Despite presently feeling about as productive and vibrant as a damp dish-cloth, the year has actually been pretty eventful and interesting. My existence is oriented towards simply staving off the mawkish demons of boredom, and I have managed to keep the beasts at bay.
Thinking about my 2014 reflections and my hopes for 2015, the glue that binds them together is the sense that I now feel confident and comfortable in my role as the teacher, in my ability to teach and in my own priorities as a teacher. I know this oughtn’t be a jaw-dropping statement, but despite being four years into teaching (which makes me a Teach First veteran *chuckle chuckle*) I remain a 24 year old who feels most comfortable in trainers, possessing a stupid sense of humour, a passion for gurning and an ‘if I don’t look at it, it won’t hurt me’ approach to my bank statements. I happen to have stumbled into a profession that I love and am doing well at, even though it has sapped the energy out of my body, chained my social life to the basement radiator and affixed itself to me like some possessive whelk-succubus.
Schooling has swelled to envelope 95% of my life, and because it is going well, I can kind of say I am 95% happy, but this ignores the fact that I am taking pride in the fact that my work-life balance is nada.
The summary of my Nurture1415 is that I have enjoyed 2014 and I want to enjoy similar successes in 2015, but without having to live vicariously through my job. I have made amazing friends at school, and I love them dearly. I chat with, laugh with and enjoy memorable blow-outs in Shoreditch with my fellow teachers, the teaching assistants mother me with Johar Joshanda, naughty euphemisms and knitted ties, and my managers indulge my ideas, let me write jokes on the noticeboard and don’t comment on my mismatched socks. The kids are alright too, in their increasingly weird ways. The realisation I have had is that, as someone who lives with colleagues as housemates, I am literally unable to speak to people who are not either a) teachers or b) children. When I met my brother on Sunday to head back home to Doncaster, I had begun talking about school after about 3 minutes. Similar things have happened on my multiple unsuccessful dates. This must stop. I am happy to serve Education, but I don’t want to be his moll.
On to the Nurturing.
Five Reflections on 2014
1) Realising the teacher I want to be
I know it is retch-inducingly ‘TEDTalk’ to speak of self-actualisation, but up until this year, I was just trying to ‘be teacher’ without a clear sense of what exactly that was to me. Largely through spectating some Twitter wars about pedagogy, I have come to realise that my conceptualisation of what a teacher is – specifically as a primary teacher – goes beyond questions of what is the most effective mode of instruction to firm up pupils’ knowledge. This is not ‘selling out’, giving up or being crap. Simply put, I see that my pupils require more than just knowledge and skills, and that the more I see our interactions as human interactions before teacher-pupil interactions, the better I have been able to help them.
This year, I have invested more time in seeking to address the kids’ underlying needs as a means to help their educational needs. I want to be the teacher that empowers the kids. I want them to have the guts to pull me up if I say something they disagree with, such as my flaky knowledge of Islam and of particle physics. I want them to argue until they have satisfied their curiosity. I want to be the person they come to with the questions they daren’t fully ask themselves, never mind others, like when a Hindu pupil thrashed out the possibility of reincarnation in hushed whispers with me whilst I devoured a pasty in my lunch break. I want to introduce them to things that they’re not going to have access to otherwise, like how to dance to the Cupid Shuffle, how to use classical rhetoric and how our everyday actions as citizens in the wealthy countries might ruin the lives of real people in other places.
So yes, I’ll teach everything I need to teach, and I will teach it well. I will take heed of INSETS, and courses, and research on effectiveness, and continue to develop myself in those important respects, but I will try hard not to lose sight of the fact that a good teacher is a person more than a role, and that I am not likely to receive training on ‘how to help the kids to feel happy’ or ‘how to make kids laugh’. I want them to respect me not solely because I am a teacher but because I listen, because I care, because I have an excellent beard, an eccentric approach to musical performance and because I am a teacher.
I am among the least well-traveled people I know. As a kid, our holidays were more Cleethorpes than Corsica, more Skegness than Sardinia and more Ingoldmells than … Iran? Essentially, I’ve not really been anywhere, so decided that in the Easter Holidays of 2014, I wanted to do something a bit unusual. Decided to go to Burma, because why not!
Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) has a very troubled recent history – and a barely concealed troubled present, with the persecution of the Rohingya… – and it is a place I was really looking forward to exploring. I visited with my friend Elaine, who is a much more experienced traveler. In our excited haste to book our flights, we ignored a couple of highly significant factors – first of all, temperatures were to be unusually high even by their standards, at about 40 degrees, and it was also the time of Thingyan, the annual water festival. This is essentially a five day bank holiday where nobody can travel because everybody who drives trains, bikes, taxis and planes is partying. This made it interesting as we wandered around the city streets of Yangon trying to find a way to travel 200km to the coast.
Burma was absolutely incredible escapism, and I feel I needed to travel to the far-end of Asia just to switch my brain off from teaching. It is an absolutely stunning place with a rich history at the intersection of India, China and Thailand. We visited temples, the burial site of the last Mughal emperor, lake communities at Inle Lake and the happy revellers in the village of Ngwe Saung, where we spent Thingyan.
Highlights included clinging to the back of a tiny little drunk Burmese chap on a spluttering motorbike, as he weaved maniacally around clifftops carrying my gigantic six-foot self and all my luggage, as the locals threw buckets of water over us (as is traditional for Thingyan). Highlights also included sampling Burmese wine, and lots of it, in a mountain top vineyard.
Anyway, the pics speak for themselves.
3) Geography Week
Something I was really proud of this year was our school’s Geography Week. As coordinator, we had a school-wide week of geographical learning on a them of ‘A World Of Difference’, with different year groups all looking at fascinating topics such as Britishness, Multiculturalism, Rites of Passage and Survival. The school was really buzzing, and I loved being given the freedom to innovate and to be able to put together schemes of work from scratch that drew upon my own interests from uni. We had the Year 3s learning how the Inuit people survive in their habitats, the Year 4s learning about the Bullet Ant initiation and designing their own rites of passage into adulthood, Year 5s questioning their own identity and Year 6 exploring stereotypes of British eccentricity.
The highlight was with my Year 4 babies, of course, teaching them the meaning and the story behind the Maori Haka.
I’m forever blogging, although this has slowed recently. I still really enjoy doing this, and meeting some of these little Gravatars and @blahblahs has been great. I am looking forward to attending Northern Rocks this year, and hope to meet many more of my little cyber chums. In my mind it will be like an episode of Surprise Surprise but instead of an estranged sister or brother, it’ll be Nancy Gedge and Tom Starkey.
More than this sentimental name-dropping, I have enjoyed digging a bit deeper into writing for children. Rather than moan baout how dull and simplistic I find many kids books, I decided to pull my finger out and just start making my own stuff. I began with the Stalybridge tales – ddddd of which you’ll read more in a mo! – but then in various other ways too. First up, it is just fun. With the Stalybridge Sloth tales, I have my class in mind when I am writing it, and aim to make each kid laugh. Some kids will crack up when the Mum character batters Nigella Lawson, some will laugh at the Sloth’s addiction to out of date pappadums and some will laugh at the unexpected chimp pictures. EIther way, it is really fun to share with them. I am going to smash out another Stalybridge story this week, which is tentatively titled ‘Stalybridge and the Contested Immigration Status’. In addition, I am working on a larger project with my artistically inclined little brother Maffers (who crochets craziness, as you can see here in the images – google Maffers Toys), based on our odd memories of our dysfunctional schooling.
5) Visits and Visitors
This year has been a packed one in Elmhurst. With my mate and fellow coordinator Abi, we put on a pastorally-oriented camping trip at the fabulous Suntrap Forest Education Centre. We took a ‘lively’ group of Year 5s and enjoyed building forest shelters, making fires, handling snakes and cockroaches and spending time just being out in the fresh rural air. It was remarkable how much difference a wide sky and a bit of grass can make; we had no issues at all (apart from me double booking coach transport…) and we somehow achieved the impossible of boys and girls choosing to play together.
I also got to take some our obscenely lucky Year 4 kids to Paris for the third year in a row to practice their French speaking. Although one child did vomit on me pretty much incessantly throughout the four days, we all had a great time. It was another of those strange moment when I was enjoying chilling out by the Seine with my friends Elaine and Sukhi, then we remember that we were teachers and were being paid for this! The Elmhurst in Paris blog is still here if you’re interested.
We’ve had some other weird stuff too. I accidentally confused my bookings, and organised to take all of Year 4 to a Cemetery Park for their end of year treat, and it turned out to be incredible. Although a little macabre, we learned life stories from reading grave stones and did some orienteering around the dense and eerie wilderness of Mile End Cemetery Park (highly recommend for trips!) We took the kids to perform in a Rainforest Musical at the Olympic Site (which I hated, but never mind…) We took them to the Albert Hall and to the panto. Fun times.
A particularly weird experience was being filmed for BBCs ‘The One Show’, who were doing a piece about the SHanghai Maths Exchange that our school is currently taking part in. The kids were ridiculously excited by this, and enjoyed spotting themselves on TV the next day. I enjoyed getting a little cameo for Stalybridge by putting his memorial plaque up on the whiteboard.
Earlier in the year, I invited Professor Elemental to come in to run rap workshops with the babbies as part of my Geography Week. He was phenomenal and even kindly agreed to perform at our after-school ‘Jamboree’ event, which was attended by hundreds of confused parents and kids, who perhaps had not had much exposure to Steampunk Rap before. That was just brilliant, and is a great opportunity for me to stick his video up on here too.
Hopes for 2015
1) Balance – IT is hard for me to retain a worklife balance, because I actively go out of my way to give myself stuff to do because it makes me giddy to be busy. To be all revelatory about my feelings, as male primary teachers are wont to do, one of my biggest fears is not to be needed. My desire to do everything in order to feel purposive is the same thing that leaves my body wrecked by influenza at the end of each half-term, once the adrenaline tank runs out.
I want to continue doing the things that I enjoy, and I want to continue being the doofus teacher who is inefficient but has excellent design logic and typography on all of his posters. I am actually, I realise, perfectly happy to spend disproportionate amounts of time on the kind of activities that many would deem to be pointless, such as changing existing Flipcharts and Powerpoints from Comic Sans to Eurostile, to prevent me from vomitting my spleen I every time I need to open them.
What I need to do though, is to consolidate all my faffing and dillydallying into one easy-to-manage daily installment of an hour or so. What I need, this year, is to have an hour every night to do something like ‘Read a Book’, ‘Go for a Walk’ or ‘Wash’. Sadly, 2014 has seen me wake up fully clothed on the sofa surrounded by Ruth Miskin resources more than once, and it must end. 2015 is the year I am claiming my weekends back, by being less of a chatty man at school, and getting more done before I go home.
2) Thesis – Having written a well-graded and provocative essay titled ‘The Boy in the Sari: Asian Masculinities in an East London Playground’ and having genuinely wept my way through a public presentation about transgender children commiting suicide, I am now 60 credits away from completing my Masters at the IoE. I was intending to write about teacher favouritism, which is perhaps the biggest taboo (which is why it is so juicy!), but I am deciding I’d rather go back to square one. I am at the optimistic point of thinking a 20,000 thesis is a luxury rather than a punishment, and as such, I want to consider all possibly interesting topics. I’ll be completing it in July 2016, as I am on an interruption year to focus on work, but I’ll be back in the Institute in September. Nice to know I’ll be graduating from UCL too, now they’ve merged!
3) Jaunt – I am intending to go off an another ridiculously over-the-top travel during my Easter holidays. At the moment, I am thinking I would like to go to India, and maybe explore Gujarat. I am also considering taking a mini-placement in Dhaka, Bangladesh with the JAAGO Foundation, who look incredible, and who I’ve been in touch with for about a year. Also maybe Egypt. Or Jordan. Essentially, because my only expenditure is Greggs, and because I don’t like long-term planning, I am happy to blow a grand or so and go wherever my quaint little whimsy takes me.
4) Get Published – I know the Edu Twitterati are all published now, and I want in. I started 2014 well, and was published in TeachPrimary and the TeachFirst glossy but I want more! I want to spend 2015 drawing attention to the merits of MultiModal Literacy, which has fallen off the agenda, and is an incredibly powerful medium for boosting kids confidence, questioning and articulacy. Jane Bednall is a consultant who is a true friend of many at Elmhurst Primary, and whenever she has worked with me and my pupils, she has reminded me of the power a teacher can have. She has inspired me to look afresh at multiomdality and cultural literacy, and I want to dedicate time this year to seeing how it can be constructively linked to newer technologies. Also, I would love love love to get my kids books published, but will need to spend a lot more time on that.
5) Generic life improvement – Stop eating so much crap all the time, do some exercise, groom my facial hair with more care, don’t be scruffy at work when I get tired, consume less coffee, drink more herbal tea, eat more fruit, inject a bit more gusto into my attempts at dating, read more literature, sleep for longer each day.