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.
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.
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:
Do students look at these and if so are they even remotely interested?
Do staff look at these and if so are they even remotely interested?
You appear to have been reading Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy for the past two years.
You’re a fifty year old Math teacher and you are reading A CHILDREN’S BOOK?
It’s a competition, isn’t it? In which only three out of sixty people are actually competing.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Results day comes around again and all around me I see smiles. Whole school performance looks in line with last year and there are no surprises, which in itself comes as surprise. Look at own class performance for my specialist area and see a score well above national expectation and twice as positive as other colleague in team. Tell self it is Not A Competition. Immediately glance at timetable for new academic year and see I am being moved out of teaching own specialism into other areas I have No Experience In Or Knowledge About and that teaching load is greater than other leadership colleagues. Idly wonder if this is:
A: reflection on capabilities in areas of leadership
B: recognition of skills as teacher being deployed in areas of need
C: blind panic in attempts to make timetable work
Want to believe answer is B but suspect truth more likely to be a hefty dose of C with a smattering of A. Resist temptation to look (again) at financial prospects for Early Retirement.
Last Week Of School and emails drift in like flurries of snow on a January evening. Probably not the best analogy to use in the height of summer, but it’s all my aching brain can come up with. Many emails concern themselves with Lists Of Things To Remember (aka Knowledge Organisers) and Homework, including what feel like endless conversations around Sanctions for Not Completing Homework, where said Homework is about remembering things on aforementioned Lists. Fight urge to ask colleagues philosophical question of ‘What Is The Purpose Of Remembering Things On Lists?’ and instead take great pleasure in deleting emails in devastating purge of Inbox.
One week to go. Spent some time earlier in week listening to presentation by a colleague about mental health in young people. Very saddened to see statistics showing alarming increase in mental health diagnoses in 15 – 19 year olds in particular and shake head at State Of This Country. Saddened and a little shocked to then see data about mental health of teachers appearing to show significant numbers would be classified as being very close to clinically depressed. Not entirely sure why this should come as surprise but shake head once again at State Of This Country.
Consider mental health of own leadership team with one week to go and decide there is no-one who could be described as Entirely Sane or Normal as meeting this morning descends into chaotic cacophony of Everyone Talking and No-One Listening. As always at This Time Of Year the focus of all talk is around Things That Need Completing, where Things That Need Completing actually rarely need completing at all. At least not immediately. End of term hysteria however prevents us all from seeing this fact as anything more than ridiculously vague blob on horizon.
Consider own mental health with one week to go and conclude it is on no firmer ground than any other colleague’s. Proof delivered from fact that on three separate occasions in past week have found self reduced to sobbing fountain of tears on reading most innocuous and disparate texts about faith, meditation, song writing and collecting promotional items from sporting events. Feel eternally grateful that on each occasion only witness was cat who miaowed encouragingly. Convince self cat language can be translated as ‘I love you and am here for you’ when in reality it is more likely to mean ‘my food dish appears to be empty’.
On writing this immediately find difficulty focusing on screen from blurred eyes. One week to go.
Three weeks to go, and every meeting I attend feels infused with the rising scent of hysteria. Tonight’s meeting hijacked at one point by conversation veering wildly into realms of fantasy involving (if I read the signs correctly) suggestions of senior leaders also entering into role of Heads of Year. Sit on hands and forcibly resit temptation to ask if what colleagues are describing (in wildly spiralling crescendo of manic exuberance) is not actually part of current House Leaders’ job descriptions. Meeting also derailed somewhat by J describing in excruciating detail the level of micro-management involved in carrying out what I had, perhaps in my naiveté, always assumed to be little more than a symbolic support mechanism for House structure. In moment of comparative sanity T asks quietly what impact J’s remarkable level of work has had and feel momentarily safe in believing self to be Not Alone.