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 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-21122453