Archives for category: ofsted

You can read all the posts about Brazil in one place. I have edited them in to a small book. Available on Amazon.

The Sao Paulo Metro

I have no sense of direction. If I needed to go right guaranteed I would go left. Despite instructions, or directions I often end going the wrong way. I have been saved many times by the GPS on my iPhone. But slowly, I am starting to find my way. The longer I live in the complex city of Sao Paulo I can feel the map in my mind start to gradually piece together. Streets building on streets, not so lost, finding ways to link the parts of the city together. I have never really known where I was going. Too busy looking around me, too busy talking or thinking to take notice of my surroundings. I relied on friends to take me where I needed to go.

This is true for more than just travel. I have never really known where I was going, and even when I looked at a map, made a plan I would make a wrong turn and end up somewhere else. I envy people with a good sense of direction, the ones who know where they are going the ones that travel the straight line. Someone gave us advice on managing in Brazil. They said ‘There are no straight lines in Brazil’ to manage here you have to be prepared to change routes, go in a different direction, try another way.

Is it important to know where you are going? In teaching we are told to always share the learning objectives. This means sharing with our pupils at the start of the lesson what we will be doing and what they will be learning during the lesson. This is one of the things you have to do to get an  ‘excellent’ from the teaching gods, OFSTED. And yet this constant sharing of what is going to happen and checking if it has happened can be stale and boring. Where is the mystery? Where is the adventure? A friend is an early years teacher and she told me about ‘stunning starts’, how at the start of a unit they would try and generate interest and enthusiasm in the pupils. For example; they hid a letter from the big bad wolf in the sand pit, the pupils found it and this led them to excitedly exploring the story of the three little pigs. I tried to this with my own pupils. I was planning a unit on the supernatural, looking at fiction and non-fiction texts, we started with a Halloween party, apple bobbing, games, sweets and fun. These were disaffected pupils I had to hook them in or they would be lost, disengaged from the topic.

I was arguing with a teacher the other day, he was advocating never sharing learning objectives but he’s a music teacher, a rebel who never wants to do as he’s told. I disagreed with him. Despite my own lack of direction I can see the benefit of showing the students that I knew where I was taking them. I need to create a balance between mystery and surprise and the sense of security that comes from knowing where you are going and why. The issue I have with any of these teaching strategies is the wholesale application of them with no sense of the individuals or the long-term processes that happen in classrooms. OFSTED are concerned with a snap shot, a single glimpse in to a lifetimes work. The direction I have led my students down in the past, I know they haven’t seen the route until they are far along it, finally realising after they’ve passed through the classroom the direction they are taking.

As I get older I watch the people around me, some of whom had a certainty about the direction they were going, who had looked at the map, planned their route with precision. Then all of a sudden they came upon unexpected roads, dead ends or sheer drops. I watch them come to terms with the different direction their lives have taken. Having a good sense of direction might not always take you where you want to go, in fact it could led you off course, make you miss something beautiful. We have to try to take risky decisions, a path through the forest, a different corner, a U-turn in the road. I jumped out of my life in the UK, in teaching, in my career, to this unknown entity of Brazil, and what riches I have found. My lack of sense of direction, my right turn instead of left led me here. I still don’t have a map but I can’t wait to see where I go next.

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.

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