This is another one for http://www.teachsecondary.com. I’m in it, but to counterbalance that it also features a whole range of articles on secondary education that you can use to cleanse yourself after reading my shtick. Subscribe by clicking the link if you dare.
As I get on in years, I am, more and more, thinking back to my own time at school. This has led me to a conclusion about this odd profession of ours; whether we like to admit to it or not, our opinions and viewpoints of education are often intrinsically linked to our personal experience of it as children. The halls, corridors and classrooms represent a past paradise to some or a prison to others, and I’m of the belief that what we think about education currently as adults has an extremely strong lineage back to the days when we weren’t.
I see in fellow teachers attempts to embrace their own school past or to shove it over a wall. I see teachers who have wanted to emulate those that helped and guided them and I see others who have wanted to show those who let them down that they could do better. Attitude, approach, pedagogy – our own time in uniform has influenced them all. In some ways we are all dancing (or boxing) with ghosts.
My own experience of secondary school was pretty unremarkable (which, some would argue, accurately reflects my teaching career, heh). I was a smart kid in a rough place but I was big so I got away with it. Mostly I remember being cold at break time. To be honest, I could go on for a couple of long paragraphs reminiscing about my own experience (and taking into account the word count required for this page, that might well be on the cards so don’t rule it out) but those stories are often akin to when you recount your dreams; they’re fascinating to you because you experienced them – but they’re wholly tedious to any bugger else.
Having said that, I know for a fact that some of the things I prioritise as a teacher, some of the beliefs that I firmly hold today, have their roots firmly stuck in the heart of an awkward, lumbering 14-year-old with hair like a hay bale and dreams of…well…getting through five periods and then going home and eating his weight in Boost bars. To this day, behaviour is still a burning issue for me, due to the fact that I spent a lot of time trying to learn in a school environment where it wasn’t brilliant. I lean towards a more ‘traditional’ way of teaching as that’s what the most effective teachers in my school did. I’m concerned about teacher welfare because I remember when we took bets on how quickly we could make new teachers cry. Just about every part of the teacher I am now goes back to what I experienced then.
Our history shapes us. And whether it does it with an artist’s brush or a madman’s axe we still hold that aspect, taking it into the unique job that we do. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing, I haven’t really decided yet. We are fashioned from our past yet I worry that we can become slaves to it as well. The significance of our individual experience on a personal level can blind us to different worlds, different ways of doing things and different narratives. There’s a wide educational world out there and only seeing it only through the lens of our own school days may lead to a restricted view.
Perhaps we spend too much time with the ghosts.
I’m not, of course, saying that we should deny our history or go through some sci-fi mind-wipe during training so we become more open and susceptible (although if anyone can build something like that for the kids, you can take my money right now). What I am saying is that our own school history, whilst important, is only one story among countless others and if we let it fashion our thinking and our actions to such an extent that we close our mind off to other possibilities then we run the risk of missing a rich, expansive world that may offer us seemingly alien, yet useful ideas.
OK, that’s 675 words. Err…so…. let me tell you ‘bout the time when Mr Maynard fell asleep during the inter-school football tournament. Only thing was, right, he was supposed to be refereeing. Almost caused a riot. Me and Davey and Ryan had to…
Thanks for reading.