Category: Teaching

Stories and musing about teaching

Which is more difficult: world’s toughest sport or teaching?

 more difficult

With the Rio Olympics and school term in full swing, I poured a glass or red and asked myself: Which one is more difficult: the world’s toughest sport or … teaching?

For the record, I played THE sport for 20 years, 15 of them at the highest international level, coached it at that level for another 5. I have also been a teacher for 15 years. If you want to see my playing/coaching as well as teaching/education credentials I would be happy to expand. In short, it would be reasonable to say I know enough about both to attempt to answer the question. I do so using five categories, defined by a suitable dictionary definition and stated in each case.

Pressure (a sense of stressful urgency caused by having too many demands on one’s time or resources)

In the sport – the kind of pressure in the definition is incredibly intense, focused, but then again fairly organised and usually does not last very long. The battle(s) last seconds, minutes, hour(s) at most. Sure, the lead up is often interpreted as ‘pressure’ but that’s not the thing in the heat of the battle of either centre-forward or fast break or man-down defence that you tell your grandkids about one day and for which you are known for.

Mention “sense of stressful urgency caused by having too many demands on one’s time or resources” to me as a teacher and I’ll thank you for putting just about any day I spend at school in a sentence. The ‘urgency’ part could erupt any moment, the demands on me by students, colleagues, admin, parents and beyond are too many to count and always too many to fully attend to. They are also constant, never ending it seems. As for intense, telling a child in tears and standing in front of you that you can’t help them because you have to help someone else, putting on a calm face discovering the lesson you’ve planned with twenty teens wielding sharp tools is going to fall apart because some unforeseen event and you have to come up with a great Plan B (and C, and D …) on the spot, copping abuse from a parent or their progeny while ‘acting adult’ are just a few of the countless examples of getting the butterflies in your stomach going like crazy. You rarely ‘nail it’ and there is a sense of constant triage, rarely one of systematic, orderly, heavily invested in yet predictable progress and feedback you get by scoring that goal.

Decision-making (action of process of making important decisions)

If you have never heard a sports commentator hailing a player or coach for their ‘decision-making ability’ please listen out for it. In a dynamic sport like water polo, decisions are made frequently. Position, ball location, shot clock, score, momentum, shooter, tactics are just some of the factors that a water polo player regularly takes into account throughout the game, more so when they are directly involved in the action. “Seeing a step (or two) ahead” is a hallmark of a great player. The playmakers are a valuable commodity for this very reason and their fast-processing ability, borne with and out of experience.

Just how often does a teacher make a decision? According to research quoted by the highly respected Dr Larry Cuban  – one every 0.7 seconds! Yes, you read that right. Just like elite athletes, they mix the routine with the unexpected. Non-stop. They, well we, have to ‘read the play’ and make decisions that are sometimes more akin to chess grand masters, eight or more steps ahead, just to bring a lesson to an agreeable end after one or more (un)expected, teacheable or otherwise, events. And that’s every day, not just during the weekend league game.

Endurance (the ability to endure an unpleasant or difficult process or situation without giving way, the capacity of something to last or to withstand wear and tear)

Water polo players have to bear a lot and play at their peak of mental and physical capacities for an hour a game. Add to this the gruelling training day in day out that makes games seem easy, if possible at all, and you can’t possibly be a wimp. You simply would not make it. You would eliminate yourself and/or have all the excuses before not making the grade. Bear the wear and tear for about twenty or so years, if lucky maybe ten of those at the top level.

As a teacher, unlike my sporting career, the toughest years were probably the first few years. As the aquatic pun would have it, I was “thrown in the deep end” and I had to swim. I had to withstand the storms of volatile teens, unfamiliar content, new surrounds, endless curricular changes, difficult staffrooms and my own demons of insecurity. I’ve had to read articles screaming that “if only you [teachers] were better our kids would be better off” while knowing very little of what I do will make a lick of difference for all the structural issues that are the real issue but one too hard to address. And please don’t think life has gotten all peachy now with a few years of teaching under my belt. My elephant skin got thicker, my ears more attuned, my head wiser but my heart no less aching seeing the issues, especially those relating to inequities affecting those in my care.

Skill (the ability to do something well; expertise)

Breeding a top class water polo player is a messy, risky proposition. The genes, the environment, the systematic development, the web of career-defining moments has to align just right (and with a dose of luck) to produce a top level player. Very, very few reach it there. There, the elite make it look easy. They have the range of skills, from swimming, shooting, blocking, defending, turning, reading the play and more. Yet their expertise is beyond the mere technical ability. They seem to live and breathe their game. Youngsters and others try to copy, emulate, inspired by them, only to discover theirs is not a bag of skills to master but their own path or rather their own web of moments that can’t be simply copied, cloned or somehow reproduced to the same effect.

If you have been in the teaching game over the past few years, you will have noticed the intensification of attempts to define ‘good teaching’, see what skills and attributes it’s made of and then come up with a formula to follow in (re)producing it in both the new graduates and practicing teachers. Frameworks, standards, instrumental measurements are attempts to reduce the irreducible, contextual act of (good) teaching that is far, far more complex than any Olympic final in water polo or any sport for that matter. Teachers are increasingly expected to be a competent, expert even presenter, negotiator, mediator, public speaker, manager, counsellor, coach, mentor, technician, organiser, nurse, researcher, statistician and more. And while the range of skills and abilities demanded is expanding for both elite athletes and teachers, the latter win hands down.

Toughness (ability to absorb energy and deform without fracturing)

The elite water polo players are a tough bunch. They may not carry the bruises of various football codes, crashes on the roads or falls of equipment but they certainly know what ‘cracking under pressure’ means in a physical and mental sense. I for one had to play (no, win!) a game where my entire next year’s salary and that of my coach and teammates depended on it (we won…just). Elite athletes see on TV and the ones you don’t are under immense pressure to perform. Deform without fracturing. And they can only do that for a few years.  

Speaking of deforming and fracturing, the figures for teachers’ careers are starting to look scarily more like the short-lived careers of elite athletes. Not because they ‘get old and slow’ and lose the athletic edge but simply because they get bruised and drained by the emotional highs and lows, the expectations, shaped largely by societal expectations but (soon) internalised as their own, incessant demands on their mental and physical capacities and more. The statistics are scary. In Australia, not unlike in USA, UK and similar environments, close to half of the teaching graduates leave the profession within the first five years. The tough survive.  

So finally, which one is more difficult: toughest sport in the world or teaching? I have to disappoint you here – there is no clear winner. The point of this exercise was not to actually have a clear winner (good for you if you have decided for one or the other though). They are fundamentally different in their purpose: performance, winning and beating the rest versus learning and building capacity in others. There are too many variables to come near any commonly agreed upon decision. The point of the exercise was however to appreciate the many similarities they share. If you are going to pick the finer points and argue technicalities – you’ve missed the point of this exercise.

To finish off this little exploration, I would like to ask you to do the following few things:

Appreciate the effort of not just the athletes you see on TV but of all those who bust their guts every day in their chosen sport. You will never see the vast, vast majority of them but that does not diminish their endeavour. Most don’t do it for the fame and money because, contrary to popular belief, there rarely is a lot of fame and money in sport.

Appreciate the effort of your child’s teachers, many of whom are akin to the elite athletes you cheer for on screen. Except they want your child to do the winning, not themselves. That would be their biggest reward. Fame and money? Please, don’t.

Do not pity neither athletes nor teachers in their difficulties. We do this by choice. Acknowledge, respect but do not pity us. We love what we do, as impossible as that may sound sometimes even to ourselves in the doldrums of struggle. 

Finally, whether it’s some player who missed that final shot or a teacher who somehow did not spot the beautiful talent of your child – the last thing they wanted to do is to do that deliberately. Understand before you blame.

To my student

tough times

I had a tough day at school. Like many others, like many of my colleagues around the school, around the world. I wrote a letter to the four kids with whom I’ve struggled with for over a year now. It was more a catharsis for me than any serious attempt to change some very set patterns. The more I wrote, the more I felt the need to cut the words. At the end – these lines emerged:

I am at your service

I am a gift to you society has paid for

(but I am not a thing and I am not yours)

I don’t ask for or need you to like me

(I have other people to do that)

I care more about the person you become than the grade you achieve

I know things you don’t and I’m happy to share them with you

 

I also know that nobody wants to be trashed, abused and ignored

You don’t

I don’t

Your teacher

Image via lifehack.org

Men, not boys

sam mendes

I’ve just asked this question on Twitter:

Being trusted but put through paces in company of adult men is a great way to humble and steel a teen male. Do we/you do it at school? How?

I have been thinking intensely about a bunch of raging male teens in my class. I can see and feel how desperately they want to do ‘adult stuff’ but are either too easily scared or their egos too thin to sustain the pace and responsibility when things turn difficult. Or as the phrase goes, when boys turn into men.

I was lucky. A youngster (14 years old on debut, regular starting gig at 16) playing in the senior team in one of the world’s strongest water polo leagues in the world and training, travelling, partying, commiserating, celebrating with the grown ups. People’s pay packets (and mine) depended on how I trained, played, handled myself. It taught me a great deal of humility and (through it) made me stronger.

Stories of teens rising to the occasion and doing amazing things abound. What is often common to them is that they don’t do stuff with their peers, they play a level up. Not for some school grades. They do it for real, for far more serious causes and consequences.

Yet at school, we seem to largely miss that. Sports teams, drama productions, exhibitions, even workshops, not to mention classrooms, are usually places where teens do things with teens. So often in the safe cocoon of teenage immaturity, as if saying ‘you can’t be trusted with anything more serious so you stay in there’. Admittedly, it’s a big leap of faith to place significant amount of responsibility on a teen, whose main interest up until then have been pimples, Facebook profile, how to get a beer and/or how to get laid (chances are both for the first time) with the occasional ‘where’s the party’ thrown in.

But trying to do that leap of faith, extending the trust but at the same time expecting acts beyond the conspicuous pimples is a life changer.

So, I ask you … what do you suggest we do at school? Do you do something like this at your school already? I’d love to hear from you or people you know who do.

Very grateful for any suggestions. Thank you.

Here, or @lasic (Twitter) or lasicemail at gmail.com

First thing he has ever built

My Principal said she “needed a good story today”. I sent her a pic, here is the short story. You might as well read it too.

Meet Dennis*, an often disengaged 13 year old at our school.

He is in my woodwork class. He missed a couple of weeks at the start of term but has been regular, especially last couple of weeks. He designed, marked out, cut, hand planed, sanded, drilled, glued, clamped, nailed and polished that toolbox. He said it was the “first time he has ever built something”. He mucked up a few corners, cut things a bit short, split a bit of wood but he persisted. He did not give up. He fussed about sanding it “just right”. He used power tools in a safe way at all times. He reminded himself in front of me to put his safety glasses back on. He helped me clean up, charge tool batteries. He helped a kid bang the box together when the kid whacked their finger and couldn’t do it. He told a friend to stop mucking around. He had the biggest smile on his face when done.

He made his first thing at the age of 13 and thought it was really cool. His reflection sheet reads like this (I scribed for him, verbatim, in a busy, noisy workshop):

– Good things about this project? Why?  It was cool because it’s the first time I built something.

– Worst things? Why? The handle, it was too big, then I had to cut it but it didn’t work.

– Most challenging, tricky part? Why? Banging the nails because I whacked my finger.

– Easiest part? Why? Putting the side bits on because it was easy.

– Three things you did well? Used the sander well, used the hammer well, used the drill well.

– One thing you want to improve? Measure properly next time! (and you should have seen a smile on our faces as we both mucked up the measuring part)

He made me feel vindicated to (re)start the workshop at our school. He gives me the energy to push to include making physical things a regular part of what we do at our school.

Nothing ‘21st century’ about it, please. Just “give us [teachers] the tools and we’ll finish the job”.

Happy Easter all.

*Not his real name. But if you have worked at our school over the past couple of years you’ll know him.

Career turn…not again?

Breaking news

One thing one probably couldn’t accuse me of is doing the same thing for many years. Teaching, ed tech, Moodle, PhD, back to teaching, different schools and approaches – a moving feast. Latest? Well, I am sliding away from teaching ‘social studies’ (geography, history, philosophy, politics, sociology …) I have taught since 2000. Next week, I am starting an intense six-month course (1 year equivalent) to re-train as a Design & Technology teacher. I will still teach at YBC of course but I will spend last two weeks of Terms 2,3 and 4 at uni (hence the image above I tricked my class with). Bus(ier) school terms and holidays here we come.

But it will definitely be worth it.

At the back of our school, we have massive manual arts workshops which have been gathering dust for many years. We have a number of potential mentors in the community who would be keen to work with our students through Mens Shed and other channels. We have many students who do and would love getting their hands moving and mind engaged differently in their learning, chasing their passion that the Big Picture model affords so well. We enjoy a long standing supportive relationship with Brierty Engineering. Personally, I have the support and blessing of our staff and as a sweetener, my course is actually paid for by the Department of Education due to the shortage of Design & Tech teachers. It seems that this change of tack in my teaching career is a bit of a perfect storm and one that is simply too good to miss.

I have a vision. Details of it will sharpen and change as we go but I can see a living, breathing learning space, infused with hands-on/minds-on experiential learning ethos with 3 questions (asked by the late Grant Wiggins) plastered all over the place:

  • What are you doing?
  • Why are you doing it?
  • What does this help you do that’s important?

Call it STEAM or ‘maker education’ or more old-school manual arts, woodwork or metalwork … the labels explain as much as detract sometimes. I may have been a humanities teacher but I have seen many a ‘no good’ student in class absolutely shine when they had a physical, tactile, spatial and similar problems to solve. From fixing bikes, making buggies, boxes, shelters, claymation, transport baskets, monopoly boards, simple switches, mini basketball hoops, plaster-of-Paris models, laser-cut wooden heralds and mock weapons, laying ground cover and more, so many of these kids felt valued, engaged and useful. I have seen them turn from sullen, careless or aggressive teens to a different, usually calmer, smarter, even funnier person in a very short amount of time. Difference? In most cases, they had a purpose that appealed to them, they were judiciously left to create or solve own problems, learning went from tangible to abstract, and usually in the company with others too (Dan Pink’s Mastery-Autonomy-Purpose spring to mind). Something we all desire in our work perhaps?

Now, I am not changing (or rather adjusting) my teaching direction to merely keep the hands of the lost, uncatered for souls in the educational landscape busy. I am doing it to provide new paths for any student at our school to taste success, flourish and learn the lessons of life and themselves through materials and people they will be working with.

Well worth the effort, I think.

hands on minds on

Community of Inquiry

Quite a few people have asked me for more info about the activity I raved about yesterday on social media and in person. I will spare you describing the incredible satisfaction myself and the students got out it. Let’s just say that the kids by large ‘definitely’ want to do it again.

The activity is called Community of Inquiry (more  here ). It is a cornerstone of philosophy and particularly P4C – Philosophy for Children [video]. Philosophy With Children may perhaps be a better way to name it but … never mind. The way I described it to my students is ‘listening and talking in a circle about a question that can have many answers and none of them are right or wrong’.

I deliberately haven’t yet used the word ‘philosophy’ as I know that would cause a number of our students participating nervous about ‘not being smart enough’. This is the usual and insidious brake to philosophy, particularly in ‘low socio-economic’, ‘working class’ [ah, labels…] context like ours. I had experienced it first hand at a similar school in the past.

Our Community of Inquiry (CoI) ran pretty much along the well-established and very helpful ‘script’ by the Australian Association for Philosophy in Schools (APIS). I attended the Level 1 training workshop last month (thank you again Alison Freeman & Felicity Haynes, a superb weekend!) and I have been itching to put in to practice what I learned there.

First, we played a simple warm up listening game akin to musical chairs. One participant without a chair stands in the middle and states what ‘(s)he likes’ (Nutella, video games, travel … whatever). As the person finishes stating her like, everyone who likes the same thing stands up and switches the chair with another person (but not right next to them). After a fun and non-threatening few minutes of quick shuffling and bumping, a reminder we have just practiced an important skill we need to show in CoI (listening closely). I showed the simple rules of CoI and it was time to watch the stimulus.

20150612_142003

For the stimulus, I picked an old gem shown below. I really wanted to explore the concept of trust and I was confident the clip would generate the questions along those lines.

When finished, students were encouraged to write two to three questions they had about the clip and place them in the question quadrant on the floor. What we were really looking for were the questions the answer(s) to which you ‘really have to think about’ (philosophical questions).

P4C Question quadrant

20150612_142608

When done, I ran through the questions and pulled out the key themes, concepts they questions dealt with: loyalty, trust, betrayal, choice, social norm, gender … We whittled it down to a single philosophical/ethical question that contained the key concept of trust (sneaky of me there hey 😉 ), had a quick check by vote if that’s what we want to start with and … off we went, starting with a student-generated ‘Is it more important to look after yourself than to be trusted by strangers?’

20150612_150819

The community rules were put up around the class and on the floor as reminders and the yellow ‘talking ball’ (you could only speak if you had it) started doing its magic rounds.

P4C Community Rules

What followed was about 35 minutes of incredible dialogue with kids. In the first half, the ball changed hands among about a third of the 21 students present. As the moderator, I judiciously stepped back and merely nudged the conversation here in there for direction and participation. As we came close to the end, I really encouraged students who had not spoken at that point to speak. And they did, insightfully so and having listened all along. In the end, about 15 of the 21 present spoke at least once. Everyone listened though, deeply!

The hour absolutely flew by. To wrap things up, we evaluated our efforts with a simple questionnaire and banter about it. According to the feedback both verbal and on sheets, we will ‘Definitely’ continue doing CoI at our school.

If interested, you can have a look at all the slides, instructions and feedback sheet here. Free to share!

When I reflect about this (successful) experience a number of key things stand out:

Importance of preparation. I worked hard and made sure things run smoothly by preparing not only the materials and activities but also myself in terms of the topic, likely tangents and procedural issues. Unless thought out and done properly, an activity like this can so easily go awry.

Importance of participation but also ‘giving time’. I was amazed by the insights of kids who spoke little but ‘opened up’ towards the end with incredible insights that clearly demonstrated they had listened deeply all along, processing.

Delight of seeing a couple of kids whom colleagues (or even themselves!) may not see as thoughtful, articulate or intelligent, yet they starred and blossomed in front of my eyes.

Escape from school(iness). At the end, I commented on how much I enjoyed the time spent together as equals in this ‘us’ space. It felt like an escape from school(iness) and its usual power relations, concerns and worries. Kids’ comments were along the lines of ‘I never had anything like this’ . I was pleased but also sad to hear that.

Future possibilities. While I am genuinely excited, I am not getting carried away after the first successful CoI. I am however a lot more positive about gradually introducing more of P4C at our school, to the benefit of both staff and students.

Here is to our students!

Guitars

I don’t really ‘play guitar’. OK, I know about 15 chords that make me able to rustily strum through a rock’n’roll list but I only grab it a few times a year. My favourite guitar time however is when I do the ‘Wave Hill strike’ lesson with Year 10s, learning about the struggle for Indigenous rights in Australia. We learn about it through Paul Kelly’s classic ‘From Little Things Big Things Grow‘ and the amazing story behind it.

I’ve done this for a few years now and it’s a highlight. Today, I even had my Principal serendipitiously sitting with us during it. We watched, sang, laughed, pondered, discussed … visceral stuff, not a worksheet or a website. Great lesson. But that’s not the main story here.

From Little Things Big Things Grow
From Little Things Big Things Grow

The story are the guitars I brought in today. They were a hit. During advisory time, I found that a couple of my students fancy themselves with a few small riffs. I couldn’t get the guitars out of their hands.

Next period, I left the guitars out, played as kids filed in. A couple of quiet Year 8 girls grabbed them and we played Stand By Me before moving on. Layer of students uncovered, new connections made. Laughter. Genuine enjoyment of music, of trying too, by all.

Then my Year 9 class came in. The ‘bottom’ kids who are ‘not academic’, the self-proclaimed ‘dumb class’. They are learning about something that interests them about Australia’s home front during World War 1. And yes, there’s a few strummers in there too. A kid who has struggled all along (with both the content and playing guitar) pipes up and says he wants to stay in class during the break and look up World War 1 songs. Part of me says ‘yeah right’, a part of me dreams …

I leave the class during long break and allow a few kids to stay in and play. I also leave my laptop in (not deliberately). When I get back, I find my laptop on a student desk, clearly used. I dread a bit. Then I find this was searched for:

Please notice the search item. This was during the break and I was nowhere near. These guys were clearly ready to learn, to figure out, to give it a go. I could trust them, probably learn from them too.

It made my day. It made my week. It makes relationships go. And that makes education go. But you have to “Give [kids] a Chance” … you know that one? 😉

Sublime

sublime

Tonight, I keep thinking about the nod of mutual acknowledgment, unspoken understanding between a 14 year old student and myself. Nothing to it, right? Only an hour before that he told me to fuck off. In my face. Detail here isn’t as important as the fact he eventually stood up and apologised after my calm insistence that I simply “don’t want or deserve to be told to fuck off” (used those very words..). But then a week ago I heard how his father belted the hell out of him in the car in front of the school. Of his continuous troubles at home, at school. And more … “Fuck off” is like your nice middle class ‘good morning’ in his family. Reporting the incident and going down the punitive path would cheapen or, worse, prevent the silent, all-telling nod I treasure today. We sorted it out between us. Stable, calm, no-shouting and no threats or promises. He won’t turn into an angel overnight but he won’t tell me to fuck off again I am sure. We will still clash at times, I am sure too, but the bridge is built.

I seem to specialise in working with kids who tell me to fuck off, then give me a friendly shoulder-punch, nod, bump not long after. That my friends is … sublime.

Up against it

fail

I usually blog about the good stuff. The wins. Not to inspire (oh, please) or get clicks, but purely to somehow commit to my and public memory the bits I and many of our colleagues are here for. This time, and encouraged by an old time edu-friend Tony Loughland I am writing about the fails. Plenty of those. When teaching, especially mine … sucks.

Imagine being largely or completely ignored in a room full of people. You have to somehow persuade them to do something mandated by the powers-that-be and which you may actually find valuable, interesting yourself. However, the people in front of you, about twenty of them, neither like it, want it and/or see little if any purpose in it. They are extremely skilled at resisting, avoiding, changing topics or simply ignoring you and tending to their business. Plan A (which you spend considerable time and effort planning for) – fails, Plan B. Just as Plan C starts to take shape, something happens and that flicker of attention is out the door. Plan C restart or Plan ‘whatever the letter’. Plan G looks promising but involves a piece of technology to work. You guessed it… What was planned is slipping away fast, the unplanned ‘winging’ that sometimes works best is failing too. You can go down the procedural path for ‘dealing with disruptions’ but you know it’s a bit of a Faustian bargain because you believe, and are even known for, your ability to build trust, understanding, accepting stuff, not just dishing out detentions and stuff some of these characters have long stopped responding to. You could raise the voice but knowing that is doomed too because chances are they will make you yell louder next time until you hit the top. Traps of a kind, both of them.

JUST as you reconcile all this and keep a calm exterior, someone charges in to your class and demands a piece of you. Commotion. A student refuses to move afterwards. You think “shall I dish out detention and sacrifice eating my lunch of 15 minutes in peace or shall I simply ignore the behaviour and in this way condone it?” Technology still not working … Next door colleague comes in asking if you “…need all the laptops?” You feel bad for hogging the lot. An expletive is heard. Someone is trying to steal the lollies that you dish out for good reasons, going through your stuff. You refer to class rules. Repeat requests. Suddenly, you have everyone’s attention, an inch to squeeze in. You explain what needs to be done, 30 seconds max! As soon as you finish, two kids ask: “What do I need to do?” You help the two while losing most of the others. You glance at a beautiful example brought in from neighbouring class by a colleague: “Geez that looks good, should be able to do something in my class … is it me why we can’t?” Guilt. A shout “this is boring”. A teaser, nonetheless. Three kids completely ignoring you and pulling out their phones. It occurs to you “shit, absentees list needs to be done, behaviour sheets ticked.” A kid heading for the glass tank to play with soldiers. “The heck with content for this one, I know he can’t handle it and needs a bit of space every now and then”. Ten seconds later “Why can he play with soldiers and I can’t? That’s not fair, I am not doing work” … Little bit of pack mentality developing – ignore it at your peril. You know only a fraction of what you planned will probably get done. ‘Learning?’ What learning? What did they learn? Bit more guilt, right there. Wasn’t there (the millionth…) an article about how our ‘education is failing’ this morning? Yawn.

Still breathing, dear reader? What I described is about ten, fifteen minutes of ONE of my lessons today. I had five of them. Not all are like this. Some are much better, some are … worse.

Someone reading this may say – that guy needs better classroom management skills. Better organisational skills. Better boundaries. More of the nebulous’ quality’ in his teaching. More engaging activities (hey, we shoot Nerf guns in my class, go treasure hunting,  run around to work out time zones, chop watermelons to explain latitude & longitude, fake Moon landing conspiracy to explain critical thinking and more …)! Less teacher-centred practice. Tighter teacher-centred practice. Better … something. Sure! You’re right. While at it, bring out the teaching standards, ‘engagement’ talk and curriculum will you please.

I build my practice on trust, on repeating but learning from failure. I build on hope the kids will muster the care, respect for each other, us, myself even, and recognise the effort on display and at least. I look for signs of understanding another person, a classmate or teacher, and their needs. I am a pretty damn mediocre teacher when it comes to teaching the content and producing pretty-looking assessment items. But I am damn good at one thing: more than for mere docility, compliance and curricular hoops – I look for care. I can’t spank this stuff into someone, anyone. It has to come from within. I look for it, really hard, and try to draw it out. Because I want to live in a community that gives a damn beyond ‘what’s in it for me?’.

But there is something prevalent I am hampered by, what I am battering against and which I fight my biggest ethical battles. I’ll give you a hint – it ain’t the students. Nope. They are but the messengers. It ain’t my school nor its management (and I don’t  say that because my Principal is on Twitter and she will probably read this).

Care to speculate what it is? If you do, even briefly and privately so, the post was well worth writing.

PS This was my little therapeutic catharsis. Don’t worry, I am going back to work tomorrow. Still happy to do so 🙂

Bye Mister

IMAG2720_1

Last period. Hot. Humid. First part of the lesson falls apart completely, no calming down here. ‘Journal writing’ later? Yeah, right. Plan … P?

“15 minutes to see who can keep a piece of paper in the air the longest? Must let go, cannot touch or be supported by anything, launch with two feet on the ground.”

15 minutes of making mayhem, not one child uninterested, withdrawn. Great atmosphere, humour. Clever designs, different approaches to the problem. After that, 15 minutes of launching and friendly, funny argy bargy whose was in the air the longest. The mighty mess all cleaned up in five.

We have a teen who sits on the couch, always quiet, withdrawn, “no good at anything Sir, it’s all luck” lack of belief in any of his abilities, poor attendance record and diagnosed with things he … certainly ISN’T displaying now! He tests, he shows, he smiles, he tries and … comes second, close to the winner and far from number three. Leaves beaming, “Bye Mister”.

Think we have some material to work with there as far as sense of agency, internal locus of control, self-esteem and desire to be included, doing things that are valued? Yeah, we’ll get to the literacy and curriculum thing, for sure.

Yes, he might be in a complete heap tomorrow, no guarantee. All small steps, small steps. Or as the motto of our school goes: “One student at a time.”

PS One of my ‘aspirations’ this year is to briefly recount these little gems (and flops!) that happen in a place called school. I do so publicly not for admiration nor criticism (believe me, I am NOT a good teacher in many a mind based on this) but to simply add to the rich tapestry of understanding of what is it that teachers do. Because the moment you can ‘define it’ – it changes. And I like that in all its messiness.