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...

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.