Saturday, 10 December 2016

Five Easy Pieces (Four Years On)

This blog was originally written almost four years ago from a previous account which I no longer use. It has been edited slightly but I stand by the original ideas. 
When I was a teenager I had a complete obsession with Jack Nicholson films. I made it my goal to collect and watch all of his films and acquire a Mastermind-esque knowledge of JN's cinematic history. From Easy Rider to Chinatown through to Terms of Endearment I was hooked. Not only that, I read widely around the making of the films, the politics and people of the time and interviews with the main man. This wasn't part of a film studies course, I was doing this for fun. Why? Well, i suppose it can be partly attributed to my family's predisposition for OCD and partly to the fact that he was, and still is, an amazing actor who has starred in some of the greatest movies of the 20th Century. Since my 'Nicholson phase' I have gone through various obsessions, trying  to fulfil an insatiable appetite for knowledge. For the past couple of years I have become increasingly obsessed with becoming the best educator I can possibly be. To that end I have devised my own five easy pieces to becoming a better educator...
  1. Engage. With your peers. I ensure, where possible, that I contribute to at least one PLN each week. We have a weekly voluntary T&L meeting in school which I attend every lunchtime. I also contribute to most weekly #addcym or #ukedchat discussions on Twitter. There is a whole world of ideas out there. Get connected, share ideas and engage in debate. 
  2. Create. At least one brand new lesson each week. I'm forever tweaking my lessons but I also ensure that at least one lesson a week is something completely new. This is not a case of baby-out-with-the-bathwater but rather  trying to keep myself fresh. 
  3. Share. At least one lesson per week. I borrow many many ideas from other teachers, it is only right that I give something back.  Also, I think long and hard about the resources I am going to share (usually on TES) and adapt them accordingly. I never charge for my resources as  
  4. Blog. I try and write one new blog post per week. If I'm writing then I am reflecting. If I am reflecting than hopefully I am becoming a better educator. Don't worry about whether or not people will read it. Just write about what you are interested in and share it. 
  5. Indulge. I make sure that I read, continuously, about education. I tend to have two or three books on the go at any given time, dipping in and out of them as time allows. I also read lots of brilliant blogs by educators who I admire. 
Finally, if you've not had the pleasure of watching Five Easy Pieces, then you should, it might not make you a better teacher but it is bloody brilliant.......

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Why teaching?

I've been very fortunate over the past few weeks to have been involved in interviewing potential PGCE candidates. The first question they are asked is 'why teaching?'. I like the simplicity of this question....why this, why now? 

To date no one has said 'the holidays and the pension' though I'm not denying some may have thought it. And these are perfectly good reasons. As a parent the  holidays are very attractive, though I still maintain that teaching is easier than looking after two children under the age of five. The answers do, however, tend to fall into three categories; (a) love of the subject (in this case history), (b) personal experience (usually involving an 'inspirational' teacher) and (c) wanting to do something 'worthwhile' (though there are variations on what is deemed 'worthwhile'. There are, of course, some who identify with more than one but none, to date, who have fallen outside of the aforementioned. For me it is, to a larger or lesser degree, a combination of all three......

I am passionate about history (though mainly political), I was fortunate enough to have an inspirational and brilliant history and politics teacher (thanks again,  Mr Kelly) and, for the past 10 years I have taught because I believe it is a worthwhile profession. I've had my fair share of shit jobs to appreciate that job satisfaction goes a long long way. It is possibly due to my own background that I relate mostly with (c)  though. Not only do I think teaching is a noble profession but  also believe that education has the potential to transform lives......

Growing up on a council estate in North Wales during the 1980/90s I experienced first-hand the emancipatory and transformative power of education. I also witnessed the devastating impact of deregulation and privatisation on communities but will need to save that for another day. Going to university opened up opportunities which I believe every child should be afforded. I am privileged to have the life I have and it is because of a decent state education and a supportive family. For that I have a huge debt of gratitude which I'm still trying to repay. 

Anyhow, back to the purpose of this post, I'm really interested in understanding why people become teachers and would love to undertake some research in this area. i'd be interested to find out, amongst other things, if a teacher's background:

1. Influences their reasons for wanting to teach.
2. Shapes their philosophy on the purpose of education.
3. Determines their pedagogical positioning. 

I'd love to do this a piece of life history research conducting interviews with newly qualified, experienced and retired teachers. Seeking answers to these questions may help with teacher recruitment and retention. And then again, it may not. In the meantime though, why teaching?

* If anyone is interested in being part of this potential research study then please get in touch via email or on Twitter. 

Saturday, 3 December 2016

DebatED (Updated).

In her maiden speech to parliament, Joe Cox delivered an impassioned speech where she elegantly spoke of the power of unity. She was, of course, talking about the diversity within her own constituency but even in the aftermath of Brexit, I still believe this holds true nationally. As for teachers....

It's a funny old place Twitter. What often starts as a well-intentioned discussion about education can sometimes escalate into a polemical facade with either side unwilling to relent. And I'm as guilty as the next Keyboard Warrior for getting entangled in such arguments at times. Truth is, education/ teaching/ learning is far more complex and important than the sometimes oversimplified dichotomy being offered by traditionalists and progressivists. For me, excellent teaching draws on elements from both schools of thought. Equally, from my 10 years at the chalkface I've learnt that what works with one class may not necessarily work with another. Within the same school. On the same day. Good old  @kenradical wrote a very good piece about this recently which is definitely worth a read. 

All that said, I also like to think that those of us working in education are doing so because we actually care about children and genuinely want to improve their life chances. Surely no one enters the profession thinking 'you know what, I really want to make their lives shitter than they already are'. If I'm wrong then please shoot me now. If we genuinely want to help children then surely we need to have open and honest debate about the best ways to do so? Sadly, within the confinements of 140 characters, arguments can often be misconstrued. It's also easy to write almost anything when you're protected by a pseudonym/ anonimity. This is no criticism as I'm sure many do so because of their employers/ pupils rather than lacking courage in their convictions. 

So, what to do? What I'd like to see is the creation of regional DebatEd* events where educators come together to discuss, debate and try to determine the best ways to teach children. I'm not, of course, suggesting we all meet for a group hug, however, it'd be nice to  avoid creating some sort of UFC with caged teachers fighting like rabid dogs. Personally  I believe it would be best to adopt an informal format not too dissimilar to how TeachMeets used to be, devoid of corporate entry. Seriously, I do not need another pissing Twinkl travel mug. Probably in a pub but that's just because I do enjoy a hoppy brew. I'd be happy to be involved as long as there are enough interested people to take it forward. Otherwise it'll just be me, debating with myself and probably losing. 

Education can indeed be emancipatory and transformative. I know this from first-hand experience. However, for that to happen will require teachers from all sides working together for the common good. Reasoned and logic debate with a healthy dose of open mindedness is, for me, the best way to share and challenge ideas. 

*If these events are already happening could someone please point me in the right direction as I have done a bit of amateur research to no avail......