Liberation

I wrote this last November but didn’t feel able to publish it. Here it is now, unedited, my words exactly from nine months ago.

I have been on a roller coaster journey this year, and I have fallen down to earth with a bump. Without going into too many details, I have resigned from my school and it feels like a weight has been taken off my shoulders. My heart is singing with liberation. I should be feeling crushed but instead I’m empowered.

Firstly, I’ve not reached the end of my teaching career. Not in the least. On my last day at school, I taught three good lessons on my terms. No VAK, no starter, no cloying AFL trying to evidence the learning (which is next to impossible to evidence anyway). We had a quick retrieval practice quiz, then went on to a short booklet on Harold Hardraada that I had written. We read it aloud together, I explained, and then I set some questions. Simple and yet so effective. I taught well that day. I came away knowing what the last few months had started to make me doubt. I am a good teacher.

Later that day, I happened to encounter one of my students in the ICT room, sitting at a computer doing homework. He greeted me with a happy smile when he saw me, then turned to his friend sitting next to him and said, with a note of pride in his voice: ‘That’s my history teacher!’ That gave me a warm glow. I will miss those kids. My one regret in this whole story is that I won’t get to see them anymore.

So this is not the end of my teaching career. But it is the end of my teaching in an environment that does not share my values. I am in no rush to find another teaching job or to apply for further teacher training. Call me philosophical or mystical, but I just know that if I am meant to teach, then it will happen.

In the meantime, I have plenty to keep me busy. The first order of the day is to spend quality time with my son and be the kind of mum I want to be. It has tugged at my heart strings lately, having him in school from 8am to after 5pm some days. I’m going to enjoy being there for him at the end of his school day. Those years are precious, and they don’t last forever. In another two years or so, he will be able to make his own way to school and back.

I’m also going to take better care of my health. I have not stepped on the bathroom scales yet for fear of what they will tell me. The mirror and my clothes know that I have been piling on the pounds, stress eating. That will change.

I’m going to have more time to read the many books piled on my book shelf. The one thing I have discovered (or rather re-discovered) in my short time as a teacher, is just how much I still don’t know. I will remedy that. Schools should be places of knowledge, filled with teachers who know their subject inside out (not just the exam spec). Don’t get me wrong, I know an awful lot. Just not enough to confidently call myself an expert.

I will embark on what I have been longing to do but not had the time to. I’m going to write the first of a series of KS3 history textbooks and digital resources. There are many out there already, of course, but none that pleases me 100%. I have many ideas and a vision for what I want to achieve. There’s work to be done.

Lastly, I will campaign more vocally than ever for the kind of education I believe in. I’m not sure what form that will take, though undoubtedly this blog will have centre stage. I will continue to write and confront the beliefs and practices that I think are disadvantaging our already disadvantaged children. I summarise these below:

  • Poor children find it harder to behave and we must therefore make accommodations for them (and lower our expectations).
  • It is more important to show progress and value added than to actually achieve a high standard of education, especially when it comes to socially disadvantaged children.
  • Strict behaviour policies are authoritarian and damaging to children.
  • Strict behaviour policies have a negative impact on children with SEND.
  • A knowledge curriculum entrenches the power of the (white) elites.
  • Children will not learn something unless they discover it for themselves and it is made relevant and engaging to them.
  • Schools suck the natural and innate creativity out of children (you don’t need me to tell you who keeps harping on about that).
  • A lesson must contain multiple activities (usually in the form of a starter, main and plenary) in which children are seen to be doing ‘tasks’. These activities then need to be followed by an AFL (Assessment for Learning) task to evidence the learning.
  • It is essential to display the learning objectives on the board at the beginning of each lesson.
  • Bloom’s Taxonomy is integral to good lessons, which should focus on letting students progress from the less important lower order domain of knowledge and comprehension to the higher order skills of evaluation and creative thinking.
  • Knowledge doesn’t matter so much in modern times because we can just look things up on Google. It’s more important to teach transferrable skills, such as problem solving and creative thinking.
  • Children don’t have the capacity or imagination to understand concepts explained and modelled to them by the teacher, and therefore need kinaesthetic activities and role play to truly understand.
  • If a teacher is talking, a child is not learning.
  • Lower set children who are behind in their learning need to have easier work, less reading and more pictures and videos.
  • Schools need to prepare children for 21st century skills and jobs of the future that don’t yet exist.

You’d be surprised (or not) how many of the above beliefs are still prevalent in schools today. I believe every single one of them entrenches the disadvantage poor children start off with. And (unless I have a significant change of mind in future) I refuse to ever work in a school that subscribes to them. Who’s with me? (Sorry, I nicked that one off Quirky Teacher)

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