There’s More to Life than Teachers.

A blanket of arrogance lies over the teaching profession. 

This blanket of arrogance wrongly assumes that teachers are the only ones who can provide the opportunities and experiences that students need to develop as, at the very least, competent human beings. Only with our encouragement can students learn to be resilient. Only with our guidance will students learn the value of hard work. And only with our gentle prompting will students engage with a diverse range of  differing cultural, religious, and gender perspectives.

For some, this shroud of solipsism, brings a warm feeling of affirmation: ‘I am a teacher and I know what’s best’. However, this blanket of arrogance is stifling us. And we should consider kicking it off.

I recently published a photo of 8 novels I’d be using for an extract analysis unit with my GCSE students in September. The list contained no novels by female authors and I was rightly-and gratefully-brought up on this. But then someone asked about whether I’ve included enough LGBT material. And then someone else questioned my inclusion of The Kite Runner as actually not being as representative of Islamic literature as many teachers (yes, me) assume it to be.  I agonised over all this, and my choices (or non-choices) prompted a twitter debate that lasted all weekend.

All this got me thinking. Whilst I believe it is my duty to provide students with a broad range of literary perspectives from a diverse range of authors, should this be a priority for me as a classroom teacher? I mean, am I the only way students are going to learn about homosexuality? Am I the students’ only way into the murky world of female oppression? Is it my job to explore Islam with my students? The answer to all these questions is, of course, ‘well, er…sort of.’ I must do the best I can. I recognise this. As One highly respected ‘tweacher’ told me: ‘Many kids learn quite bad stuff about ‘diversity’ outside your classroom. Your silence is not neutral.’ I agree with this. But then, someone else on Twitter said, tongue firmly in cheek:  ‘Barking up the wrong tree mate. Teach resilience in school. They can learn about similes and subordinate clauses at home.’ And I get what this person was getting at. My job, as a teacher, is to give kids the best opportunities they can. And, whether we like it or not, exam success goes some way to providing these opportunities. So, do I need to be spending hours banging on about resilience? Do I need to be wasting time agonising over whether the texts I’ve chosen for study are representative of every aspect of what is a very diverse society? Do I need to ensure that inferior texts are given precedent over superior ones purely because they tick a sexuality shaped box? Because, if I spend all my time teaching these things, who’s teaching them metaphors, modal verbs, and mise-en-scene?

Clearly, the answer isn’t clear cut here. It’s about professional judgement and it’s about balance. But, whilst we’re on the subject, I think we’d do well to remember that students have a life outside of our classrooms. And here’s why:

Student Experience

 Hearing you bang on about Oranges are not the Only Fruit isn’t going to be, for most, students’ only meaningful engagement with homosexuality. Nor is a cringe-inducing poetry lesson analysing Jay-Z going to give students any insight into ‘what it’s like to be black.’ The playground has come a long way; you’ll be surprised at how, on the whole, students are far more tolerant of than they were when you were at school. We’ve come a long way since ‘that kiss’ Brookside. Refer to a televised homosexual kiss as ‘that kiss’ now and students would reply with ‘what one?’ You’d do well to remember that some of your students, are already struggling with, exploring, and yes, enjoying  their sexuality. Some of your students already know about Islam because they are friends with real life Muslims. Honest. And some of your students are exhibiting grit and resilience and all that other bollocks every day, day in, day out, in their difficult-or easy- home lives, at sports clubs, even in their online rants about why this band is better than that band. So rather than try and clumsily impose your own, probably outdated, view of what is diverse, or what ‘tolerance’ is, or how students can demonstrate resilience, see what they have to say about it and work from there. The things you agonise over, they may not even give a second thought. But do ask: It’ll show students that you care about them. And they may even teach you a thing or two.

Target Setting and Marking

In a 168 hour week, you might see students for four hours. This means that 100% of your week is just 2.4% of theirs. Because of this life outside of your classroom, it’s unreasonable to expect your students to remember off the top of their heads, the countless number of targets you are setting them week in, week out, let alone act on them, unless you instruct them specifically to check back and do so during any given piece of work. I know schools where students are given three different target grades for every subject. And school leaders genuinely expect students to remember these when there are Pokemon to be caught and punishments to escape. What’s more, the pressure put on teachers to ensure that students care about these targets is, if not outrageous, unrealistic.

As for marking, just stop. A couple of ticks and one SMART target (as concise as you can make it), for one piece of work, per half term will do. Honest.

Parents

This is a tricky one. It’s about low expectations and it’s about high expectations.

Many parents are doing all the things we’re doing. They’re trying to get the buggers to read. They’re clumsily explaining the refugee crisis and they’re dusting off, soothing and encouraging after endless scraped knees. They are. And so, when I hear teachers agonise for hours, martyr-style, over how they can best achieve their virtuous goal of improving the moral and psychological well-being of their students I think this: just what low-expectations do you have of the parents of our students?

But I also think this. Shouldn’t we have higher expectations of the parents who don’t teach their kids to read; who don’t teach their kids that learning to ride a bike takes time and effort; who don’t say it’s okay for a man to kiss a man. Why should the sole responsibility of a child’s well-being rest on our already-weary shoulders? School Leaders need to work harder on bridging the relationship between parents and teachers so that both can work together to achieve the end aim of healthy, well-rounded students that love lots and do nice things.

 

 

Advertisements

Author: PositivTeacha

Whole School Literacy Coordinator and Lead Practitioner

6 thoughts on “There’s More to Life than Teachers.”

  1. Good blog. Many kids may learn quite bad stuff about diversity outside your classroom but how long do you have to spend on this before it impacts on what you need to cover to get them to a stage they can qualify? How do you decide they have learnt quite bad stuff? Do you have time to find out? Even if you do which bad stuff will you prioritise? And then there’s the fact that some may like to leave that bad stuff outside the classroom. They may want to forget it exists for the few hours they spend with you. You can even think of yourself providing them with a safe space 😀

    Like

  2. You make a lot of good points here, and it does irritate me sometimes to hear parents talked down, when most of us do as good a job as we possibly can. (This will of course include teachers who are parents as well …) I don’t think it’s particularly healthy for schools and educators to take on as many responsibilities as they do at the moment. I keep wondering when educators are going to get together and say ‘no’.

    However, the thing I would say about diversity in the texts that you use, is that this is not so much about giving children experience of a particular life style, gender issue or ethnicity, it is more about the position of power and authority that teachers hold (even if they don’t feel like they hold it). What we cover in schools is given power by the very act of us covering it, and so to not be representative of diversity means that we entrench prejudice. For instance, 50% of the population is female, and we have a duty, I think, to reflect that because everything we do sends a message to our students. If we don’t, then we entrench the opposite through our non-action. This is what I think every time I see a reading list (for students or for teachers) that is by 90 or 100% male authors. To not see this as a problem is, I think, a willful blindness to reality.

    Like

  3. Great stuff all round; 10 minutes around the coffee machine required reading.
    Can’t agree with all; learning with a wood lathe gives more immediate feedback than with a pen, so once every 6 weeks marking leaves opportunities to improve behind.
    Enabling learning with failure possible builds resilience only if the child’s spirit of enquiry is nurtured. That’s what needs to inform text choices, in the same way we need to use softwoods and metals for machine learning. I remember Prester John being foisted in me age 14 and dying 1000 deaths, the wrong book it might appear, yet reading it just 3 years later and I wondered what was not to like.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s