I don’t know if it’s because I’m a bit poorly this week, or if it’s the effects of the exhaustion of a long term impacting on others who are still putting in the hours at the chalk face, but I’m starting to feel like I need a bit of fun in my professional life. Over the past year, we’ve been bombarded with narratives of failure. Even Michael Gove’s departure didn’t stop the ‘woe betide you’ messages emitting from every official channel. Everywhere I turn, there’s a work harder, try harder, do better message. Read more, research more, mark more….I think it’s time to get lairy.
I’m all for teachers getting involved in research, in reading to improve, in pushing ourselves towards excellence. But it should be done in a spirit of celebration and joy. Not under threat. And I don’t know any teachers who want children to fail, but I know many who are pushing us to believe that all the problems of poverty are our fault and that if only we were better teachers, poorer children would succeed. It’s starting to bother me. It bothered me even more when I saw this advert for Teach First. I’m working with two wonderful, committed TF graduates at the moment. They are awesome. But they recognise that without the support of their experienced colleagues, they would be going under. And that the problems that the children they teach are facing are a whole lot more complex than they can fix just by being clever and committed.
And that thing about resilience? When did it suddenly become a stick with which we should beat each other? I heard one senior manager tut as he/she heard of a colleague’s depression a few weeks ago. “They need to man up.” was the comment. Grit – that’ll do it. Alfie Kohn writes brilliantly here about this hijacking of grit and resilience. To what extent are we using resilience in order to justify a protestant work ethic designed to ensure compliance in the face of unrelentingly dull and unrewarding requests? It seems that as religion declines, resilience has become the new opium of the masses.
So don’t even get me started on this latest announcement from the DfE in which the same government that has removed speaking and listening from the GCSE, radically reduced the teaching of drama in schools and shoved thousands more children into poverty announces that debates and putting on Shakespeare plays (unabridged, mind) are the stuff of grit. It’s all about getting kids to overcome set backs apparently – like losing their school playing fields?
All this has been on my mind while I’ve been beavering away with Emma Ann Hardy organising Northern Rocks 2015. Are we feeding the monster by getting you all out on a Saturday to think about how we could be better teachers? Are we making things worse? Well it’s too late now – we’re booked and 65% of the tickets are gone and we have a shed load of quite brilliant speakers lined up. So instead, we’re getting party minded. We’re going to be celebrating, laughing and playing. Ross McGill aka @teachertoolkit is under orders to misbehave. We have a band. We have a lot of music actually. We’re even going to get some wine in for a wee toast at the end of the day. Because work needn’t always be hard. Teaching needn’t always be serious. Conferences needn’t always be about what’s wrong and what works. They can be a celebration of what we do well. They can be a challenge to those in charge to think a little more carefully about the impact that their latest whim has on our working patterns. They can be a chance to meet old friends, make new ones and be unapologetically joyful. And they can be an opportunity to learn something new without being made to feel that you were inadequate before you knew it. That’s what we’re aiming for. So come and join us if you can. And if you can’t, hold up your head. Be proud. Keep smiling and have a wonderful Christmas.