Failure pushed me to Brazil. After 5 years of hard work SEN progress in my school was deemed unsatisfactory. I was reassured by kind colleagues, the reasons for the decision, it wasn´t my fault, hundreds of kind and supportive words. But I couldn´t agree. Firstly, I felt that the pupils were making progress. I could see it, I could feel it. Secondly, I felt responsible, despite the kindness of my colleagues, and the reassurances of friends. So I cried, put on more black eyeliner and looked at jobs abroad.
In the UK education system progress is constantly checked and judged. A pupil, a teacher, a school is seen as a failure if there is a lack of progress. I want to move forward, I want to change and progress. However, we can be labeled ´unsatisfactory´ or sometimes ‘Special Needs’ when we fail to meet external criteria. When we don´t meet expectations. When we don´t follow ´normal ´patterns of behavior. My issue is not with progress but how we measure it.
My progress through life could be considered unsatisfactory if judged by certain criteria.
1. I’m fat. I’m not a size 10-12. I weigh at least 3 stone more than is considered socially acceptable. I don’t mind because I’m happy and I get to eat a lot of cheese.
2. I am one of lifes non-drivers. I can’t drive. I don’t own a car. I don’t expect to own one and I won’t measure my self esteem based on engine size or type of gear box.
3. I don’t own a property; I don’t want to buy a house. The thought of having to fix a boiler fills me with such dread I have to go and eat more cheese.
4. I’m not married; sometimes I don’t even have a partner. I enjoy spending time on my own; I chose to spend time on my own. Not because I have nothing else to do but because I enjoy my own company.
So, I am a fat, lonely, cheese eating, bus taking, tenant. But, my life doesn’t feel ‘unsatisfactory’ or ‘D’ grade. It doesn’t feel like a failure. I have a job I love, which has carried me 5000 miles across the world to a South American adventure. I have fantastic friends who are intelligent, funny, supportive and kind. Plus I am continually meeting new intelligent, funny, supportive and kind people. I write, I read, I laugh, I cry, I look, I listen, I am happy. I can see my progress.
I have been in Brazil for 9 months. I remember arriving, I was terrified. I clearly recall waking up that first morning jet lagged, wrung dry from emotion and the sadness of leaving. I was too frightened to leave the apartment. I peered down from my 19th floor balcony to the Brazilian street below. I had to force myself out to explode the world, the world that is now safe and familiar. As I walk home from work each day now, stopping to buy the things I need, fully functioning in my new life, I see my progress. Judging by my criteria (very simple: are you still here?) I think I´m doing pretty well.
If I’m in a lesson which I know OFSTED would call ‘unsatisfactory’ because I am ‘only’ reading to the class, is it a failure? I dismiss their criteria for success. I see 30 faces looking up in rapt awe, entangled in the narrative, entranced by the characters, living in the story. When the bell rings and nobody moves, as I hear a sigh of disappointment when I close the book. When I see the true and genuine joy and pleasure in the communication, in the connection. In this moment when we share an understanding of the real value of language as it binds us together as human beings. Is this unsatisfactory?
It feels as though we are living in a reductive world, constantly looking at what we have failed to achieve. I haven’t managed to lose a stone, go to the gym, save money, learn to drive, buy a big house. The pupils, who haven’t managed to get a C grade, make two levels of progress, get their attendance above 90%, complete homework on time, read a book, finish school or avoid exclusion. What has happened to the celebration of success? Why can’t we look at what we have achieved rather than what we have ‘failed’ to do. Progress should be about seeking out the movements forward no matter how small or insignificant they seem. I refuse to waste any more of my life lamenting what I have failed to achieve. I am here, I am happy, that is enough.