I teach, therefore I am.
Like any true product of the British system, my personal instinct is to be cynical, pessimistic and critical. Luckily (for my students) the classroom version of me is someone so half-glass full and convinced of the great opportunities in life that I give Julie Andrews a run for her money. I buzz around the classroom singing and dancing with the joy of education. If my school could afford curtains, I would be dressing my students in them and careering around the Southbank writing poetry.
I don’t think I’m alone in this. I believe that a large proportion of teachers are there in their classrooms teaching like superstars. Yet when I read the press about education all I hear is negativity. Schools are failing, teachers are lazy, standards are dropping. It’s not only from the ‘powers that be’ that you hear this. In speeches, articles, blogs and staffroom talk we hear – from teachers – about increased workload, difficult student behaviour and a lack of understanding from those in power.
Of course in the current climate, it’s easy to feel angry and sad about education. It’s easy to criticise foolish government policy and to spend time writing about the varying degrees of horror inflicted by Gove (I have done this many a time). However, I have started to wonder if this isn’t just a little TOO easy. Yes it’s true that there are decisions being made above our heads that seem to make no sense, it’s true that our profession is getting it in the neck constantly, it’s true that it is a tough job with sometimes little reward. On the other hand, it is also true that we are still in charge of our classrooms and our students, we are still part of a community of professionals who care about excellent practice and we still get to go into work everyday knowing that what we do can make a difference.
I sat down today to mark a set of Controlled Assessments that my Year 11s had produced on the feelings of women in Shakespeare’s ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ and a selection of Sylvia Plath’s poetry. This was a unit of work invented by myself and a colleague as part of the AQA English Literature GCSE. We decided we wanted to do something different with Shakespeare, we decided we wanted our students (all boys) to know about feminism, we decided that we wanted to take an innovative approach to this potentially ‘old school’ unit of work. Yes that’s right; WE decided. So WE taught it. As a result, our students were inspired, engaged and learnt not only about the texts but also about the world they live in. Looking at their work today; they also excelled in terms of their GCSE marks.
On Twitter and through blogging, I have come into contact (some virtual, some real) with numbers of teachers who are continually thinking about their teaching and pushing themselves to be the best practitioners that they can be. I have been lucky enough to attend TeachMeets where fellow teachers share some of the spectacular work they are doing in their classroom. I have learnt new ways of approaching teaching and trialled them in my classroom; I have been able to share some of the new ideas I have used with students and I have been challenged to try teaching in new ways (such as through technology) that I would have been scared to do alone.
I know about this, some of my colleagues know, Twitter is starting to know but it needs to go further. Reading everyday about how unfair life is as a teacher and how much we hate what is going on in education, I can understand why people aren’t on our side. They’re wrong but I get it. I fear that we are playing into Gove’s hands and are beginning to make education seem like the Ricky Gervais joke: “Education: teachers moaning and that…”.
Recently a number of teachers have been doing the opposite (@headguruteacher, @Edutronic_Net and @TeacherToolkit being some examples). They’ve been taking their classroom positivity and they’ve been putting that out there for everyone to see. This is what is needed. I’m suggesting we go all Julie Andrews on the Captain von Trapps of education. We take the classroom versions of us and we tell everyone about them. In fact forget tell; we SHOUT, we SHOUT this from the rooftops, we blog, we tweet, we make everyone aware what we are doing. This doesn’t mean we naively assume that our teaching is perfect, that nothing needs to change and that we shouldn’t be concerned about standards. Results matter. Progress matters. But we can do it in our own way, as the recent Controlled Assessments my students did has proved; creativity, passion and success go hand in hand. It also doesn’t mean that we don’t tackle dodgy political decisions on education. We just do it by showing and telling them – with all the enthusiasm we can muster – how education should be done.
In this vein, I have started this blog. I already blog for my classes but in this space I promise to share the classroom practice that works (and how to fix the stuff that doesn’t), I promise to do my bit to rein in my cynicism and instead to focus on positive solutions. I do this for my colleagues (in school and in the wider world), I do it to better myself but most of all I do it in honour of my students. Those boys who – despite having to deal with hormones, excessive work commitments and the constant abuse from the media about daring to be teenagers – wrote essays of beauty and insight beyond their years. That, after all, is the magic of education.