Where is their Blog Post? Finding Focus in a House of Cards.

I’ve been a bit quiet on my blog recently. Not that I haven’t been writing – I have about five posts in draft form, none of which I’m particularly happy with – but I’ve lost a bit of confidence in what I’ve wanted to say. To be honest, I’ve been feeling a bit of a fraud, a house of cards if you like. Writing a regular blog can be a strange old experience. The more you find compliments the more you expect them. But I started the blog as a self-refection exercise. And when I look in that teacher mirror I’m not always happy with what I see.

House of CardsOne of the great joys of writing this blog is that I can share some great things which have been happening in my classroom. It becomes a place to promote the creativity that some of my pupils have and, let’s be honest, promote myself in the process. However, I have started to notice a flaw in that. If I was being honest could I say that every pupil in my class benefits in the same way? I couldn’t. Are there still those disengaged kids who don’t get it, don’t make enough progress and don’t even like my classes? Of course there are. And that makes me feel like a fraud.

I read a post recently about how, when Inspectors are in school, or local dignitaries, the Management team often wheel out the twenty or so perfect students who always wear exemplary uniform and are the brightest of the bright. Like a Supermarket hiding slightly shoddy goods at the back of the shelf, we want our schools to look good, on the surface at least. Yes, it seems, you can judge a book by its cover. And, while I may feel aggrieved at this, I may bristle at the thought, how often does my classroom become a microcosm of that?

I’ve blogged about how wonderful my classroom is at times. I’ve blogged about the true engagement my students display when they produce incredible work and surprise me at every turn.  What I haven’t blogged about is the kid who really doesn’t get it. The one who starts the year slightly resentfully and refuses to join in. The one who doesn’t manage to progress in the same way as the others.  Where is his blog post?

If I’m to take myself seriously as a teacher and, indeed as a blogger, then I have to address that. I could talk all day about the successful learners in my classes; there are loads of them. But those who we often try to forget, try to hide away because, deep down, we know we have failed them in some way, are rarely discussed publicly. Perhaps my blog should focus on them for a while. What did I do to change their expectations? How did I try to improve their learning experiences? As teachers we try to pretend that we don’t promote a hierarchy of success, but we do. All the time. Perhaps by focusing on those whom I don’t reach will give this blog some relevance.

8 thoughts on “Where is their Blog Post? Finding Focus in a House of Cards.

  1. Great blog! …… but a word of cautionary balance on the self-critical way of life…. (from my self-critical experience as a headteacher!):

    The tendency of headteachers to show off the students who ‘got school’ has been aggravated by the marketisation of schooling consequent on parental choice.. one of the many perverse incentives of marketisation. I am long enough in the tooth to remember life before parental choice, when many schools (other than private schools who were in their own market) didn’t feel obliged only ever to show their best side and people generally took it as axiomatic that schools contained all kinds of youngsters who might or might not be into what school had to offer – though even then it would be a brave headteacher who would have taken an inspector round to the ‘back of the bike sheds’.

    In those days it was too easy for schools to place all the responsibility on the parent, or the child – which was also a distorting perspective – whereas now it feels like the other way round. It seems like the profession have accepted all the responsibility. We don’t expect doctors to keep every patient alive till they reach three score years and ten. No more should we expect all teachers, or every school, to ‘make’ every child into an enthusiastically engaged learner, no matter where they are in their lives that day. Of course, we should expect every teacher to try… and to work constantly at learning and improving their skills and understanding, not least of the individual children in front of them. But trying and success are different things. There are many aspects to the education of young people growing up in a fragmentary social world, of which school experience is only one, and in some of which the class teacher, and the school, have only a limited involvement. Not least of these is the agency of the young person him or herself and the creation of that sense of agency, of the right to individual choice, rather than ‘schooled uniformity’ is part of the balance of democratic agency. For some, that choice is to turn off from a system that constantly says ‘you’re ‘below average’ as a school student’. Individual teachers, and even sometimes headteachers, can and sometimes do mitigate the effects of this system, but the overt and covert ‘ranking’ of academic above all other abilities that is at the heart of our schooling system is often very unbalanced and carries an underlying message that some of your students are more valuable than others. This is something we constantly have to fight against. That’s why I believe we need a national graduation system, in which examination results would play only a limited part, where every young person leaving a Scottish school (or at age 18, if we are looking at age as the determining factor in ‘rite of passage’) would be given a strong social message, ‘well done, you are now a fully participating adult citizen of Scotland/UK/Europe…’:

    To every teacher out there, we need to say, “It’s great that you give yourself a hard time and want to do better, but don’t give yourself such a hard time that you lose sight of what great work you are doing already and the challenges of working as an educator within schools set up the way they are just now!”

    • Thanks for that. I know, I know. But we do celebrate the good stuff so I wanted to just keep myself in check. Very easy to forget those lost children at times. Appreciate your comments,

  2. Thank you for this post (and Danny for your reply). I’ve been teaching for 5 years now and have begun to value the uncertainty that keeps me constantly changing the way I do things, because there are always some kids who just don’t ‘get it’. In my previous life (I was a gardener for 15 years) certainty, or the appearance of it, was essential in winning the confidence of the client, but in teaching I am finding that it not only breeds a kind of impotent dependency in the students (why bother finding anything out when the teacher can just tell you?) and, in colleagues, raises the suspicion that they are glossing over cracks because anything less than certainty is just too difficult to comprehend (of course they may just be privy to answers which have so far eluded me…).

    What keeps the job so fascinating for me is the endless uncertainty – it is this which drives innovation, that makes every lesson in some measure unpredictable and drives me to keep thinking about it long after I should have been relaxing with a good book on a Sunday evening.

    I look forward to reading your further thoughts on this topic.

    • Your comments on uncertainty are spot on. It’s what gets me out of bed in the morning. Sometimes, though, we need to think more of those kids. Their lives are uncertain enough, I would imagine. Thanks for your comment,

  3. I forwarded this on to colleagues, with “the forgotten side of the blogosphere” as the title. One of them gave an interesting reply: don’t forget that great people have evolved from that forgotten side.

    So you shouldn’t beat yourself up, because a) you’re passionate about trying to find ways to engage those students and b) it’s not the end of the world if they don’t get it in your classroom on that particular day/week/year. They might come to understand at their own pace, sometime later. Or they might go on to be perfectly successful people without fully understanding that concept!

    • Of course you’re right but it does rankle sometimes. Onwards and upwards. I do have kids coming back to me a couple of years later saying they enjoyed my class which is often a compete surprise. Thanks for your comment,

  4. Mick Waters referred to those kids who are always trotted out to meet visitors as the ‘Level 5 Mayor meeters’. I loathe that idea about schools… that we hide away those we’d rather not admit to seeing or being seen.
    My own blog is also guilty of trumpeting my own successes, while ignoring the one kid (I’m sure I know who, even though its anonymous) who always tells me he is not making progress out of 30 on survey monkey.
    Ofsted do a good one now. They want to see the 5th child from each register! When we looked down the list, we thought ‘Oops… not the Level 5 Mayor Meeters then?’ They were honest and gave a very true reflection of the school.
    Honesty is always the best policy.

  5. Another great blog post Kenny. The replies too have been enlightening. I have to agree with the idea that we beat ourselves up as a profession too easily and that’s probably what makes the “wanting to share the good stuff” appear so often on blogs, it’s like an affirmation “see, even though we’re (as a profession) under siege (it seems) I CAN still do it! I CAN make a difference” and there’s nothing wrong with that.

    I do, however, take your point about the disenfranchised, the left behind, the middle grounders and the obsession with the LAs/some heads of showing off “their best side” – we do no-one (other than the suits) any favours by ignoring the kids who need us. And that’s all of them.

    Great post, cheers again.

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