Today spent the most enjoyable three school-based hours of recent years with a trainee teacher and a subject specialist tutor discussing teaching and learning in My Specialist Subject. On reflection, discovered several things:
After three decades of practice it turns out I have A Lot Of Experience that Other People seem to value. This may seem blindingly obvious but is something we too often actually blind ourselves to. Or perhaps let the Other Pressures of the job blind us to. It is good to be reminded of this.
I love my area of subject specialism and on reflection as a profession we do not value this highly enough. In the delicate balancing act between teaching and being an active participant in the subject(s) we teach, it seems to me that the balance too often tips in favour of the Practice Of Teaching.
Talking to other adults about area of subject specialism and/or practice of teaching immeasurably more rewarding than hours spent telling eleven year olds to stop eating glue sticks.
January is the cruelest month or so I understand from various Northern hemisphere cultures where the winter starts to bite and the bitter desolation of Blue Monday (or Blue Week, Blue Month, Blue Lifetime…) blows down unsightly corridors and chills our very souls. Or perhaps that is just the case in my particular provincial high school. Certainly feels more energy-sappingly unpleasant than ever in 2020, but willing to concede this may be symptom of age withering all aspects of body and soul.
However certainly feels as though Behaviour In School has wilted further in recent weeks and feel temptation to lay blame firmly at feet of mainstream media and results of unwelcome General Election in December for firmly establishing notion that Bullying Is Good and that Hate Is Acceptable. Narrative appears to be that people (students and parents) feel empowered to defy rules and expectations that are set by anyone in authority. Time in school now feels like it is spent lurching from one confrontation to another, each one driven simply by the fact that individuals (again, students, parents) seem to think that they are in charge of making rules that are specific to their own personal whim and/or standards. The notion that we might have some kind of universally agreed notion of decency and respect seems to have been firmly rejected. Never felt more like retreating to Cabin In The Woods to meditate on… well, to meditate on ANYTHING that is not this day to day grind of bleakness and misery.
Last hour of school day spent in hugely positive review meeting with trainee teacher. Productive conversations are firmly focused on teaching and learning.
In contrast, two hours after school spent in soul-destroying leadership meeting where almost entire time is spent listening to conversations about benches, barriers and queuing in refectories, when a water bottle is not a water bottle, logistics of organising theatre visits, end of term celebration events, key rings, chicken burgers (it just wouldn’t be a leadership meeting without it), mock exam results assemblies, Secret Santa and yes, Christmas Fucking Jumpers.
Read a fascinating interview with the photographer Bruce Davidson where the interviewer (Charlotte Cotton) points out that neuroscience has shown that “in the process of recalling a memory we literally reposition that memory in a new place in our neural systems, among new experiences – a new context.” Cotton goes on to say that she finds this “a really liberating thing to think about, that we are constantly renewing moments from our past.”
This has intriguing implications to the way in which we read photographs, or indeed any text and it also has implications in the way in which we think about the accumulation of knowledge. For if we accept knowledge as being memories stored in our neural systems then it would appear that there is actually no such thing as ‘definitive knowledge’ in so far as those elements of knowledge are perpetually changing (however subtly) simply thanks to the way in which new connections are being made each time we recall them.
Current mantras amongst many educationalist Twitterati appear to be very much around accumulation of knowledge. “Students need to know” (remember) “this and that” they tell us. To which I suggest the correct response would be “yes, perhaps they do. And?” Or possibly even “That may be so, but also So What?”. Try this at home. It provides endless hours seconds of sublime entertainment. “The capital city of Albania is Tirana”. So What? “Babies have around 100 more bones than adults”. Really? But So What? “A teaspoonful of neutron star would weigh 6 billion tons”. Wow! But really… So What? And Why Would I Care?
Knowledge out of context is just ammunition that might might allow us to be successful at trivia quizzes, which is a fleetingly hollow thrill at best. Surely the thing that matters is the way we plug that knowledge into new neural connections to give meaning outside of mere remembrance/parroting of facts? It seems as though the notion of synthesising knowledge (or certainly the notion that we teach HOW to synthesise knowledge, because that would be a SKILL) has fallen firmly out of fashion with Educational Trendsetters and Tastemakers in recent years and this, I think is a damned shame if not a profound mistake.
Are we teaching our students to think and create with knowledge? Or are we just building a new generation of trivia quiz experts?
Supervise another gloriously effective After School Detention session this afternoon, to follow on from similarly effective Lunchtime Detention. Registers for both comprise multitude of names of Usual Suspects, none of whom turn up. Also several names who are not on the list but appear to think this is a Good Way To Spend Their Time. Resist temptation to explain to students that this is most certainly not the case after reflecting that such explanation would have as much positive impact as detention session itself.
Look at calendar and think about number of days left until the end of term. It is always too many.
Tremendous New Idea shared at leadership meeting by F that involves Building A Resource of Useful and Interesting Books And Articles About Education, Pedagogy, Research etc. Everyone apparently Very Excited and thinking it a Thrilling Development with Lots Of Potential For Impact. Feel fortunate not to have been at meeting when idea floated as feel certain would have found difficulty in casually reminding colleagues that a Certain Person (i.e. The Provincial Teacher) did exactly this some five years ago. Blogs and education websites were regularly checked and read, with the most interesting articles bookmarked, noted into Evernote and automagically formatted via Posatchio into a Terrific Online Resource. Links were regularly sent to staff via email and it all resulted in a dynamic culture of teachers excitedly talking about teaching and learning deafening silence and no measurable impact.
Second Half of Autumn Term starts in traditional fashion with yearly anxiety about end of appraisal cycle review meetings. Tradition consists largely of colleagues panicking because they have variously not: Documented evidence of progress towards meeting targets during year and have left everything to last minute; Scheduled end of cycle review meeting for sometime before week ending 31st October; Completed self-review against the teachers’s standards; Remembered what the school-set targets were anyway. Admit with no small degree of irony that own adherence to these traditions is almost absolute but nevertheless point out that details of How To Do All Of This (including Helpful Videos) were sent out early in the calendar year. Colleagues suggest, in adherence to other traditional activities, that they may need reminding about these kinds of things, to which point out that message including details of How To Do All Of This (including Helpful Videos) was indeed posted several times during rest of calendar year. Follow additional tradition by resisting temptation to suggest actual reading of documentation may be more valuable than filing email in folder marked ‘I’m sure this will be helpful and/or important, but let’s be honest, I’m never going to do anything about it’. Immediately create own folder marked thus and set up rule directing all messages about appraisal into said folder. Proceed to making third coffee of morning.
As end of half term hysteria reaches fever pitch in the Provincial High School, forlorn attempt to reflect on most recent Leadership Meetings results in memory only of Conversations About Chicken Burgers In Refectory. This is reasonable development since Chicken Burgers In Refectory seems to be what majority of Leadership Focus has been spent on over entire first half term of academic year.
Pitch of hysteria also results in M sharing Interwebs Meme about Mental Health, drawing comparison to brain being like an Interwebs browser open with a thousand tabs, most of which are frozen and with no idea where music is coming from. In bizarre volte-face on usual Thoughts About Memes find this strangely amusing and reflect that in truth the music is almost always entirely within own head. Today, for example, the chorus of ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ by Sir Elton John repeats endlessly in loop that walks fine line between pleasure and irritation. Feel certain this is entirely fitting metaphor for entire existence.
Today, as I understand it, was designated Mental Health Day and so everyone in school encouraged to wear something yellow in order to show students that we are Someone They Can Talk To about mental health issues. Uncertain as to why wearing something yellow is significant and how this changes everyday job expectation of Caring For Young People but nevertheless made some concession to conformity by donning tiny vintage Mustard Club badge from the 1920s for the day. Impact of doing so, I feel, has been minimal.
Mental health of colleagues during day certainly not helped by Failure Of The Internets. This results (again) in significant amount of hand wringing and heightened anxiety about How Can We Safeguard Children When We Have No Internet (actually probably written in ALL CAPS followed by too many exclamation points). Quietly suggest to some colleagues that history of school did not begin with the invention of The Internet in Provincial Settings (perhaps circa 2014 or so) and that children were safeguarded prior to instantaneous, continuous surveillance of attendance (electronic registers). Idly reflect on vicious cycle of paranoia created by such technologies and enjoy complete absence of email traffic during day.