Month: May 2014

What’s your top ten?

In my formative years – I’m still quite young but starting a post with ‘in my formative years’ gives it an air of maturity and authority – my hormone riddled peers and I used to play a game called ‘Top Ten’. Like a quaint precursor to online dating, you would saddle up to a member of the opposite sex and muster all of your confidence before requesting the ten people they fancied, in strict order of fanciability.

Perhaps you played it too. You’ll remember the politics, the social intricacies, the unspoken rules. For example, if someone requests your list, you’re duty bound to include them. But not at number one. No. That would be too keen.

Of course by the time you’d finished with puberty, all of this childishness was forgotten. Or at least social hierarchies and cliques were well enough cemented that the exploratory list-inquests were unnecessary. Indeed, the very request for a top ten at sixth form would be met with initial pity, followed swiftly with ostricism.

Until last night, I’d forgotten all about top tens. Until Twitter went cray cray because someone had published a list of posts they fancied. And, in a calm and measured sort of reaction that I’ve come to expect from teachers on twitter, other people published their OWN lists, of posts they fancied, right back and you’re not even allowed on it so there.

The justification for the new list was that no girls had been included on the first list. In fact, all of the initial inclusions were ‘white males’.

Now, I’ve not been included on any lists even though, and I really can’t stress this enough, my writing is “elegant, groundbreaking, and spoken with a wisdom far beyond the author’s years” (I spoke that out loud so it does actually technically count as a quote). Not being included on any lists, I would be justified in feeling like I’m climbing an uphill battle trying to make it in this blog game, right? Why should I be excluded (or included) from a list not on merit but because of something I can’t control? The answers to these first question is “No” and the answer to the second question gives the reason why. Here it is.

I am a white male. I had no say in the matter, but because of that I enjoy a history of social dominance that had led to a plethora of unconsciously positive and advantageous psychological attitudes towards me. I receive unearned praise and recognition, expectations of me are high meaning the people will be more likely to take a risk on me despite relatively little experience. I’m more likely to be hired. I’ll earn more on average than any other group. I’m more likely to get promoted faster.

I won the gender lottery.

Conversely, minority groups (and women, who aren’t a minority group) have suffered the opposite historic fate. This has led to the deliberate and at times systematic exclusion from forums and debates. Very recently, we have started to understand our own idiocy and attempted to accept all, without thinking about their race, gender, sexuality, creed, whatever.

I’ve argued before that these superficial factors, over which an individual has no control, should be completely irrelevant. Or as relevant as someone being right or left handed. I feel really uncomfortably with positively discriminating, because I don’t want anything but merit and hard work to matter.

But, because of the history outlined, it may not be possible for those groups to join the debate. This may be because they have been made to feel like they are underqualified to comment, that they will be shouted down, like they have nothing to add. All of these are products of unfair historic treatment.

So we may have a responsibility to redress this imbalance by loading the dice in the other direction. It may be that, even if you are writing a list based purely on merit, and you don’t feel like anyone from group x or y deserves a place on that merit-based list, you should included them anyway.

Think of the inclusion as a necessary precursor to merit based work from individuals from that group in the future. We aspire to what we can see. If you didn’t see any blogs written by women any good, and you publish a list without women on it, all you are doing is making it less likely for women to blog in the future. And clearly the blogosphere would be a richer and wiser ether-verse with their contributions. By excluding based on a ‘meritocracy’, you may be contributing to a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Don’t get me wrong, whenever I see someone has published a list of recommendations I giddily scroll through, hoping to find my name. I then literally go through the five stages of grief.

Denial: I scrolled too quickly. My name will be there somewhere. *Scrolls more slowly, panic setting in.*

Anger: How dare they? Do they not recognise my genius? Well I don’t think much of your last article either!

Bargaining: I’ll send the author a few tweets dropping some heavy hints. They obviously just aren’t aware of my work.

Depression: I might stop blogging. This is all pointless.

Acceptance: Not being included on a list isn’t a huge deal.

If all of this strikes you as rather pathetic, then what I have to say to you is this: quite.

I’ve been really impressed by the debate on twitter. I argued in a recent essay for the IoE that it’s been the most valuable CPD that I’ve undertaken this year. But it saddens me when I see name-calling, narrow-mindedness and entrenchment. I see cliques and alliances. I see toddler level squabbling.

So. Let’s try not to worry about lists. Let’s try and continue to engage with each other on a human, respectful level. Let’s not draw attention to each other’s gender, race, or whatever else.

In short, let’s conduct ourselves in the same way that we would expect of our children.

The forgotten teaching standard.

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery

 

This year, I’ve spent the vast majority of my time pretending to be a teacher. This has involved planning and delivering lessons, writing essays, and turning up to work at an hour that I previously believed to be some sort of a cautionary tale that adults used to belittle students. 

Now, as I near the end, I have to prove that I won’t be a complete hazard to the children in my care, and that, if the planets are correctly aligned, they might even do some “learning”.  I prove this by evidencing the eight Teaching Standards set by the government. Michael Tidd argues here that they are a pretty sensible condition for being a teacher in the UK. To an extent, I agree; I think that they are a necessary but insufficient condition. But that is a story for another post.

What I want to talk about here is what I consider to be a gaping omission from the teaching standards. In fact, whenever we talk about teaching and learning and schools and education, I think that the most important quality (or standard, if you prefer) is forgotten: liking children. 

It sounds like such an obvious requirement. So obvious, in fact, that it is seldom mentioned. Before teaching, I volunteered for Childline, and I remember that a supervisor once told me that during interviews “liking or caring about children” was given least often as a reason for wanting to counsel.

When I cast my mind back to school, the teachers that I respected the most were those that showed genuine interest in me as a person. Yes, great subject knowledge was also important. I was aware, even then, that being quirkily obsessed with what you teach was infectious. But that wasn’t enough. The best teachers were those that cared about what I cared about.

This doesn’t mean simply pandering to young people and feigning interest in whomever pop culture is currently deifying. That would be weird and transparently unauthentic. My best teachers found out what I wanted to become, and what I needed I get there. Whether that happened to be their particular area of expertise or not, they would help me with that. Even if it was just a regular conversation to remind me that I had a goal. 

Conversely, I was bewildered at those teachers who obviously actively disliked young people. I’m not talking here about those who were strict or challenging. I mean those teachers who waxed lyrical about how disrespectful young people have become and what a sorry state society’s got itself into. Those who muttered that they couldn’t wait until they could retire. They were fed up, jaded, uninterested and they’d given up even trying to hide it.

In primary education, I have this a little easier than my secondary counterparts. I have no real allegiance to any particular subject, and have the benefit of seeing children succeed and fail in all areas I the curriculum. I can get to know exactly what their strengths are and what they find tricky. We can work on this together. I’m really, really excited when they achieve, and so they get really excited when they achieve. I’m even more proud when they fail again and again, and never give up. I wear that pride on my face.

I genuinely care about where they need help not because the sixth teaching standard says that I should employ AfL, or because the first teaching standard says that I should have high expectations of all my students. I care because I can see a wonderful ball of potential that doesn’t understand that getting something wrong means that you’re learning, and doesn’t realise that they are taking on stacks of knowledge and progressing in their skills at a remarkable rate. At a rate that few adults would concede is far higher than their own.

Recently, a parent asked me why I had gone into teaching. ‘A whole day without adult interaction, isn’t that hard?’ they said. I replied that I had got into teaching for a load of reasons, but mainly because I like kids. I find them funnier and more interesting and more genuine than adults. Less close-minded, more free-thinking. More sincere. If you gave me a choice between having a conversation with an adult and an eight year old, I’ll choose the kid any time. 

Any successes that I’ve had this year, any decent observations or lessons that worked, I can put them all down to this one quality. Yes, I did the other stuff in the teaching standards, they are the nuts and bolts that you need to build the boat. But if you don’t really care about the boat, or where it is headed, and if you don’t show it, then the whole thing becomes a chore for everyone involved.

29 most common acronyms used in education (IMHO).

So this time last year I was preparing myself for my initial training, and I remember being bamboozled on my school orientation experience and subsequent placements at the amount of acronyms used in education. On twitter, the use of acronyms is (understandably) more widespread.

For those of you who want to get a bit of a head-start, I’ve listed what I’ve found to be the most common acronyms from my first year of teaching. So as not to be overwhelming, this list is deliberately non-exhaustive, but I think that on any given week you’re likely to hear most of these. Please feel free to add in any more in the comments.

AfL – Assessment for Learning (also known as formative assessment)

ASD – Autistic Spectrum Disorder

BESD – Behavioural, Emotional and Social Difficulties

CPD – Continuous Professional Development (ongoing training for all teachers)

EAL – English as an Additional Language

EBI – Even Better If

EHCP – Education, Health and Care Plans (replacing statement of SEN from Sept ’14)

FSM – Free School Meals (, children receiving)

G&T – Gifted and Talented

HA – Higher Ability/Attaining (sometimes called MA for More Able)

IEP – Individual Education Plan (for children with statements of SEN)

LA – Local Authority (replaced LEA for Local Education Authority)

LA – Less Able/Lower Attaining

LI – Learning Intention

LO – Learning Objective

LSA – Learning Support Assistant (usually an adult working with a specific child)

NC – National Curriculum

PRU – Pupil Referral Unit (can be behaviour, medical, or mixed)

SA – School Action (describes children with additional educational needs)

SA+ – School Action Plus (as above, but more severe)

SEAL – Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning

SEN – Special Educational Needs, sometimes referred to as SEND, where the D stands for disability.

SENCO – Special Educational Needs Coordinator (named individual in school responsible for children with SEN)

SLT – Senior Leadership Team (sometimes SMT for Senior Management Team)

SLD – Speech and Language Difficulties

SpLD – Specific Learning Difficulties

TF – Teach First

WALT – We Are Learning To

VAK – Visual Auditory and Kinaesthetic (debunked theory of ‘learning styles’)