My f*#!%ing goosebump story

//farm1.static.flickr.com/252/520905761_44867e4caa.jpg?v=0Before reading this post a word of warning. If you are easily offended by expletives or graphic descriptions please avert your eyes. If not – welcome to my world.

Our school carries a wonderfully bureaucratic euphemism – it is a “difficult to staff” school. We operate in one of the poorest areas of town. Many parents who send kids to our school have not been rewarded by the system of education and they hardly instil the values of importance of education in their offspring.

Last week, one of our students got assaulted by a former student of ours at a bus stop waiting to go to an excursion at a neighbouring university. I stopped the assault only to be assaulted myself. This afternoon, on the way to the bus stop I was called, loudly and in my face, a “fucking cunt” by a Year 10 student after calmly disposing of a piece of plastic hurled at me few moments earlier. He had sat in my class just a few hours before. This school term alone, I have lost track of the times I was told either directly or indirectly (but clearly) to either ‘fuck off’ or ‘piss off’, or was simply and completely ignored as a person, let alone some sort of person invested with authority and responsibility to care for and (forbid!) teach, role-model or ‘inspire’ as the quote garden would have it. About half of my Year 11 Economics class openly say that they are ‘dumb and don’t care about the grades anyway’. My colleagues could recount dozens of stories just like this or worse as part of their ‘regular day’. Yes, we have a reputation of a ‘bad’ school and, depending what measure you look at, we have numbers to prove it (hello bean counters and ‘performance managers’ out there!)

YET…

We accept all comers – dumb, smart, poor, rich, talented, deaf, disabled, spoiled, abused … name a box and we have them in. We nag about the uniforms but sometimes quietly agree that it is a good thing that a particular kid has actually come to school, even if unwashed, out of uniform, hungry and sometimes bruised. We may not celebrate Sorry Day with big hoo-ha but we do an awful lot of good for the population on 20% of indigenous students at our school (2nd largest in Perth Metro area, State public school average 3%). Our teachers may bitch, groan, nag and complain but they/we support each other and the kids on countless occasions and often to an amazing extent. I could go on about the many wonderful acts of humanity we as individuals and a school community perform year in year out.

One of the hardest things at our school are not necessarily the things you often hear teachers complaining about – too much admin work, paperwork, bureaucracy, assessments etc. Yes, these certainly are a pain but there is something bigger and more insidious. We juggle and negotiate, consciously and unconsciously, difficult ethical choices every day, particularly at times of student misdemeanour or lack of effort. Do we favour a ‘rights based’, consequentialist, flexible approach that favours positive consequences over adherence to rules, or do we believe in duty and equality and simply never bend the rules so people can and must be responsible for their actions?

Is it (not) morally wrong to dismiss the life chances, dealt to students outside of their control and follow some arbitrary, impersonal rules? Is it (not) equally morally wrong to believe that our fate is completely sealed by the life chances and the system, therefore washing away any responsibility to turn anti-social, self-defeating, fatalist “I’m dumb and this is a crap school” thinking to something that would help reach one’s full potential?

One thing is saying ‘let’s give students more voice and freedom’, only to see staff literally abused, physically, verbally and mentally. Another thing is saying ‘if we only had strict rules and we simply all followed them’, then finding the policing of rules overwhelming while pissing off some pretty highly strung teenagers with constant nagging, plus getting upset about them reacting in ways they probably see normal at home (“What the fuck is wrong with swearing Sir, we do it at home all the time.”).

It’s a juggling act that takes it out of the toughest of drill sargeants and the softest of nurturers. And it happens at our school every day.

I read posts of fellow bloggers, particularly those with an ICT, ed-tech bend like Lauren O’Grady, Tony Searl, Chris Betcher, Dean Groom and others, about their projects, ‘flat classrooms’, goosebump days (Lauren, love your work to bits, couldn’t resist the punsy title sorry) their frustrations etc. “Phew” I often think “I yearn for kids who aspire, who don’t think they are dumb, who prefer to ask questions rather than expect to be spoonfed the answers to avoid (responsibility for) failure, who want to confidently think, create, stand up and say ‘this is good, I’d like to share it with someone”.

There are many moments when I look at my iGoogle, Twitter, blogs, network, Moodle, file types and other ICT thingymejiggys (a very Australian word, a possibly shorter synonym is ‘thingymebob’ – am I right here Aussie-borns?) as a peripheral sideshow in all of this, a trivial concern that has nothing to do with real people and the problems they face in their lives. But then something strikes me and keeps me banging on about ICT … its potential for change.

The sole reasons why I personally push for and like ICT (so) much are the enormous possibilities it provides for better engagement, care, confidence, freedom and ethics. It has the possibility for changing the numbingly ineffective system that clearly has not and will not reward many students in our school, but who are creative, smart, and caring. It has the possibility for staff to pay less attention to the ever-changing bureaucratic concoction called “the syllabus” and stop chasing grades and other external factors we so often falsely assume students are motivated by. Not only the students but we as educators are likely to be far more motivated internally by sound relationships, care, wit, humour, real learning that is personal, challenging, relevant, and has the potential to be creative and inclusive. ICT tools ain’t going to do that by itself, we need confident, supported, creative and passionate teachers and students to use them.

Yes, like in many schools we do some hard yards. But some of the things that we have done at our school on the ICT front like Moodle, collaborative forums etc. are opening the door not necessarily for better academic results (quite likely though) but for a different ethic of living and acting as a school community. It’s the stuff that drives me and a growing number of my colleagues and students. And a supportive principal Trevor Hunter definitely helps.

To have 21st century learning we need to negotiate 18th century system of education, based on false meritocracy. Schools still reproduce society, they don’t reconstruct it – as much as many of us would like to think otherwise. Maybe ICT is the Trojan horse of change that will allow schools to reconstruct and create rather than merely react to societal changes. But ICT will remain a tinker if the change is not structural and if Education Revolution (a version of NCLB for those of you reading this in the United States) is followed, despite all its riches in computer equipment.

Having a computer ‘on tap’ is not going to stop a teenager calling me a ‘fucking cunt’, setting fire to the toilets or get his mother to stop sticking needles in her arm. But being part of something successful, personally meaningful and human through the interactions ICT can afford beyond the walls of the classroom may just curb the impulse at first, then make him think and act differently, confidently, freely and responsibly.

And who knows, that teenager may want to teach one day too.

20 comments

  1. mrsuds

    That is the best blog post I have read this year Tomaz – wondeful thoughts. I can’t help but introduce myself after that. My name is Darren Sudlow and I am an ePrincipal from Canterbury, New Zealand. We have just started a Moodle (www.cantatech.net.nz) that runs across eleven schools. I also attempt to log progress on this blog http://www.elearnz.edublogs.org

    I will be reading your blog much more closely from now on. Keep up the good work

  2. moodleman

    Fantastic article (as usual). Listening to/reading your first couple of paragraphs have really made me realise just how spoilt I am. I have never been outside the Independent system and the schools I have been in are rather well off with students who, as a whole, are extremely respectful and eager to learn. I don’t think I have ever had student swear at me…well at least to my face.

    As an educator I am a liberalist and proud to admit it. I am about power to the student, removal or censorship, freedom of expression and free love and mung beams. OK, maybe not so much the last two…but you get the gist. And I need to recognize that part of this has come from the fact I have not had to be overly concerned by the possible offensive content my students might produce as they are well rounded students.

    But that being said, I have always seen ICT as an augmentation to a teachers classroom tool set. The ICT equation shouldn’t change how a teacher teaches, but instead should augment them by allowing them to take those same practices into an online space. So if you are a liberalist like me who enjoys engaging student in peer-to-peer learning techniques then great, use online tools like social networking and forums to continue that. But if your environment has found you having to adopt a more conservative teaching style, then use more controlled tools like direct to teacher assignment submission or approval based commenting.

    Since I have discovered your blog I have been constantly amazed and find myself driven by both your passion and educational professionalism. Don’t let these kids bet you down. You are making a difference and I would not be surprised to see these instances hopefully reducing in number.

  3. Conor

    I can’t wait to pass this on to my fellow teachers. So encouraging. I often wonder why what teachers think when I go on and on about ICT. I am often told that I do not understand their setting, and often I have to agree with them. This article gives me hope, and encourages me to keep on. I recently watched a video clip from the TED website by Sugata Mitra about his “Hole in the Wall” project. If you have not seen this video check it out
    http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks sugata_mitra_shows_how_kids_teach_themselves.html

  4. Darcy1968

    Tomaz,

    Unfortunately I can relate to your post, having worked in a series of disadvantaged areas of Sydney with high levels of social dislocation and the resulting anti-social behaviours. I know that creating good spaces can be challenging but it is the most important work that will happen in your city today and tomorrow. Pity the state budget wouldn’t extend to ameliorating some social ills with some smart investment in Education.

  5. Tony Searl

    Tomaz
    Hearing you loud and clear mate. Don’t let the reactionaries wear you down, the role of ICT will not only revolutionise school education, but government itself. It ain’t going to happen in my career,(finishes 2028,who’s counting?) but it will happen. Keep chipping away. Top post, top job as usual.

    When I first walked into a NSW DET public classroom in 1985 it was a conscious choice and one on the whole I have not regretted. Sure, severely questioned at times, but not regretted.

    Challenging, abhorrent, at times evil behaviours of a miniscule number of attendees has still not swayed my passion for what I do. There are just too many alternate success stories that inspire me. The various high need, special and GT units provide such stories daily as do the mainstreamers.

    Yes public means we take all comers. Public means we cannot exclude on any grounds except proven violent histories and even they go to publically funded institutions of a different guise.

    To me, public is an accurate reflection of our real society. Not so good at times, but never the less, real. We need more teachers with your passion in our places, leaders like you are scarce. The point of grades is? I’m serious.

    Others choose to attend systems that do and can exclude, that’s their prerogative, and they work their comparable wonders, albeit in a cloistered version of the greater reality. This is irrefutable, no biggy in that and happy learning outcomes to all.

    I am a passionate supporter of accountable transparent publically funded education in any system for these reasons. Level playing fields and choices are great, providing independently audited evidence of public tax funding is available. This has never happened in Australian education history.

    At present funding is far from transparent and public, let alone accountable. Rudd’s recent suggestions re Edrev will shake the disclosure tree and the traditional lack of accountability in the funding equation pie may just change. I hope so.

    Those paying twice for education have this right, as they often make sacrifices to do so. But all taxpayers, regardless of whether they ‘consume’ education, have a far greater right to not only know how all public monies are spent, but what is the change effect (improvement?) of that public funding.

    The monolithic glacial nature of change in edubureaucracy is far more damaging than an adolescent rant, brain snap or swear sess, no matter how bad it may seem at the time.

    My sense of frustration in our public system lies not with the intransigent students, despite experiencing identical behaviours at the 4 NSW DET schools I have worked at, but with the far queue expert advisers who ponder significantly from afar and then tell fantastic teachers how to suck lemons.

    Then as their pyĕs də rā-zē-stäns’those with the responsibility to lead do stuff all to help expedite fundamental change in education. Never had one yetin 20 odd years so I guess I shouln’t be too optimistic real leaders are going to come along anytime soon. Old saying, you dont leap a 20 foot chasm in two 10 foot leaps. I want leaders capable of 40 feet.

    Mindless curriculum/syllabus tinkering, incremental fiddling with antiquated systems and self serving political point scoring. I’m so over these aspects of what we are dished up as avant guarde.

    Societal shift in all its guises is exponential from now on. I wonder if governments get it? Ned Ludd certainly didn’t.

    ICT will fundamentally shift learning, it just depends when?

    That shared beer is going to taste awesome Tomaz.

  6. Lauren O'Grady

    Hi Tomaz,
    Wonderful post absolutely wonderful.
    I had to think about your post and reflect back on my own posts and you are right. I do sometimes get on my soapbox and pain a view for the better world. I suffer from this quote sometimes
    “Inside every cynical person, there is a disappointed idealist.”George Carlin
    Your post made me realise that I should also blog about the struggles I have faced and why currently I am on a break from teaching and why I miss it so much. I need to blog more about how I lost a whole teaching team due to ict change at my school and the affect it had on the students etc.

    I have only worked in public schools in the western suburbs of Melbourne. I have made a specific choice to do this and I did not go in with rose coloured glasses. I do believe in the public system we are trying to cater for a critical majority whilst working with a disruptive minority. I do not think teachers in the independant sector can always grasp that we cannot pick and choose our teachers, resources or students. I went to a presentation yesterday by Chris Btecher which spoke about good ICT interview questions to ask, I mentioned that in Victoria we could never ask these questions because it doesnt sit within the criteria for employment. It is these conversations we need to be having because then the realities of different systems become apparent.

    In public schools life is not always roses, I have had to mandatory report, cop abuse and get a restraining order on a parent once but I was making a difference and now I am out of the system I cannot wait to get back when the time is right because even if I am the only one giving a damn at that school then that is one more than the day before.

    For us to cater for the critical mass and the minority funding models have to change, inequities where taxpayers funding independants only increases these gaps. Rudd’s education devolution just focuses on the tool but not the student or the teacher and is bound for failure. Measuring schools wont make them weigh more we all know that !

    I have rambled on enough here and would love to say hi when I get to perth soon but thanks for reminding me that it is OK to blog about the clouds as well as the sun and shooting for the stars. It is this breadth which moves us forward in making great decisions and reflections as learners.

  7. Bill Genereux

    I too enjoyed this post very much. I think all thoughtful teachers struggle with the issue of how to fully engage students, but it certainly is tougher when the students face a multitude of life challenges that make learning difficult. If you haven’t read “Teacher Man” by Frank McCourt, I highly recommend it. The book is an excellent memoir of a 30 year veteran teacher in the New York City public school system, who had little use for the bureaucracy and had some very creative ways of engaging his students in spite of all of the obstacles they faced in their learning.

    Almost certainly, had the option been available, McCourt would have used technology in the classroom, and I suspect he would have enjoyed the connection with other teachers that blogging offers. Keep up the good work! We may not find all the answers, but at least we can take comfort in knowing we aren’t alone in our struggles.

  8. youly

    Fantastic post! While I’m in a very different situation now to what you describe, I’ve had the good fortune of teaching in a very similar school in West Auckland a few years ago.

    Keep on sharing your thoughts and struggles. Hats off to you.

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  11. Christine Nowotny

    Hi Tomaz

    Our discussion on Friday was interesting, challenging but slightly intimidating. No you’re not intimidating but your wealth of knowledge of ICT overwhelms me at times.

    As I emailed to you I have spent quite a few hours today (Sunday, 17th May, 2009) trying to familiarise myself with the plethora of information that you have posted via Moodle. The highlight was reading your post ‘My f*#!%ing goosebump story’ through your Human Edublog. This was not only an inspirational read, it gave me a renewed confidence in my efforts as a teacher at BCC.

    As you know both my children were educated at private schools. Rebecca, now nearly twenty one, went to Methodist Ladies’ College in Claremont and Matthew, seventeen and a half, went to Scotch College in Swanbourne. I think I did mention to you that my son Matthew topped the state in History and achieved a TER of 99.75 last year. Our education system obviously suited him perfectly. As proud as I was I still remember how disillusioned I felt about our education system when my daughter was at Floreat Primary School and not fitting into mainstream schooling. This was incredibly hard for me as I had taught and believed that our education system was “right” and this was the first time I had ever questioned it after many years of teaching.

    My daughter, Rebecca has read your blog and completely relates to how schools, particularly a private school like MLC, reproduces what society thinks and wants rather than looking at students’ individual talents and creativity. She said to me “The only thing MLC recognized and rewarded was academic excellence”.
    This is Rebecca talking now: It’s really wonderful to know that not only students like me but teachers are being alerted to the problem I endured at school. Although school wasn’t my favourite place to go, I am now really loving every day at TAFE currently studying Interior Decoration and Design. I totally agree with what you said and to quote it:
    “The sole reasons why I personally push for and like ICT (so) much are the enormous possibilities it provides for better engagement, care, confidence, freedom and ethics. It has the possibility for changing the numbingly ineffective system that clearly has not and will not reward many students in our school, but who are creative, smart, and caring.”
    Mum just said if ICT can do that at BCC then she’s all for it. Your blog was awesome and inspiring Tomaz.

  12. monika hardy

    i agree with mrsuds. except – i would even say it’s the best post i’ve ever read.
    (ok – so i’ve just been reading blogs for a year.)
    (kidding of course.)

    thank you tomaz.

    truly – i could read that everyday – just as a reminder of why we do what we do.

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