What's all this then?

I tweet too much. So I needed somewhere else to start storing all the words. This is it. Think of it as the external hard drive for my thoughts.

I don't have an obesssion, a dream, a fixation or a hook, so don't be expecting a focus here. It's like great big lumps of my twitterings. You may see teaching stuff, rants, maternal anxiety and occasional sojourns away from reality.

Anyway, I like a nice chat so we should talk. By we, I of course mean me...

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Can I get away with a slushy one yet?

I don’t believe in Soulmates. Or love at first sight. Or fate guiding you towards The One.

Imagine my annoyance then to find my time with MrBird, my husband of 9 1/2 years, falling into all those categories. I am not into romantic destinies and frankly I find the circumstances around our meeting highly irritating.

We met in a dingy nightclub that neither of us had ever been to before. Both of us were miles from home, and neither of us particularly in the mood for finding anyone. But I went from “I’m never trusting a man as long as I live” to “Here’s my number” in the space of a couple of g&t’s. We met for lunch the next day, even though he was supposed to be driving all his mates to a Wedding. That was pretty much it, done and dusted. In the battle of logic v nonsense, score one point to Cupid.

I fought it, mind. I took myself off to Scotland straight afterwards and didn’t come back for ages. I told myself this couldn’t possibly be right… after all he was a Suit. And he lived in Surrey. With his Mum. Then I saw the photos from his Metal Band days (I’m a sucker for long haired muso boys) and learned that he’d just moved home temporarily after the death of his Dad. Yeah, whatever, Cupid.

It turned out there were lots of times when we could have met. He studied physics at the same Uni at the same time as my friend, he was there when I visited the physics geeks, I mean dudes. When I was at Uni, his best friend managed the Pub that I often frequented. And so on. I’m not a fan of co-incidence but you can give Fate a point if you like.

He is not my soulmate though. I won’t have that. We share very few interests. He has never read Douglas Adams, and I have no clue about Linux. However a long, long time ago a friend pointed out, in a rare moment of clarity, that a shared love of Monty Python really isn’t enough to base a lifetime on. She was right. Thank goodness I realised that before Mr Bird happened into my life.

During my Wedding Speech (of course I made a speech, would I miss that chance to talk at people?) I said he was everything I never knew I wanted. Nine years have taught me just how true that is. It comes down to the bedrock of love. He is the one person I wanted to see when I came round from an anaesthetic. When his much loved uncle died, I had to be the one he heard it from. He was the only person I could tolerate during labour. If I am strong it’s only because when I can’t be any more, I know he’ll pick up where I left off.

We’re not perfect. He makes me grit my teeth. I make him sigh.  But I’ll take the fact that he winds the kids up before bedtime, because if they ever can’t run to me I want them to run to him. When I look at myself and see disastrous, from somewhere he finds desirable. We complement each other even when we forget to compliment each other. We’re totally different except where it counts.

My flamingo photo on this blog and on twitter is his. He took it on our honeymoon.

He is the pictures to my words. But not my bloody soulmate.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Solstices and Henges

I love Midwinter’s Day. I loved it even as a kid when I didn’t know what the significance was and schools then didn’t bother with earth sciences, not when there were yoghurt pot telephones to be made.  I didn’t know the word solstice either, but that didn’t matter as Midwinter is far more poetic anyway.

I just loved the eeriness of the shady light, the onset of dark that begins around lunchtime and the hours and hours of night in which to imagine all sorts of Creatures of the Shadows.

When I was about 10, I read Susan Cooper’s perfect depiction of Midwinter in “The Dark is Rising” and the tingles it sent down my spine firmly cemented  the Winter Solstice in my mind as a time of myth and chilly spookiness.

Even now the pale sun that never quite rises, the white skies and the night-in-day feel are able to nudge aside my jadedness and rap me over the head with a spoon labelled “magic”.   Midwinter still has a hold over me.

Last year I indulged my love of solsticeness with a trip to Stonehenge in midwinter. Not on the actual day, but as the Ancients were not concerned with quartz precision I decided that didn’t matter.

For the International Year of Astronomy, an astro-archaeology event was held there over three days. A small group of us were given a guided tour of the Stones at night by a group of archaeologists and astronomers. They were firmly of the belief that Stonehenge was designed for Midwinter Festivals, and that Midsummer’s Day was of very little significance to the monument.

To say I geeked out is an understatement. I won’t bore you with the details, if I started I’d still be writing hours later (into the dark of Midwinter’s night…). I have to say though, that standing in the centre of the inner circle of stones under a clear starry sky in the freezing night air is an experience that will stay with me forever. In the dark, the perspective of the circle changes. The stones seem to be leaning in over your head, like being in a goldfish bowl, with added Boding.

Today I can’t match that experience but I have been tramping in the snow. The stillness of the air, the echoing of crunchy footsteps has just about provided me with my quota of eery.

Anyway, I finish with pics of Stonehenge in Midwinter. I’m off to get some mistletoe…

Happy Solstice.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

An Apple for the teacher. Please.

I’m a little uncomfortable about what I’m going to advocate here, as it feels a bit like brand endorsement. I am not a fan of branding, especially around kids. No, not branding as in cattle marking; although that is also a very bad idea around kids. I just don’t like children being viewed as a marketing opportunity, they’re not cynical enough.

However: I think all schools should use Apple.  There, I said it.  Now I’d better explain it.

Schools are essentially slow moving things, and technology is a fast moving thing.  This often means that schools lag behind current developments a ridiculous amount. I mean, there are teachers out there who still think that “doing a powerpoint” is the cutting edge, whereas most private companies are encouraging people to move away from powerpoint and really engage with their audience, something that teachers already do brilliantly. But we were blindsided by the arrival of interactive whiteboards and whizzy slides and forgot that these tools cannot replace a charismatic, knowledgeable expert at the helm.

The relationship between primary schools and technology is always an uneasy one. Anyone remember the NOF training? Money spent trying to update teachers’ IT knowledge, and oh how we all hated its misguided efforts.  Then came Computers for Schools vouchers and as a result millions of digital microscopes serve as bookends in stock cupboards up and down the country.

ICT lessons themselves are too often about teaching processes, learning how to use equipment. I used to spend at least 10min of each precious half hour lesson reminding children how to save work; a route so convoluted that it was like talking them through defusing a bomb. And there was still always That Child who cut the red wire.

And don’t get me started on RM Window Boxes (http://www.rm.com/generic.asp?cref=GP1225202). A “child friendly” interface aimed at simplifying things for primary aged children. Children don’t generally need their IT simplified, so who’s that for? Never mind “Number Magic”, just let them use Excel and stop messing about.

It sometimes feels like schools just aren’t getting it.

Which is where Apple comes in. They have always been about the interface, or more importantly the removal of the interface. This is the aim of good technology, that there is no barrier to its use. Perfectly intuitive technology is the Holy Grail of work psychologists and Apple is its Champion.

Recently I was coveting an iPad in the phone shop, and when I turned round dd1 was cheerfully using one to play the piano... “Mummy, I REALLY want an iPad”. She can dream on, but it does sum up what IT should do in primary schools. It should enable children, give them options, support them. With no-interface technology we can get on with teaching children to become rigorous and analytical appliers of technology, not just competent users of Windows.

It's not all schools, some get it perfectly. Want to see what an iPod Touch can do? Look at @ebd35’s blog (http://ebd35.wordpress.com/). A boy with no special love of writing created this:

Isn’t it brilliant? This is what happens when we let technology support the learning, not the other way round.

Please may I have an iPhone now?

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Welcome to the jungle...

Now, just you hold your music snobbery horses there, cowboy. Yes, this is about Guns N Roses. I gave them a capital N, look.

Sometimes when you’re online you can’t help but notice a certain musical bias: I don’t use the word facism lightly. I’m not a fan of musical snobbery; food snobbery I like, it’s funny, but music is about your soul and therefore I think demands a little tolerance.

Take Axl Rose. [insert “please” gag here]. Is he a bit of a prat? Yes. Should Guns N Roses grow up and turn up on time? Yes. Should Axl stop throwing all his toys all over the place & stamping his artiste’s feet? Of course. Will I love Guns N Roses forever? Yes, I’m afraid so, because they are The Band. We all have a band who introduce us to the music we end up loving. Guns N Roses are my band. And Paradise City is my song.

I can remember where I was, who I was with and what we were doing the very first time I heard it. It was the 80s, and this was the moment when I first realised there was more to life than Wham. I was 11.  I had just finished a starring role in the school production of “Bugsy Malone” (This is a lie. I was a first year and therefore an extra, although the Sixth former who played Bugsy did brush my arm thereby fuelling an almighty crush). We were having the after show party in the exclusive venue of the Sixth Form common room and someone put on Paradise City.  Suddenly I stopped being a petrified First Year and I was in the crowd of big boys and girls, dancing. I made my friends come too, including the one who was quite cross with me because I’d made her tie into a “peanut”. They weren’t that fussed, but I was in full on epiphany mode and taking no prisoners.

Since then, Guns N Roses have been a soundtrack to my (ongoing) growing up process.

When I was 16 and visiting my older cousin at Uni, I was able to join in the Axl chat, which made me pretty damn cool, oh yes.

When MrBird and I were in the early stages of going out, we had a holiday in the Lake District and we played Appetite for Destruction while he taught me to riffle shuffle (#notaeuphemism). I perfected my card sharp moves to the sound of Axl wailing, which made me just about the coolest person ever.

Much later, I was blessed with two daughters, neither of whom enjoyed the going to sleep thing. Sweet Child of Mine was one of the songs I used to sing to get them to sleep or at least be quiet in the car. “The Wheels on the Bus” can kiss my rock n roll arse. It helped keep me sane, which was cool.

So. I love Axl, I love Guns N Roses, I love them despite the fact that they are 40somethings who need to stop behaving like teenagers. I love them because of it. One day I might finish growing up and not need them any more, but until then I am theirs.

I wonder if either of the girls would like to walk down the aisle to November Rain….?

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

The trouble with twinkles.

Lesson 1: when you're talking to girls, what do you call it? You know, it. Well, maybe you don’t know, but I bet if you’re a parent of girls you know exactly what I mean.  You’ve probably worried about it, asked a few friends, maybe even looked on a Mums’ Forum.

I am referring to the semantic difficulties posed by the whole genital area often just known as “downstairs” [nods meaningfully in relevant direction with pursed Les Dawson lips]. What do you call it? What do you tell your toddling daughter? What names do you give your little girl to call her body?

If you’ve never had this internal (ahem) debate, you may not see the immediate problems. And if you’re a laid back and cool-type parent, just roll your eyes and feel smug. Let me elaborate; whilst trying not to feel resentful towards all those parents who’ve only ever had to say, “It’s your willy, dear, now leave it alone please.”

As a Sex Ed professional, I believe children deserve better than euphemisms and that very English secrecy around sex. If we’re not honest from the very beginning we create all manner of peculiar hang-ups later on. And personally, I believe that words are powerful. How can we own and understand something we cannot name?

At school I blithely led a staff meeting telling my fellow teachers that we must be honest and accurate in discussing children’s bodies with them. We must use the correct vocabulary. We must stand confidently at the front of the class and say penis, vagina and testicles without deviation, hesitation, or repetition. Some teachers balked at having to say to KS1 boys, “Please don’t play with your penis in lessons”, preferring the traditional, “Get your hands out of your trousers RIGHT NOW! And wash them please.” However, I was insistent that this was the way forward, our responsibility to the children.

So, as a mum, I took a deep breath and taught my daughters that they had vaginas. Where babies come out. It’s not your bottom, it’s girl bits and right inside is your vagina. I taught them it’s ok to touch, just not in public. Please.  Unfortunately, vagina is a lovely word: unusual and fascinating to say over and over again. Which is no doubt why, to my utter horror, dd2 (age 4) made up this little song:

“Your girl bits, your girl bits, that’s your bagina.”

Top marks for learning I suppose, but I ignored it in the most fervent of hopes that she forgets all about it and never, ever sings it in Polite Company. It was a nice introduction to lesson number 2: Please don’t go on about this at school, it’s not up to you to teach your friends these very grown-up words.

It could be worse though.

A friend decided she was just going to go with “fanny”. It’s no worse than willy, she thought. Until one day on holiday when her 4 year old son shouted across the beach,

“Mummy! Fiona’s putting pebbles up her fanny!”

She was mortified.  It sounds horrible when a child says fanny. It just does.

So where does that leave you? Oh, the suggestions I’ve heard. Frou-frou. I mean, honestly? You could look your child in the face and say, “That’s your frou-frou”? I know I couldn’t. How can you teach your daughter to be proud of her body when you use shameful words?

There are plenty of words in the adult world, and if you can think of a single one that sounds great coming from a small child, I’d love to know.  Maybe I should be reclaiming the words for my daughters.  As an adult I have no problem with any of them. I would even use the “c-word” here, but you probably wouldn’t be expecting it from me, and I’d hate for you to spit your tea on the screen. It worries me that there are no accepted, everyday, casual words for girls’ genitals; women’s yes, but not girls. Perhaps it worries us to think of little girls as having the potential for womanhood, perhaps all the words are so sexual that we can’t bring ourselves to apply them to girls, perhaps it’s just another Victorian left-over that we need to get over.

Maybe I should just brazen it out, name without shame. I won’t though. Call me cowardly, but I just can’t be That Mum whose kids go round talking about their fannies. It’s bad enough being the Mum whose kid goes round singing a song about her bagina. Sigh.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Boys, Girls, Marshmallows.

I don’t often watch school programmes on the telly, because they tend to make me shouty and sweary. Waterloo Road is an obvious exception because, well, have you seen it? Then you know.

However, I found myself sucked into Gareth Malone’s Dangerous School for Boys which assumed that boys need more physical exercise, and specialised teaching to help them bridge the literacy gap with girls. The programme showed the best and the worst of primary education. Unfortunately for the teaching profession, the best came from a preternaturally youthful choirmaster and the worst came from pessimistic teachers.

Gareth’s teaching was vibrant. Writing their own musical, decorating the library, choosing books: it was all just fantastic. And I found myself feeling sorry for the girls. Presumably they were stuck in the classroom with their regular lessons while the boys toasted marshmallows and played Ladders (I love Ladders).

I know the programme was about closing the gap between boys and girls. I know the girls were achieving more, in terms of reading ages and testing, but does this mean that teaching was meeting the girls’ needs but not the boys'? I’m not sure it does.

Girls’ and boys’ brains do not really differ in any notable way. The learning needs of children are really best not categorised by gender. There are obviously societal influences, but primary age children are still at a developmental stage where the biggest influence in their lives is parental. OK, non-reading Dads were highlighted in the programme as an issue, but I can’t believe all the Mums were sitting down with Dostoyevsky of an afternoon. Not when Dinner Date is on.

I don’t think that boys need specialized teaching. What worked for them in this case was participation in an amazing learning experience and literacy made relevant.  This is what all children need, boys and girls.

Yes, the girls tested better but that doesn’t mean that the teaching was doing its job of creating lifelong learners. With boys the effects of poor teaching and an irrelevant curriculum are immediate: low test scores and acting out in class. Working in EBD outreach, our referrals for boys outnumbered girls by about 20 to 1, not because girls experienced no emotional or behavioural problems but because their difficulties didn’t tend to trouble teachers or put them at risk of exclusion. With limited resources, you’ll refer the boy setting fire to his classmates ahead of the girl with an eating disorder, sexual health concerns, depression, or school phobia.

Girls tend to perform acceptably at school in spite of personal difficulties or less than inspiring teaching. But when they get older will they value their education? What will they aspire to? Will they be enthused enough and confident enough to go for the important jobs that make a difference to us all? It’s not till well after the testing stops that we see the impact of poor teaching on girls.

All children deserve an extraordinary education. Every Child A Marshmallow Toaster.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

It's not you, it's me.

Falling out of love is very much like falling in love: sudden and sickening. There is a pinpoint moment of clarity in which something inside says Yes or No. Your heart or soul or endochrine system has made its decision and after that your brain is just playing catch up.

Of course, what you do with that instant depends very much on whether you got the answer you wanted. If you didn’t, you will fight it with every rational neuron you have. You won’t win, but well done for trying.  If you did, then you run the risk of doing something Spontaneous. How alarming.

Recently I fell suddenly out of love with my profession. Not my job, being fed up with your job is standard, this was different. I sat in the staffroom one lunchtime contemplating a rather unwise sandwich choice, when I overheard a conversation between teachers and support staff. They were setting out to sabotage a plan the Deputy Head had put together. For no good reason; it was a good plan that benefited the children and did no harm to anyone. They just didn’t like the Deputy and spared no thought for the effect their games would have on the children in the school.

Something inside me went twang. I felt an instant loss of all the ties that bound me to teaching and an urgent need to be apart from all this. I walked out of the staffroom, into the Head’s office, sat down and announced my resignation, pausing only to put the sandwich in the bin en route.

Spontaneous. Frightening. A snap decision acted upon the very second my brain heard the “No” and thought, “Yeah, I’ll go with that”.  And most definitely the right thing to do. I’m so glad I didn’t fight it, because I know where that can lead.

Many years ago I fell out of love with a person. It was a bolt from the blue. I was sitting in the car on the way back from the shops when my subconscious tapped me on the shoulder and told me I didn’t love him. The next thoughts, in order, were:
-         Hmm, moving to the other side of the world to live with him’s going to be a bit tricky then
-         Oh crap
-         I wonder if it’s too late to back out
-         Oh crap.

The sick feeling that went with the mental spinning was quite the opposite of the delicious giddy nausea that goes with falling in love. But after some deep breathing, and very impressive logical thinking I calmed my nerves and convinced myself I was deliriously happy.  Two weeks later I moved to Australia, moved in with him & got a job for a waitressing agency. It was a complete disaster, and not just because of the septic blisters I got on my overworked feet.

You can’t ignore the moment when the truth hits you. Well, you can, but you’d be fooling yourself. It’s why despite the grief I feel right now in not teaching, despite the loss of a key part of my identity, if I ask the question “Did I do the right thing?” a quiet voice always says, “Yes”. Falling out of love demands action and acceptance. As does falling in love. We’ll talk about that another time.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Open letter to Reception teachers everywhere

Dear Reception Teacher,

Let’s begin with applause. I mean really, I don’t know how you do it. I’ve taught every age from 4 to 16, and yours is the job that fills me with wonder (from a distance) and dread (when actually faced with the prospect of doing it). You are the one they will all remember as "My First Teacher".

You take these little bundles of pre-school energy and find a way of channelling that bounce into learning and, here’s the bit that really gets me, you make them think they’re playing the whole time. Hats off to you. Because when I want kids to do something, I just ask them. When I want them to learn something I explain all about it. But you turn the whole thing into an adventure and you don’t even shout. You’re the one that will take a troupe of children up to the art cupboard for A2 paper, all because one kid drew a giant and wants to make him a giant sized birthday card.

A Reception classroom is like a whole different world. It’s got a role play corner, for pete’s sake; a tiny, fascinating bit of the grown-up world, and about a gazillion times more fun. I’ve seen Postoffices, doctor’s surgeries, shops, animal hospitals, well-baby clinics and cafes, all in miniature and all acting like a magnet to anyone over the height of 4ft, despite our knowledge that our equivalent versions are like hell on legs.  If you ask Junior children where in the school they would like to “help”, they always want to go to reception because there’s toys and games and dressing up and it feels safe and cosy to them. It’s fun, dammit.

Secretly, the rest of us teachers are all a little bit jealous. We wish our classrooms were like treasure chests, and that we could create that kind of comfort and security in our worlds. And, yes, we wish that our domains were as popular with the students.

That said, Reception teacher, I need to check that you realise just how little those freshly-uniformed bods actually are when they arrive in your class. Some of them still have lego hands, you know; the ones that look like they’ve just been added to the ends of the arm without any noticeable wrist? Some of them still have their chubby baby cheeks.  They’ve all got adult sized emotions in pint-sized bodies, and that’s tough to handle when the world is suddenly new and confusing.  I remember on my first day at school I put one of the chairs down when I wasn’t supposed to. I blushed purple and wanted to run straight home. It’s my first memory of the feeling I’ve come to know and loathe as “embarrassment”. I hope you remember your first day at school, because I don’t think you should teach Reception unless you do remember. Vividly.

Lastly, when you’re trying to create order on that first morning, and by the way good luck with that, take a look at those parents you’re trying to get rid of. I know you’re sizing them up. Who will fuss, who’s over-anxious, who looks like trouble, who will need lots of reminders, oh god there’s the mum known to the whole staff as “That Woman”…

They won’t all be angels, and by the end of the year, there will be some you would cheerfully send back to the hellpit from whence you’re certain they came. However, on this first day, just look at the fear in their eyes. They’re panicking more than the kids. Go easy on them, for some this is the first time they’ll do this. And worse than that, for some this is the last time.  When they look at those overlong jumper sleeves, they’re seeing the overlarge babygro that first swamped that body. They’re checking the face they know so well for any signs of a wobble. They just want everything to go ok.

Which brings me back to the applause. Well done, Reception teacher. It’s your job to take 30 children and 30 sets of parents and welcome them to the wonderful world of education, to teach them how it all goes. Try not to feel disappointed when at the end of the year all the parents say,

“Oh, he’s soooo ready for Year 1 now. Ready for proper school.”

It means you’ve done your job.

Yours in awe,

PS My littlest baby starts school on Friday, do you think she’ll be alright?

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

A tale from the Big Book of Boozy Puddings

This isn’t about teaching, this one. Except in that it’s about booze. And most teachers love the booze. In fact, the proportion of teetotal teachers is about half that of the general population. I learned that on Drugs Ed. I don’t think it was meant to impress me the way it did.

Anyway, this is a pudding I made for my 9th Wedding Anniversary, based on a cocktail MrBird likes. It’s adapted from a plain old chocolate mousse recipe because why eat pudding when you could eat boozy pudding? Enjoy, but don’t blame me.

White Russian Mousses (for about 4)

2oz caster sugar
8oz cream cheese
½ pint cream, plus some extra
2 eggs
Bar of Green and Black Espresso Chocolate

Beat the sugar and egg yolks into the cream cheese.
Whip the cream, then add a generous slug of Kahlua and stir in. Taste. Mmm.
Add the Kahlua cream to the cheese mix.
Melt the coffee chocolate (I suppose normal dark choc would be ok, but why mess about?)
Add a shot or two of vodka to the melted chocolate.
Stir the chocolate slowly into the mousse mix.
Whip up the egg whites till they do that soft peak thing.
Fold the egg white gently into the mousse.

Pour this mixture into glasses to set. Shot glasses if you’re being fancy, bigger ones if you want people to enjoy themselves.

When it’s set, pour a layer of liquid cream over the top. Drizzle in a little extra Kahlua. I ran some over the back of a spoon and made heart shapes, because I just couldn’t help myself.

I also added a stick of chocolate, for the same reason.

The cream will ooze into the mousse as you eat it. Mmmmmm.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

I like a nice scavenger hunt, me.

Day 1 of the holidays and I’m sending the girls into the garden with a Fun List designed to keep them busy for at least 1 cuppa. A scavenger hunt, essentially. I loved them when I was a kid; haring round the village with the rest of my Brownie Six pestering old ladies for a Christmas-themed milk bottle top. Enid Blyton kicks all through the hols.

At Uni it was a bit different and the purpose of a scavenger hunt was, as I recall, to remove items of underwear and provide the organisers with bottles of 20:20.

The kids at school love them.  A good scavenger hunt should be a mix of the mundane (a pencil exactly 7.5cm long), the challenging (a pebble Andy Goldsworthy would like) and the bizarre (a haiku of such exquisite beauty that I weep).  Being a PSHE type person, and all about the social skills, I like to add people based ones too.

When Year 6 were rehearsing “The Sound of Music” I requested “somebody older and wiser”, (hum it with me now). They turned up with the caretaker.

During the World Cup I asked for someone who could explain the Offside Rule to me.
“What’s the offside rule, Miss?” wail some girls.
“I don’t know. That’s why I need someone to explain it to me.”
“But we don’t know the offside rule!”
I let my eyes drift across the playground to the inevitable football game (we never did get round to banning it).
“Of course!” they yell…. “THE BOYS!” They return with a Year 6 lad who patiently explains the offside rule. I award the girls 3 points. They all bounce off happily. 

It’s also fun to request the word HELP spelled out in people on the playground. You’re working out how to do it in your head now, aren’t you? You would get 4 points.

One of my favourites is “someone younger than you who can do something you can’t”. Cartwheeling younger sisters and unfortunate Infants who can roll their tongue are pressganged into service. It’s team work at its best, it’s bloody good fun and it’s the sort of thing primary school used to be all about.

But primary schools are changing. Primary school staff used to make a rock solid team: a tea-drinking force for good. And we had bloody good fun into the bargain. Now we are separated, given individual targets as teachers. In schools where Assessing Pupil Progress is taken to the extreme there is a huge pressure to make sure every child makes the magical 2/3 of a level progress under your rule.

In this climate, your loss is my gain. And my success could easily look like your failure. It is easy to feel under siege, and at times like that you don’t feel able to look charitably at your colleagues. You don’t want to admit any perceived weakness. It scuppers team work good and proper and learning stalls, for staff and students alike.

And we should worry over this loss of the support, the solidarity in the staffroom, because that’s where teachers do their learning. In teaching there is always somebody older and wiser, hopefully with wisdom to spare for you. And there is also probably someone younger who can do things you can’t. Strength as a school comes when all those abilities knit together.

When government targets means teachers are too scared to share nicely with their friends, the atmosphere in school becomes oppressive.  Education as a whole begins to suffer. And then the kids had better get really good at spelling out HELP on the playground.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

In the beginning...

I wasn't always a teacher, it just feels like it. The Brighton Rock of professions, it tends to write its way through your personality. However, it has made me happier than most jobs ever could and now I'm bowing out it's like someone changing my name (not telling) or the colour of my eyes (mostly red). It's making me think back on 12 years of trying to make learning happen and it's making memories leap out with more energy than I currently possess.

It will of course be the kids that I remember.

Some kids stick in your memory forever. Some make you wake in the night in a cold sweat as you relive the moment they grabbed the rounders bat, others make you wonder wistfully what became of that little Botticelli angel (he grew into a 6ft Sports Student).

There are the kids whose actions make you love them forever. Like Joe. Who used to hang from the electric hand dryer in the boys' loos, wind in his hair, yelling "Arrrrrrgh! Crocodile attack!" and who explained to the whole class what insemination was despite my best efforts to stop him. Others will remain in your mind because that is what they desperately need: someone to remember them, to be thinking of them. These are the kids that write to you after you've gone... "Dear Miss Bird, school is boring and so is Mrs Plant. Are you coming back?"  There are the kids who you remember because remembering is what you do when they're not around any more. And there are the little blighters who make you want to bang your head on the table to block out the time they announced in the Holy Communion lesson that "Joseph was very angry cos he thought Mary was having sex with another man".

Then you remember the kids that had you saying the most ridiculous things. "Put your clothes back on please lads, I'm old enough to be... well, frankly unimpressed". "Are the police here yet? Because he's up a tree now and he's still got the blue paint." ...It was an EBD school.

And when I remember, I smile. Because they were proper kids. And they turned me into a Teacher, which is different to being someone who teaches.