A few days ago, I hinted on Twitter I am leaving Yule Brook College at the end of this year. It’s the end of four years of not just teaching here but four years of daily think about the place and its people.
As one of the most memorable teaching posts and workplaces I have been a part of, the experiences from YBC will stay with me strongly and shape my professional and my personal self forever. Working in a flagship Big Picture school, expanding my teaching qualifications and repertoire to now include Design & Technology, envisioning and starting in many ways a trailblazing makerspace on a shoestring budget and turning it into well functioning, well received (by students and staff) space, finding and securing funding for this and a similar STEM-related initiative makes the highlights reel. But, as always, I have been far more interested in the people I have worked with and their stories, the goodwill, the resilience, the struggles, without the (self)promotional BS for this and that.
For the large part of my teaching career, I have worked in low socio-economic areas like the community YBC serves. Here and elsewhere, I have seen kids overcome incredible odds, succeed and flourish academically and socially. I have also seen the sad spiral into misery, often from misery, (too) many times.
I have grown so tired, yes here at YBC too and elsewhere, of motivational posters and one-line messages, inevitably aimed at individual, glossing over the structural causes of misery these kids have had no say in it. I am equally tired of the corrosive low expectations, yes here at YBC and elsewhere, inevitably aimed at entire groups (‘this class’…), populations (‘these people, this postcode’…) that trap the individuals who are capable of alternatives far healthier than those on offer, some of them generational.
To me, good answers lie not in the binary of “personal grit” or utopian “equal society” but somewhere in between. Our job as educators is to help students make choices and have the resources to build the former (I dislike the word grit though) but not ignoring, glossing over, dismissing the energy and opportunity-sapping chances of the latter. At all times, we ought to figure out and modulate our responses and consider the potential costs of those responses to the student, ourselves and the broader community.
We need to do this to the best of our professional ability and knowledge. These we can only expand by reading, engaging, thinking and honest critique, not just moaning about it on one side and clapping to rather than pointing out the emperor’s new clothes on the other. This is the hard work, not the paperwork.
Over the past couple of years, I put my heart and soul in building the makerspace at YBC. I did that not because of my deep passion for STEM which seems to be all the rage last few years. Yeah, sure, I do like making and design, kids figuring the usefulness of sometimes the most rudimentary numeracy and literacy. But that’s almost a necessary by-product of something else.
I did it to provide opportunities for students, to create an oasis of abundance my friend Ira Socol speaks of and many of YBC may not enjoy. A pocket perhaps of abundance of opportunities, of the kinds kids in leafier suburbs of this town would take for granted. Abundance of something that values learning, is socially positive, doesn’t stratify you and/or ‘confirm you’re dumb’ (student words, not mine) every time you stuff something up. A place you can try things that maybe ‘cost a bit’ (student words again, because $50 of acrylic plastic she used up in making her design here would be going towards keeping the lights on at home). Simple – but profound stuff.
Next year, my journey across the educational landscape takes me in a new direction. I have accepted a position as a Teaching and Learning Coach for the Graduate Teacher Induction Programme with the Department of Education of Western Australia. After a period of initial training, I will be helping out new graduates across Perth metro and the entire state of Western Australia (very, very large one at that) survive and thrive in their first steps in the workforce. GTIP is a unique programme and I am very fortunate and excited to have secured this position. Those of you who have come across myself, my work and thoughts over the past couple of decades will probably know I could talk about bloody teaching and education all day. So, look out for my travel reflections next year.
As for my dear colleagues at YBC – we have become lifelong friends. The tougher and longer we stuck at it, the more it makes us bond beyond the shifting job titles now and the future. Plenty of that at YBC where I am sure will always return as a good friend.