Monday, 23 July 2012

School's Out Forever

My final teaching day was earlier this week and I said goodbye to some of the classes I've worked with for almost a year. It's always (OK, usually) sad, saying goodbye to children, and I was genuinely touched by my students' good wishes and their reasonably convincing refrains of  "We'll miss you, Miss."

Although I'm happy to be leaving teaching, I wish my students every success and hope they continue to enjoy their learning. (10YA: there's your promised plug!)

I'd intended to write a longer post, sharing some final thoughts on teaching and education....the need for more creative time and space, my hopes for a  "slow-learning movement" in English, which could create a real appreciation of literature and writing for all students, not just the most able or motivated.

I'd hoped to thank (again) the brilliant support and SEN staff at my school, who make inclusion work and remind us that education is for everyone, regardless of what trolls like Toby Young may think.

But...the sun is shining and the year is over and I've already forgotten that I ever was a teacher!

"Igor" Young and his evil master Govenstein have been reduced to shadowy figures in a year 7 story that ends with the phrase "and it was all a dream."

This nightmare will recur, of course, but in the meantime...

what Alice says!

Friday, 13 July 2012

What Teaching Has Taught Me About Kids

Last week I wrote about the hard work and dedication of the many teachers I've known and worked with over the past ten years.

As I approach my final week as a class-room teaching, I'm thinking back on what I've learned about students. I've only worked as a qualified teacher in one school--a comprehensive in a rural and suburban community--so my observations may not ring true for every teacher. In fact, I trained in a school where there were many more "challenging" students. If I'd spent ten years there, I'm sure my attitudes would have been more Trunchbullian by now.

Anyway, here are a just few of my observations:

1) Children are not the enemy.

It's often easy and tempting (not to mention satisfying) to see teenagers as a potential massed army of droogs, but it's simply not a fair picture. Most of the moral panics involving youth crime are either a repeat of an earlier panic (teddy boys=hoodies) or involve heinous acts that are extremely rare.

2) Children are not all bad.

OK, maybe kids are irritating, noisy, confused, troubled, troubling, selfish, irresponsible, rude, highly-strung, aggressive, challenging, defiant, nasty, disobedient, arrogant, lazy, or annoying....

...but they're not all bad. Really.

3) Young people need adult support and approval as much, if not more, than they ever did.

In a school situation this is hard at times, especally as kids often act out their frustrations and insecurities in ways that are challenging (that word again) and disruptive. Frankly, I'm operating in "do as I say, not as I do" mode now. I've always found it hard to see beyond bad behaviour and find somethig positive in every kid.

But something good is always there.

 4) In short, what teaching has taught me about kids is that young people are kind, co-operative, hard-working, funny, caring, intelligent, energetic, hopeful, entertaining compassionate, inquisitive, easy-going, supportive, talented, charming and above all, good.


Most of them, anyway...

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Warning: This blog post contains pictures of both Michael Gove and Toby Young

There are two weeks left  in the UK's school year and, for me, these two weeks will be my last. After ten years in the job, I'm leaving teaching. I've taken time off in the past (I had a year's sabbatical two years ago, which probably marked the beginning of the end) but I'll soon be completely out of the educational loop, except as a supply teacher, tutor and (I hope) a visiting writer.

 How does that feel?


There are many things I will miss about teaching (OK, let's make that "some things") and there are some things I won't miss (OK, let's make that "many").

Right wing? Moi?
But now that anyone with the proper right-wing credentials can get state funding to open their school, and many parents think they can do a better job at educating their children than teachers, and the current education secretary has decided to re-make British schools according to his whims andd fanciful notions, I might as well throw in my comments about education, too.

 So, here are some of the things that teaching has taught me...

1) Teachers (at least every one I've worked with or met) are dedicated to their students and are good at their jobs.  

2) Teachers work harder than anyone who's not a teacher will ever know. The UK holidays do not compensate for the extra hours and the unrelenting stress. They don't even come close.

 3) Most of this hard work is unneccessary. The crippling workload serves no purpose.

4) Before I started teaching I thought that schools were like prisons. I still feel that way, although much of the "imprisonment" is internalised by both jailers and jailed (as a teacher, I felt that I was both). In such a pressurised (and politically volatile)  environment, it's almost impossible to think creatively or imagine a more effective way of doing things. At least it was for me.

5)Teachers who work in difficult or challenging schools should be rewarded with smaller class sizes and higher pay, not derision.

6) Everyone involved in education should be part of the national "debate" on education--students of all ages and abilities, teachers, TAs, SEN co-ordinators, admin staff, libarians, technicians, parents.

Know-nothing? Moi?
 Leaving important decisions to experts and academics alone is silly; leaving them to know-nothing politicians who use education as a convenient stopping point on their path to world domination is criminal. 

7) League tables have caused immense damage to education, and warped educational priorities so that results have become the only things that matter. This has set school against school, parent against teacher, teacher against student.

 More importantly, the very existence of league tables suggests (and not too subtly) that a student who isn't an academic high flyer is less valuable or important than one who is.    

8) Every year when GCSE and A level results are announced, there is an outcry about standards and dumbing down and blah blah blah. There will be one this year, too. I think some newspapers just run the same item with the percentages tweaked slightly.

They print the same picture every year, too. Those girls who are jumping into the air with glee? They are actually 38 years old now and are getting tired of this cruel reminder of their more energetic and agile youth.

7) Everyone over the age of 25 thinks that they were much cleverer and hard-working than the students of today. They weren't.

 And finally...

8) Having children dress up in suits and ties to go to school is creepy. Wrong on SO many levels. What's wrong with you people?