaphorically at least) to stuff his poxy job.

Her father, of course, could not help himself and after the initial acceptance rang back to lambast her decision and impress upon her the foolishness of giving up a safe career in the Tasmanian Teaching Service. She laughed, at the horrific image conjured by that thought and by her father’s naïve belief that he could change her mind. It was simple, Nhulunbuy could not be worse than Queenstown. And if it was she would wear it.

She listened to the Eurogliders and felt a renewal of hope, a burst of sunshine in her deep mid-winter.

I’m tired of living in the sand

 I’m searching for a better land

Heaven must be there

Well it’s just got to be there

I’ve never -never seen Eden

I don’t want to live in this place

I want to find a better place

I’m searching for a better place (Heaven, 1984)

It was because she had already unhooked from home that this move was so easy to make. Had she still been in Hobart, had her mother not so thoughtlessly died, she would never have gone. But the thread was broken – there was nothing substantial or real to keep her here. All she’d made was a mess, so why remain?

She packed her worldly goods, shipped off a few boxes and her car, loaded her cats into their travel box and hitched a lift with her brother home to catch the plane to take her to the rest of her life.

She did not look back with longing or regret as they wound out of the hills from that depressed, weatherboarded, close-minded mining town. Nor did she hesitate for a moment as she walked to the plane three days later.

She took a window seat on the right of the plane, so she could watch her country unfurl below her as she travelled inexorably from one life to the next. Nervous, but not unnerved. She did not know it, but maybe she sensed it: if the move to Queenstown had set her free, this was the move to begin her life, remake it as she wanted it to be.

(Images from Google-images.) Please note: All opinions here are entirely personal and subjective and in no way objectively represent any place mentioned in this blog.