Thursday, 7 February 2013

Reflections on chatting with some colleagues and friends about my job

It's been a while. Time for a blog post :)

About 2 weeks have passed since the last post. They have revealed that raw space where you really think you don't have anything more to give... that place when you find out if your convictions can take you forward or whether you'll cave in.

It's no one particular thing. In fact, overall, no one thing is particularly bad. It's rather the accumulation of many, many, many small things, unrelentless, crashing against you daily as the sea does rocks. We know that the sea wins eventually. Mostly it's the lack of sleep--that always makes everything feel much worse than it really is. You hear your own voice getting cross with kids who just won't shut up and realise how you're becoming that unpleasant shouty teacher because you're too tired to implement effective behaviour management. Bleh. The One Thing guaranteed to make you cave is sleep deprivation.

One teacher has decided to go--he has not come back.That's put the rest of us in a pickle as we have had to scramble for someone to take his classes. We had one unattended class when he was absent without notice; with that one chaotic unattended class the whole school environment felt like a 'typical township' school: loud and uncontrolled, kids running around yelling. That afternoon did not feel good... we felt like we were sliding backwards.

For some reason yesterday felt like a breakthrough point--that despite the tiredness and the daily battle to keep good order when the class next door erupts into a cacophony (in my last lesson there was a brawl in the classroom diagonally opposite with the usual chaos of a full on fight :P). It was a good breakthrough point: not the "I don't care" beaten point, but an "ah well, let's get on with it then" point.

Tonight I was kindly invited to share some thoughts and experiences of opening the school and was asked to provide a title for the evening. I chose the title "Doing things Differently"... and then during the entire discussion I didn't get to talking about exactly what it is we are trying to do differently! Although I felt like I only told the story as it was--honestly and factually--I realised by the end of the evening that everything had sounded hopelessly negative. What was a factual account of the status quo reflected the bleak landscape that our education system has become. As things currently stand, I am far too immersed in my daily local interactions to pick my head up over the parapet and see things at the system level. I won't apologise for that at this point: I think it's understandable to focus on the daily immediate stuff at this stage. Perhaps in a few months time when the school feels more established I'll look more holistically at a system level, but for now focusing on the daily bread and butter issues is understandable.

I think sounding negative is also justifiable, if not entirely healthy. So sorry to those folks who listened to me problematize the education system (or shoot down their suggestions), although I'll stand by my answers as accurate. After all, we can't start to find solutions that will work if we don't understand the inter-related complexity of the problem. Ignoring the reasons why solutions won't work doesn't make them work after all.

But let me lay out here why I chose to call the evening "doing things differently". I still believe that we are doing things differently at our new school. Here's a few ways how:

--we're still looking for the potential in the kids instead of the problems. We're still holding the perspective that punishment and sanctions are not to be implemented blindly.

--we're doing our best not to forget those quiet kids who get drowned out by the bad behaviour. For my own part, I know almost all the names now. It's made a huge difference. In fact, that is one way in which we are doing things differently to the norm (sadly, it is the norm-in most schools, the teachers don't know the kids by name).

--we home-visit. We go to the kids homes and see where they live, meet them  and their families in a different environment. Home-visits haven't stepped up proper yet but we do them. That's different.

--we're looking for the resources to create experiences and opportunities for our kids that they wouldn't normally access. This is important to us.

--we're not giving up.

yes, that's different. Very different. 90% of the dysfunctionality in public schools is when (understandably) people have given up. We're not giving up. Despite 2 laptops getting stolen, we're not giving up. Despite the kids who do not understand the idea of not hitting each other, we're not giving up. Despite how truly awful that lesson after second break feels when the sun is baking us all like sardines in our tin-can-classrooms...we're not giving up. Despite some of us still waiting for our paychecks, we're still not giving up.  Yes, the silly things like the fact that we still don't have rulers (! arbitrary to everyone except a maths teacher!!), or that we can't have a photocopier that does collation and double-sided (apparently we aren't a big enough school to warrant saving time or paper)... those little things feel big on top of everything else. We're still working with porta-loos, and we need to bolt everything to the floor to stop it going walking... we're one man short and I've got to mark an extra 200 tests over the weekend on top of the other 100 homeworks and 60 books and feel like crying...

but I'm not giving up.

At least not yet.


  1. Noxy, you're amazing. You did mention some of those things that you are doing differently, and they make a difference. Maybe not today, or tomorrow, but they matter.


  2. As I say to my Italian friends, "Forza amica mia. Forza!" Not quite the same as 'Amandla', but close enough. Big hugs and much support from the Northern Hemisphere.