Tag Archives: English Literature

Teaching … and learning.

Gove is gone.

And GM has just received a conditional offer (medical, CRB) for a primary school PGCE course from Liverpool Hope. [Apparently ‘the woman’ couldn’t stop smiling, nodding and writing ‘like mad’.] As I break up from school, my son is hurling himself head first into a profession that every current practioner seems to be trying to get out of. And my daughter is undertaking her annual fitness test for the Specials – the unpaid but fully ‘armed’ branch of the police.

We’re a strange little family, I reflect. We seem drawn to being ‘ruled by rules’ – teaching them, enforcing them – and me, well, I try to break them as often as possible.

Teacher. The Police. A pair of wonderfully dehumanising nouns. Labels which seem to entitle anyone and everyone to totally, completely and without a shadow of any guilt whatsoever conveniently remove any trace of humanity from their attitudes and behaviour, view and treatment of the said ‘non-people’.

‘The police’ are scary. It’s the uniform. When my daughter first got hers she appeared in the back garden unexpectedly and all I saw was a blur of black and the badge: Heddlu. I was shocked at my reaction at the sight of the uniform on my property and it took a long second or two to ‘see’ my daughter behind it.  My son wasn’t too affected by the day-kit but when she tried on her formal silver-buttons one, his heart raced at the sight of it.

Teachers are scary. It’s the name-thing: ‘Sir’, ‘Miss’. You’re not allowed to call them by their personal name – if you find out a teacher’s first name, it’s like some great treasure or trench warfare – there’s a little bit of ground taken back.

The summer holidays is one of my favourite times of year. Not because I’m not in school – I’m too zonked out and / or bored to think about that – it’s because it’s the only time of year parents hail teachers – and not for what we actually do, but for simply ‘having’ their children.

It costs parents a fortune to occupy and amuse their own children. Just keeping them under some level of control seems to challenge most parents nowadays. What disturbs me most is that these parents feel it’s their job to keep their children busy and engaged in some ‘gainful’ activity every single day. Children are not taught, let alone expected to amuse themselves any more. And children have to do this amusing activity under constant and vigilant adult supervision – because despite research repeatedly demonstrating that it is known family members who abuse children the most frequently, parents continue to be glued to the belief that every corner is hiding some lurking stranger out to steal and harm their child.

So it is little wonder that people who teach, like the people who police, are pretty stressed people. The responsibility of looking after their little wonders, just keeping them safe and occupied, is pretty massive. And then there are those who demand they are educated as well – everyone must be in the top set – as this is seen as some ‘ticket’ to a guaranteed future of gainful and lucatrative employment, and thus a rewarding and happy life. And despite there being little evidence of humanity as a species getting even in the slightest more intelligent, every year, children must leave school with more and better qualifications – whilst standards are maintained.

Stressed Young Teacher writing for The Guardian (click on title for article) is a classic case of a young teacher who clearly has ‘not got it’. The end of term reports, trips and picnics is the icing on the cake – they are not the camel back’s breaking straw ! Nearly every single thing this teacher bemoans is what I love about my job. He is considering giving up – he needs to realise he already has.

People don’t ‘get’ teachers – or the police. Some days I really mind this. Today is one of them. Everything that happens in our society is because of what these two groups of people do. Without the police and teachers, no one can get on with the lives we in our society take for granted. Lots of these people who teach and police get it wrong, make mistakes and get worn out and careless sometimes. There are complete ‘wrong-uns’ as well – corrupt, ill-equipped and incompetent members of these professions tarnish our image and reputations, and damage the lives of individuals, sometimes irreparably.  But by and large, most of them are hard-working and enjoy their work. And are not stressed out of their minds and the job long before they have paid off their student loans for the PGCEs they mistakenly undertook.

Gove is gone. There will be more change – and little will change at the same time. This paradox is about administrative systems, what labels are given to activities and the layout of forms. Little in the English classroom can change – you read the texts and get the kids to think about them. You train them to write about them to earn marks – a little more of this, a little less of that. Unlike science we don’t have to re-evaluate what we know, unlike history we don’t have to re-evaluate what we think, and unlike geography we don’t have re-evaluate what we do. More like mathematics, in English we look at unchanging things – like relationships and emotions, challenges and injustices. We look at how these things have been explored and expressed. Kids still gasp when they realise Romeo and Juliet look into each other eyes for a split second before his poison kicks in – girls still cry when George pulls that trigger.

I swing between resenting having to prove I do my job well and arrogantly enjoying the opportunity to show off; I veer between thinking I’m crap and must do better, and wondering how do I manage to do it so well after all these years. As my son and daughter embark upon the wonderful adventures ahead of them, I am beginning to reflect upon the adventure that has been my pleasure and priviledge to ‘get away with’ – and it’s even paid some bills and kept me fed along the way.