19th Century style Schooling vs idealistic teaching

Idealism is a dangerous trap for someone like me, someone with a vivid imagination and an expansive thought process. It means that I quite often feel disappointed when things are not as good as could possibly be imagined.

I imagined modern schools would be at the forefront in terms of providing a nurturing, knowledge rich, safe and morally advanced environment, I imagined schools cared about the well-being and social /emotional development of people, after all, schools are in the people shaping business. People go in to school with less knowledge than when they come out, they are shaped and moulded by what society needs and are provided with a robust education which forms the foundation of knowledge for the rest of their life.

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In a somewhat anti-climatic fashion, what I actually found was that children go in through the doors on the first day of school with excited expectation, with hopes of being nurtured, of being taught useful things, of being supported emotionally, they are then immediately given the impression that they can’t do anything because the work they are given is too hard for them, while this may build character and resilience, it may also foster self doubt and low self esteem. They are then given the impression that their unique and special talents are meaningless because of the focus being so heavily set on English, Maths and Reading. Of course English, Maths and Reading are vitally important, but we are ignoring the ways in which children do learn and gain self-esteem through other means, such as play, music, dance, nature, and art.

Rushing a child through the school curriculum at such pace as to not allow them to soak anything valuable up or gain any new knowledge of themselves or the world is fundamentally wrong. I have seen pupils in schools being rushed through their learning journeys at a devastating pace, even when they are not yet ready to move on they are dragged on to a new topic, without adequate time for new knowledge to be retained.

The pressure from government bodies for schools to perform, has created top down pressure, which eventually lands on the teachers lap and then on to the pupil. Children are then pushed to perform; as a result they miss important milestones. Teachers move children on too quickly so that their students are not ‘left behind’ because that would make the teachers themselves and the school ‘look bad’. Teaching is a frantic rush to meet age related expectations, grades, and milestones.

Teachers struggle to obtain constantly moving targets and ever-increasing higher expectations. Grade boundaries are abused by senior management, data is meddled with and forged to ‘save face’ in the run up to a OFSTED inspection, governors meeting or to compete in league tables.

There is certainly a lot at stake for teachers, if they are seen not to be taking part in such corrupt practices or they are not pushing children beyond unrealistic age related expectations, then they are not awarded their next pay grade, they may even be bullied out of their job for showing that they disagree with such unfair practices.

If schools are seen to be holding children back and not progressing them -even when they are not ready to move on-  to meet such high achievement, they are given ‘inadequate status’.

yet, we can, as teachers, surely imagine better for our schools. As an idealist myself, I see many different ways that schools could adapt for the modern age. Hypothetically speaking, if I were to describe the ideal school in which to work, I would instantly dream up a plethora of different imaginative responses, all of which, unfortunately for me and the children I teach, do not exist in reality.

Unfortunately for us idealistic types, we have to make do with the reality of schools today, the dreary, 19th Century style school, with the overly academic focus on Maths and English and no focus on the arts, physical activity, drama, art or any other ‘soft’ subject. Add to that the interference and establishment of corrupt practices within SLT’s which are happening left, right and centre. Lastly, and not forgetting the unmotivated, unfulfilled potential of our students, who have been shown all of the things they can’t do instead of the things they can.

As Einstein famously said ‘ If you try to teach a fish to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing it is stupid’

Our students are represented here, by the fish, otter, elephant and the penguin, which all have their own special talents for which there is not yet a way to measure;

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This begs the question; Are we inadvertently teaching our pupils that they can’t do things instead of empowering them to become thinkers, leaders, creatives, and innovators of the future?

I, personally relish the day when our  19th-century-style schools go out of fashion and a new type of school is built; with real vision, creativity and modern ideals, based on real research, based purely on the learning and development of children. That day couldn’t come soon enough.

In my next blog; the present situation in schools may anger you, in which case, you may feel the need to escape in to a Utopian daydream with me, come and help me to imagine better…

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Dear SLT; From your Trainee.

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Dear SLT,

I walked in to your office on my interview day with boundless hope and enthusiasm, I was about to begin my training as a trainee teacher.

You promised me that you would fully support my training to become a qualified teacher. I wish I had known how hollow and meaningless your words were, and that the word ‘support’ would be used against me as a tool for intimidation and control.

Within the first few weeks of training, you told me you didn’t think i wanted ‘it’ enough, referring to my passions for teaching. I thought it was strange that, just as i was starting out, you were so negative. I should have seen this as a red flag. Instead, in retaliation to this misunderstanding, I tried to improve myself and prove that I wanted ‘it’ enough. I worked very hard, and gathered plenty of evidence to show you, to prove I was trying my hardest.

I asked you, respectfully, for extra support, as my mentor was always conveniently missing from my class and i felt unsupported. I knew instinctively, that by asking for your support, I had crossed an invisible line and made a huge mistake. Your reaction to my request was to try to ‘manage me out’ and you employed others to help you. Your attitude towards me changed overnight, and what ensued was what can only be described as a campaign of hellish mindgames. I wasn’t entirely sure what was happening at first, I just knew there had been a shift in attitude towards me. I felt panicky and constantly on edge for no reason. But then it became more and more obvious that you wanted me out.

You tried everything you could to encourage me to leave my placement, you gave me 10 targets to complete in a week instead of the recommended 2, then berated me for being unable to complete them all. You took over my lessons, telling me everything I was doing was wrong in front of my class. Giving me threats in the form of ‘support plans’ and telling me I would make a good ‘teaching assistant’ and that you couldn’t see a future for me in teaching. You changed my grades from good, to inadequate with a nonchalant smile, just because you could. The feedback you gave was wholly negative, there were no positives.

I eventually sank in to deep inconsolable grief, you had convinced me that I was never going to make it as a teacher, you succeeded in breaking my spirits. But somehow, in the furthest recesses of my mind I must have realised what was happening, because I devised a way to protect myself. I had somehow miraculously collected enough evidence of my own from other placements in other schools to prove that I was meeting the Teachers’ Standards. I had something up my sleeve more valuable than all of your mind games put together. I had written, solid proof that I was a good teacher.

You were so concerned with your own reputation, that when it became clear I was going to achieve QTS and succeed, you begged me not to tell other schools or trainees about my experiences. Even the teaching school alliance told me to stay quiet as there were ‘ various reputations’ at stake. It was obvious that you were all trembling in your boots, because you feared I would say something about my training, make a complaint, or raise my concerns with the people above your head, such as the dean of the university.
In all honestly, I was never going to do that, I was too afraid of the repercussions, of you somehow ruining my career as you had once tried to do.

As far as I was concerned, I had finally achieved what I had set out to do and you couldn’t take that from me anymore.
Thankfully, I found a job in another school, you didn’t even say thank you or goodbye.

I chose a career in teaching, because it was perceived by me to be a compassionate and caring environment. How horrifying to discover that the reality was quite different, and that there were individuals such as yourself and your management team who use cruel ‘management’ tactics to elicit required results, whatever they may be, and at any cost. Words cannot express how tragic that is, especially in a time when we need more teachers than ever before. You should be ashamed of yourselves.

Yours Sincerely,

Your Trainee Teacher.
If this happens to you, don’t doubt yourself, call a union representative who will help you to identify what bullying and harrassment looks like in the workplace, it is not something that is always obvious to identify. Believe in yourself! You are awesome!