Archives for the month of: February, 2012

One of the biggest changes to my life by coming here has been the opportunities and possibilities offered by this amazing city and country. I am energised by the options available to me, I feel sometimes overwhelmed by what you could do here. This is a place at the beginning; this is a place of starting. I left behind, in England, a place which was slowly stumbling along. I left a system which had educated me and which I had worked in most of my adult life struggling to survive under constant attack, constant dismantling. I watched talented people become frustrated by their work, and ruthless people surge to the top trampling on ideals and morals on the way up the ladder of their ambitions. With sadness I watched priorities change as schools were set against each other, an inequity of funds, an inequity of care. I watched them remove the support systems which protected the families I worked with, leaving them to struggle on their own. The language of failure, of blame, of never being good enough as the goal posts constantly moved.

I was glad to leave. The more I hear about what is happening back there I feel glad that the weight of it isn’t holding me down any more. I’m also guilty that I am not there to do my part. I am here in this rapid changing world, as full of as much chaos as England, at times, but not in my corner. In my corner of this world it is all possibility. It is all yes, not no. Rarely why, just yes, why not. It is invigorating to be in that culture, to be around people who are at the start. Even the young people I worked with in England seemed to feel like they were at the end of something. The students here have taken on the projects we are working on with an energy and enthusiasm which shocks me, I’m not used to it. It’s wonderful!

I left for a reason, and to be here in this selfish glorious holiday from reality, I have to make it mean something. The personal pleasures of this experience, the travel, the challenge, the difference, the people, is amazing. But if I am going walk away from that system which raised me, which gave me all the tools to be here. Then I want to learn from it.

This blog is one of those beginnings, to be writing even just these short passages, and sharing them is a privilege. To have time and energy to write is a big change. To utilise everything I have learnt in the last 12 years of teaching, everything which has been shared with me. I can now share this with the people at my school. It makes me proud of what we are achieving. There is an acknowledgement of what we have done, not a criticism of what we haven’t done. This is just a beginning. I am full of lofty ideals; I know I’m not going to change the world. I have always been an armchair revolutionary. A long time ago a friend used to quote Oasis lyrics at me “so I start a revolution form my bed”. I was a lazy reactionary, always ranting and raving. I’m making a start, a new beginning and I ‘m proud to be doing that.

So on the 8th March, it is International Women’s Day. Something this lazy reactionary feels strongly about and I have made a start. I was looking for material to use at school and I came across this campaign http://joinmeonthebridge.org/  I watched some of their videos and was inspired by the idea of people coming together in support of women around the world who experience violence and who don’t have a voice. (Watch the videos I hope you are inspired too). I looked for an event in Brazil, in Sao Paulo and there wasn’t one. Here, in Brazil, at the start of something, surrounded by these positive resourceful fantastic friends and colleagues we could start something. Everyone I spoke to was enthusiastic, no barriers were put up, can we do this? Yes!

The bridge is chosen, the word is out. English friends, Brazilian friends, the students at school all sharing and encouraging. Currently we are the only event in South America http://joinmeonthebridge.org/page/event-map

This is the Facebook page set up by the students https://www.facebook.com/events/333541713351529/

I couldn’t be prouder or more blessed than to be surrounded by these amazing people. In my sadness at what I left behind and as I hear about the things that I felt were important being dismantled and put aside, as I worry for the children and families I left at least I am learning from Brazil that you can make things happen. However long I stay here I will take with me the sense of possibility that this place brings.

In St Albans aged 15

I have never defined myself by my location. I have never geographically identified myself. I didn’t ever view myself as ‘British’ or ‘English’. I don’t come from a place in England with a strong cultural identity. I come from a small city just outside London. Culture came from hanging on the coat tails of ‘The Big Smoke’, the capital city. I escaped to the bright lights and loud music of London as soon as I could. I couldn’t wait to get out of there. I don’t consciously identify myself as being from St Albans. That means nothing, what is a person from St Albans like? A dullard, a vacuum? There is no frame of reference, even for me.

A few of my friends have stronger geographical identities. They are from places like Dublin, Liverpool, Swansea, displaced to Brighton; they feel a stronger affinity to the place they came from. Plus those places have a stronger cultural identity, a history, a collective similarity to join people together. The fact that St Alban was the first Christian martyr doesn’t bond me with people from that city the same way that, for example, people from Liverpool feel about events from their history. Does this geographical identity offer people shorthand to your personality? A shared understanding? A preconception of who you are? Those people I know who have moved share a sense of frustration at both the prejudgment and the assumptions. They don’t like it, it can be repressive.

Does this make it easier for me? That there are no expectations of who or what I am? With less cultural references to hang my identity on, do I have a blank canvas to create my own story? Do my Scouse, Irish or Welsh friends have to overcome an expectation of them based on identity assumptions? Or can they hide behind pre-conceived notions of others, popping out from behind the caricature occasionally to prove people wrong?

Since I moved away from England my sense of geographical identity has changed. In Brazil I immediately became aware of the fact that my ability to speak English did not necessarily associate me with England but it did identify me as different, other. My voice in Portuguese wasn´t necessarily a clue to my background. I could be American, sometimes I sounded Spanish and other times, as this strangled strange accent, came out of my mouth I could have been from Mars! It certainly did not identify me as being from Hertfordshire. But I am  often asked `Where are you from?` and my answer will suggest something about who I am.

I work in a school now with children from many different places. Some of them have moved several times. We were discussing the stresses this can bring, a transitory life, no ties to a ´home´ country. For some, their nationality is very important. There is a sense of pride and security in belonging to a certain tribe, an automatic connection to others.

This wide range of backgrounds brings such a rich range of knowledge and experiences to my classroom. They constantly enrich the experiences of learning. I am teaching texts I have taught many, many times in England. Here in Brazil, having to explain vocabulary, slang terms or cultural references is changing my perceptions of these tired old texts. Trying to make connections which will resonate in these children´s lives is a challenge but in doing it I can gain a sense of my own cultural identity and history. In moving away I have come to understand more about what it means to be British than 38 years living in England.

This doesn´t mean I will be putting up a union jack or getting a bulldog tattoo but I have been given an extra understanding of my place in this incredible, magical world we inhabit.

It is so diverse, each individual is crafted so carefully from the pieces of the life they have lived. We should celebrate and enjoy the difference we bring and recognise our unique identities which allow us to be separate and yet connect.

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