Archives for the month of: January, 2013

I’m angry. Actually, I am also frustrated and despairing. I am struggling to find the language to express the feelings that I have about what I have been reading. And it is mainly due to the use of language.

What has made me mad? Mainly that abhorrent, destructive, misinformed egotistical, vile muck spreader Gove and his insidious use of linguistic propaganda which is slowly but surely dismantling the education system I was taught in, and worked in, for 38 years.

He makes an incongruous enough comment on the school snow closures:

‘…while the decision on whether or not to remain open or closed is a matter for the headteacher, everything can and should be done in order to ensure that all children get access to a good education.’

Everything can and should be done to ensure that all children get access to a good education… excuse me for one moment as I take a breath at the enormous fucking audacity of that comment.

For a start, why is there an assumption that this is not already happening? Why is there an assumption that schools and teachers see a flake of snow, shut and lock the gates and fuck off home immediately? I am not in the UK at the moment but I was two years ago when we had snow. Was everything done to ensure the school opened? Let me see, teaching staff that lived nearby (including the head teacher who did not live nearby and travelled for a few hours in the snow to get there) went to school on a Sunday to dig the school and nearby roads out to ensure the school could open. On the Monday when the school opened some roads were still inaccessible so staff walked in the snow for 2-3 hours to get in to work. Yes EVERYTHING was done to try and open the school. Did all the parents choose to send their children across the city in treacherous conditions? No, not all of them. Should we have opened the school for the few children who could get in? We couldn’t really teach them, as with more than half the class missing work would have to repeated again once all students were there, no we had to look after them while their parents went to work. Is the purpose of school, to be available to take children off their parent’s hands during the day or as Gove puts it, is it to provide access to education? So why must we ensure schools are open despite most of the pupils not being there? What is the role of the school in the community?

Don’t get me wrong I believe in community and in particular I believe schools should serve a community. I believe schools should be for the children of the local area, and not, as in my local authority, lotteries of placements, meaning children travel the city to get to the ‘best’ school. Leaving an inequality, a lack of community and ‘failing’ schools filled with challenging children other schools reject so they won’t damage their league table results. In my ideal world yes, I think we should open the school, and as a community support each other parents, teachers, everyone. True community schools would do this instinctively. Unfortunately, in my experience, the government and local authorities set up systems, which discourage this type of network, placing schools in competition, and creating ghettos.

What I also find offensive is the still implied ‘vocation’ of teaching, that we teachers are somehow gifted this job, that we are ungrateful for this opportunity. That somehow we didn’t have to work to get here, that we are lazy shirkers, that this profession is not recognised or respected by the current government and subsequently the media and consequently some of our community.

Teachers’ work hard, they are not lazy, they believe passionately in the education of your children and do everything, EVERYTHING possible to ensure they have the best, the very best education they can provide. And they do this up against an unbelievable wall of apathy, abuse, negativity and misinformation.

I work abroad now in an international school. I am taking a break from the UK, I will go back but it was a punishing existence in the field I worked in. I spent 15 years dealing with damaged children and damaged families. I watched over the last few years as their support services were whittled away. I know things are worse still, my wonderful colleagues who battle on, tell me they are. But I got to see the other side by coming here. Here, where there is an automatic assumption that the teacher is doing their best. It sounds so simple but it makes a massive difference. Here, where the children are generally compliant. Here, where education is valued for the life changing opportunities it brings.

I was talking to a Brazilian colleague about the daily battle I used to have to get the pupils to take off their hooded tops in class. “But why didn’t they take them off?’ she asked confused. No child in my current school would refuse to remove a piece of non-uniform; she had no conception of having to do this. And I remembered how daily, hourly, every few minutes battles would take place in school over the smallest to the biggest issues.

I believe that these battles were caused by comments such a Gove’s about the school closures for snow. These seemingly harmless words infiltrate our minds like disease. Every negative comment about teachers and education that seeps out finds its way to the classroom. Our wonderful education system, and believe me it is wonderful, the Brazilian families would be immensely grateful for a free education system of that standard, should be celebrated not denigrated.

So, I am angry. Angry and sad, to watch something that I believed in be slowly ripped apart. I return to UK teaching in August, fired up by what I have seen across the ocean. I urge you teachers, believe in what you do, you do great things and the rest of the world has respect for the British education system even if Britain doesn’t. And if you are not a teacher, believe me please, these people work their arses off every day, they are not lazy, cheating, bullying, strikers, constantly looking for the easy option. All the teachers I have worked with want the best for your children, I promise you, everything that can and should be done is being done. If it is not being done right then we need to stop blaming and assuming and start asking for what we really want. A properly funded, autonomous community education system staffed by educated and respected professionals who are allowed to get on with what they love to do, teach.

Gove quote from

Can you imagine your perfect beach? I may have spent Christmas on it. I was in Costa Rica, staying in a tiny beachside apartment in Samara. The beach had fine pale sand, you have to avoid the dried horse turds, but sight of the horses running on the beach at dusk is worth the mess. The impacted sand makes it easy to walk across the low tide to the soft undulating waves. People learn to surf here, I watch a young girl riding the low waves in to the beach as I swim. There are no high rises, no real buildings at all. Only tin roofed restaurants. We have an iguana living outside our window. He attempts to get in the bedroom, tapping his claws on the corrugated iron roof, we lock him out and scare him off eventually, he is like the Tico men who attempt flattery on the gullible gringas “Hey Chica, muy guapa!” they are also scared off and kept out…

photo copyPalm trees, banana trees, mango trees line the beach. Noisy birds and geckos everywhere, Costa Rica is alive and moving. This country is beautiful but the Americans and Germans have arrived in droves and the accents jar slightly against the tranquil beauty. These accents are indicating change rolling in. I wonder what Samara will be like in 10 years time when the moneymaking potential of this little paradise is recognised and the new international airport in the north of the country grows to accommodate more and more gringo visitors.

As I travelled in Costa Rica and Nicaragua I became aware of a tension. The desire for ‘realness’ to not be a tourist, whilst simultaneously being one. A need to be the first, to go somewhere undiscovered or unspoilt, to capture a place at exactly the right moment before it became ‘too touristy’ or ‘too westernised’. I struggled with this. I don’t view myself as a traveller, I see myself as a tourist, a western tourist. I try to be respectful. To not trample over other cultures. Only tasting tiny pieces here and there. Not ticking off my list, done, done, done. But the fact remains, I am a tourist. If there is a search for an experience of truth or beauty. I am looking for the beauty, the building the landscape, the waterfall, the mountain. I find the search for truth, for the authentic experience sometimes troubling. We must get the local bus because that is what the locals do. I don’t think the locals would choose the bus, I think they have to get the bus because they can’t afford anything else.

Of course this may be an intellectualising of my own laziness and the ‘truth’ is that I prefer the ‘beauty’ of the taxi ride because it is easier.

I have always loved storytellers, constantly attracted to those who can weave narratives for me. A friend of mine often says ‘never let truth get in the way of a good story’ as his slightly exaggerated versions of events portray us in less than flattering ways. And as I upload my holiday photos to Facebook this comes to my mind.

I look at the story unfolding in those pictures and I see the beauty, and of course the pictures don’t show the whole truth. The catcalls and grabs in the dark street, which make me uncomfortable (but the female Nicas assume me are safe and normal!). The rats in the market. The cockroach and frog I shared the shower with. The beggars, the crazies, the missing limbs, the children around the restaurant, constantly chased off but coming back for more scraps. The homes which are only two walls and a roof, people burning rubbish in the street because no one collects it. The sense of lethargy that pervades when there is (apparently) 70% unemployment.

However truth doesn’t completely override the beauty. I suppose it just means that travel, like life, is made up of a million different shades and hues.

So perhaps in a search for truth or beauty, the most important thing is just that, the search? The ability to look and see and consider.Why am I a teacher? I think fundamentally it is because I am interested in the world and I like to share that interest. I find that everyone I meet or teach has something to tell me or show me. Some topics are more interesting to me than others but everyone has something to share. In being an educator I am seeking to share both truth and beauty. As an English teacher with passion for language I share my love of words and that wonderful moment of connection when you read the words which express something you struggled to articulate. That is the essence of truth and beauty captured in a moment. The same way that when a crowded local bus moves as one to ensure the man that needs to get off can get out. That despite the heat, the dirt, being uncomfortable, and slightly angry that I am even on this dam bus, I see the beauty of connection flit across the moment like words on a page.

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