speaking as a scientist et cetera

Entire morning Leadership meeting spent discussing (for which read Arguing) about term dates, whole day staff training days, twilight training sessions, start and end dates and Anything Else We Can Think Of.

Make cogent point about effective models for staff CPD being best delivered through regular twilight sessions before discussion veers wholeheartedly into reasons why we will apparently be moving away from doing this. Decide at this point to Shut Up and spend time responding to emails.

Reflect on previous Diary Entry about value of creating cognitive capacity for specialist subject CPD and realise that This Is Never Going To Happen. Decide at this point to Stop Thinking About Education and pick up Auden’s ‘The Orators’. Thoroughly enjoy reading ‘Journal Of An Airman’.

three terms of enemy speech:
I mean
quite frankly
speaking as a scientist et cetera

Teaching Makes You Stupid (or, in praise of Subject Specialist CPD)

Poet W.H. Auden writing poetry in a bookkeeping ledger at his home on Fire Island, New York. (Photo by Jerry Cooke/Corbis via Getty Images)

Am currently reading a book about W.H. Auden, or more specifically about Auden’s poem ‘September 1, 1939’. Although actually it’s not specifically about that poem, even though it is, and it’s not completely about Auden, even though it is. By which I mean that author Ian Sansom makes it partly about himself and partly about The Bigger Picture and partly about Auden and partly about poetry and partly about this particular poem. It is a great book, but it makes me feel Really Stupid, and that in turn makes me sad and frustrated.

For whilst Sansom’s book is Not An Academic Text, it does throw in quite a few references to Academics and Academic Texts and Other Poets and Literature and Literary Criticism which, had I the time, energy and space (in other words if I had the spare cognitive capacity) I would probably rather enjoy. But I don’t. And I don’t. And it’s because it’s barely the second week of term and already I feel like I Have No Life. Or rather it is that life has already ebbed from my sickened body and left me a shattered husk. Not that I want to be over dramatic.

I recognise that were I to be reading a similarly pitched book about Teaching and Learning then I would probably Not Feel Quite So Stupid, but frankly also strongly suspect that I would find such a book to be A Lot Less Interesting. Where is the Auden of the contemporary (Secondary) Education world? Probably busy being a Twitter Celebrity.

Suspect that The Point Of All This (and there may be one, so bear with me) is that whilst the past two/nearly three decades of teaching may have left me Well Versed in an understanding of the Science/Craft (delete as appropriate) of Teaching, it has had detrimental impact on my knowledge and understanding of Subject. It has, in effect, left me (feeling) stupid.

Not stupid in the context of the level to which I am teaching (am fairly confident I could bring home a ‘9’ in the GCSE) but certainly in the broader, deeper context of my subject specialist knowledge. So whilst I am highly skilled (this is not the moment to be modest) at empowering students to think more deeply about the texts that they are reading in order to get a level 6, or 7 or 9 at GCSE, what I/we lack as teachers is that cognitive capacity to either ask each other those challenging questions about SUBJECT, or to ask ourselves.

Which is why more opportunities for subject specialist CPD is so vital. And not CPD that focuses on Subject at the level to which we teach (though there is need for that of course, to make us secure and confident teachers of that content) but the deeper knowledge of our subjects in the broader sense. Where are the opportunities for our History colleagues to talk/argue about the connections between 1970’s Britain and Our Present Predicament? Or indeed to argue about whose books are best: Dominic Sandbrook’s or Andy Beckett’s? Where are the opportunities for our Art colleagues to talk about the work of Robert Frank (including whether ‘Pull My Daisy’ is actually any good or not) or to argue about the value of John Berger’s critical writing and whether it is still relevant to approach Art from a Marxist viewpoint in 2019? Let’s face it: Ten minutes over a rushed instant coffee between a quick pee and Year 7 isn’t really the most productive time for such topics, is it?

Yet when Leadership discussions about Staff CPD take place we continually promote Skills Of Teaching as the Only Valuable Topics for Training. We say it is in response to What Our Staff Want but really, is it? Always? Again? And again? And even if it’s what they think they want, are they always right?

So. How to build cognitive capacity into our daily grind such that we can enjoy the developing treasures of the subjects we fell in love with? (Because we DID fall in love with our subject long before we fell in love with the idea of teaching that subject).

When I start to feel less stupid I will let you know.

Sanctions, Actions, Warnings, Recordings

Much hilarity in leadership meeting in which team discuss minutiae of sanctions, actions, warnings, recordings and loggings for multitude of breaches of uniform, equipment and behaviour expectations. Eagerly awaiting minutes of meeting in desperate hope that they will include lengthy list detailing All The Things I Need To Sanction. Hope too that minutes will explain distinction between recording and logging but remain doubtful that such nuances will ever become fully clear.

Knowledge Organiser = Arthur Mee’s Children’s Encyclopædia

Knowledge Organisers circa 1954

Much time spent producing Knowledge Organisers with students these past few days. As red books are filled with printed sheets of Things To Remember it occurs to me that what we are doing is reinventing a vastly abridged Arthur Mee’s Children’s Encyclopedia (younger readers are encouraged to Look It Up). Undecided about Value in doing so but cannot deny glow of nostalgia that results from remembering blissful days spent gazing on endless pages of coloured plates showing Flags Of The World and illustrations of Flowers Of The Forest.

Tiny Treasures

Despite best efforts to ease self into new term by setting progressively earlier wake-up alarms during last week of freedom, shock of actually having to get up at 5.45am still acutely felt. Disheartened to discover that daylight has not yet crept over distant horizon at this time in the morning and so day begins in darkness. Feel certain this is a metaphor for the State Of The Nation in these dark times.

Upside to Early Rising however is seeing the provincial landscape waking up, shrouded in wispy cloaks of mist. Tiny treasures and all that.

Dejected

New academic year begins with flurry of activity on Staff Training Day ahead of students’ return tomorrow. Training Day itinerary very much like that for every other First Day Back in past decade, in other words: Something On Safeguarding, Something on Teaching and Learning, Something on School Performance in Exams, Something on School Priorities for the year ahead (informed, pleased to say, on School Performance in Exams) followed by Year Teams, Subject Teams and ‘Personal Time’ (where this last item is eroded to nothing due to over-running of all previous items). There is much talk about Knowledge Curriculums and Diving Deep (no, still none the wiser).

Other activities for The First Day Back seem mainly to centre around constant barrage of Meeting Invites for things in the school calendar that are immediately deleted and/or rejected (hence ‘dejected’. Ta da! You’re welcome. *cymbal strike*). Most of these are for items I have already added to own calendar because I am Sad and/or Control Freak. Also admit to possibility/probability that adding things to calendar is terrific Avoidance Technique and immediately panic that have just spent ten minutes writing this diary entry as carbon copy of one written on same day for past two years.

On Reading

Like many schools our Provincial High School has, for the last couple of years, had a Big Push On Reading. Reading journals, reading newsletters, reading competitions, Library overhauls, reading events, posts about reading on The Twitter and, perhaps most endearingly, door signs for teachers to write down the title and author of whatever book they are currently reading. Endless amusement has been had walking corridors of school, looking at these signs during the years and idly wondering:

  1. Do students look at these and if so are they even remotely interested?
  2. Do staff look at these and if so are they even remotely interested?
  3. You appear to have been reading Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy for the past two years.
  4. You’re a fifty year old Math teacher and you are reading A CHILDREN’S BOOK?
  5. It’s a competition, isn’t it? In which only three out of sixty people are actually competing.
  6. WHAT IMPACT DOES THIS HAVE?

For past two years have religiously updated own door sign with ‘currently reading’ information in utterly vain hope that just one person will ask me views on obscure 1920s detective fiction. Consider changing strategy for New Academic Year where ‘currently reading’ titles will be ones plucked from Occult reading lists to see if anyone (teacher or student) raises concerns over professionalism and/or mental health or at very least accuses me of Not Taking This Entirely Seriously. In extremely unlikely event of this happening I will immediately raise final point in above list and (smugly, inevitably) await data.

How to effectively spend Pupil Premium funding

Reflecting again on the Raj Chetty article in The Atlantic and thinking about use of Pupil Premium funding in UK schools. Reluctantly admit that spending some of that on strategies to raise academic attainment for Disadvantaged students is important/inevitable (if only because it is metric on which schools are judged) but wonder if more effective use of funding might be in ensuring Opportunities are available to those students.

And before anyone on The EduTwitter blogosphere (is that A Thing? Is own Diary part of that Thing or just unread, unloved collection of virtual scribblings hurled into Void? See Existential Ennui returning in strength over horizon and make another coffee) shouts that this is exactly what The Best and Most Effective schools DO spend Pupil Premium funding on I will just add ‘yes, but’ and ‘no, but really’ and ‘what, you mean Pupil Premium funds don’t just get appropriated for Other Things because school budgets are so paltry and We Have To Be Creative’? Immediately consider third coffee to be Something Of A Mistake.

In all seriousness also consider whether effective use of Pupil Premium funding might be best diverted by schools into supporting parents as much as students, in other words providing opportunities for families to try and ensure that pathways for social mobility of young people are not immediately blocked post-schooling by inevitable barriers erected by established societal structures and systems of control. Immediately write email to colleague leading on The Disadvantaged Agenda with outline of this idea thereby devolving all responsibility. Also apologise for consumption of coffee leading to possibly overlong sentences and overly enthusiastic language in email.

What Is The Point? (slight return)

Mood of Existential Ennui lifts at least partially thanks to exercise yesterday afternoon and accept that Feeling Better About Self is perfectly reasonable goal after twenty eight years of Educating Young People. Also read about Raj Chetty and feel slight wave of optimism that such interesting work on amazing Opportunity Atlas and with Opportunity Insights can be going on in world that seems always to be lurching further and further to The Right and to be ever more determined to reinforce inequality and erecting ever more impervious barriers to social mobility. Tell self that Chetty’s evidence showing Impact of social mobility only evident after two generations is both depressing and reason to Feel Better About Self because whilst might not actually see lasting long term impact of own teaching jobs until after retirement (early or otherwise) at least can convince self that It Will Exist.

Mood of Existential Ennui also lifted a little more by consumption of Second Coffee of morning at 9am courtesy of experimental Alarm Setting regime of Last Week Of Holidays. Determined not to be shaken to the core on September 2nd when alarm goes off at 5.45am so setting progressively earlier alarm times each day this week. Amazed at How Much Can Be Done in these morning hours, though admit productivity has been almost exclusively writing things for Diary, posting about it on The Twitter and not doing anything actually useful at all.

What Is The Point?

Illustration by Edmon De Haro. Liberated from The Atlantic website.

Last month I read an article by Nick Hanauer in which he suggests that “However justifiable their focus on curricula and innovation and institutional reform, people who see education as a cure-all have largely ignored the metric most predictive of a child’s educational success: household income.” Hanauer is talking specifically about the US education system but this seems to me to be a Transferable (if not, indeed, a Universal) Truth. Hanauer, if you need reminding, was one of the first to invest in the opening of charter schools in the US and in the same article he also says the following:

“All told, I have devoted countless hours and millions of dollars to the simple idea that if we improved our schools – if we modernised our curricula and our teaching methods, substantially increased school funding, rooted out bad teachers, and opened enough charter schools – American children, especially those in low-income and working-class communities, would start learning again. Graduation rates and wages would increase, poverty and inequality would decrease, and public commitment to democracy would be restored.

But after decades of organising and giving, I have come to the uncomfortable conclusion that I was wrong.”

The thrust of Hanauers reflections and conclusions is that without deep systemic change to wealth distribution, all else is just so much window dressing to make the wealthy feel better about themselves (“Educationalism appeals to the wealthy and powerful because it tells us what we want to hear: that we can help restore shared prosperity without sharing our wealth or power.”).

All of which has what, exactly, to do with provincial high schools in the UK? Well at risk of coming over like depressive twenty-something filled with Existential Ennui, it does rather make me wonder What Is The Point?

What Is The Point of chasing performance measures that show Pupil Premium (Hanauer’s students from “low-income and working-class communities”, or what we in the UK education sector would call ‘Disadvantaged’) progress when ultimately any traction in mythical pathway of Social Mobility is at best only tentatively hinged on Exam Results and Academic Attainment?

What Is The Point in setting Aspirational Targets for students from those “low-income and working-class communities” when we know that the System is stacked against them (and the stacks are getting ever higher)? What Is The Point in propagating the lie that Education is their way to A Better Life (which we inevitably define as being Middle Class) when the evidence suggests that in fact the way to a Better (more affluent) life is in fact something that is outside of their (our) control?

What Is The Point in the implementation of rigid behaviour codes under the guise of achieving Improved Outcomes and Progress 8 figures when we understand that beyond the gates of High School those Improved Outcomes are in fact one of the smallest factors in determining aforementioned Social Mobility? And is implementation of rigid behaviour codes under the guise of achieving Improved Outcomes and Progress 8 figures actually little more than desire to ensure that those “low-income and working-class communities” learn to follow instructions without question? In other words that they learn to Know Their Place? That implementation of rigid behaviour codes under the guise of achieving Improved Outcomes and Progress 8 figures is in fact just a way of Making Teacher’s Lives Easier (though now I think about it…)?

So with less than a week to go until the new academic year heaves itself into action, in own reflection of twenty eight years (and counting) of teaching in Provincial High Schools, perhaps conclusion is that ultimately all I have done is to Make Me Feel Better About Myself (except in current mood filled with Existential Ennui, naturally). But maybe that is enough and maybe That Is The Point.

It’s not much though, is it?