Not as Good as I Thought I Was – It’s Official…sort of.

There is a certain obstinacy in a refusal to change in the face of the facts. Pride gets in the way; a reaffirmation of the the way you’ve always done things takes over. The realisation that perhaps your strongly held beliefs about something which you’ve argued for for years are not so right after all leaves you feeling uneasy. So you emphasise them all the more, louder, drowning out any other possibility, closing your ears. Continuing with those wrongly held views eats away at you until you become bitter and cynical.

The first staff room I ever sat in was filled with experience and cynicism in equal measure. Sure, there were young upstarts like myself who were filled with the hope of a new career but, for the most part, the loud and certain finger waggers sneered their opinions as facts, spilling vinegar and scorn on anyone who dared to oppose them. It is an intimidating bear pit for a young teacher to be thrown into; and one which can deflate an ability to stay enthusiastic and idealistic. I never lost my ability to adapt and change when necessary but it was hard back then.

I recently started a creative writing course. It was with the ludicrous idea that perhaps I’d be quite good at it. I’m not. Go figure. However, those two hours on a Tuesday night for the last two months have given me more than I could have ever expected. I have learned how to be a better teacher of writing. I always thought I was good at it, certainly enjoyed it. Alarm bells started ringing over the last year or two when my senior classes’ Creative Writing was being marked well below my estimation of them. I can’t lie. It was my fault, of course. After fourteen years it was becoming clear that I wasn’t as good as I thought.

It would great if I could write that I took the brave and noble decision to admit my faults and ask for help, resulting in a creative writing course, but it wasn’t like that at all. Purely coincidental, but there is something humbling about facing up to the truth that I could have been better which I have, subsequently, found life-affirming. I now model my teaching of writing on the workshop format of the classes and get stuck into the words my students write, more than the essays. It has rekindled my love of language.

I would never have been able to admit those flaws in that staffroom of old; I would have been laughed out of the room. I found my place in blogging, Pedagoo and Twitter and in the last two and a half years I’ve been able to share success and failure equally. Recently though, I’ve felt a change. When once Twitter was full of optimism and idealism, mixed with energy and a supportive peer group it seems to be turning into that staffroom I experienced all those years ago.

New bloggers are often derided and mocked; openness and honesty criticised; optimism stamped out. Those who once were new bloggers develop an air of the staffroom cynic and sneer with their own certainty and superiority. Looking around the blogosphere (Is it still called that?) I’m not sure if I would have the courage to start now; things have changed.

The opening line of this post certainly applies to me in everything I do in the classroom. But how much does it apply to us all? How can we be certain that everything we do is correct and how much damage could we be doing if we refuse to change?

Two years ago, I wrote a post about what I wanted to achieve in the summer. I became very good at only one of the three things I decided to try. I finish for summer on Wednesday and want to make another vow. This one I’ll keep to myself, but I will return as a better teacher. I have realised that if you don’t change you don’t stay still; you fall behind. I am not as certain of my teaching abilities as I once was and I think that’s what makes me a good teacher.

6 thoughts on “Not as Good as I Thought I Was – It’s Official…sort of.

  1. Pingback: I Am A Sea Kayaker And This Is How I Roll… | musings from the island

  2. I’ve been meaning to reply to this for a few days now as it really covers a lot.

    Firstly, I think the stereotype of old hands resisting change is unhelpful. In my opinion the main thing that makes people cynical about change in schools is that most suggested changes have been tried before. There’s nothing less likely to be new than a “new idea” in education. More importantly, it doesn’t take much to turn the stereotypes around. I think this blogpost describes almost the same attitudes from the opposite perspective:

    Moving on though, what really worried was this bit:

    “New bloggers are often derided and mocked; openness and honesty criticised; optimism stamped out. Those who once were new bloggers develop an air of the staffroom cynic and sneer with their own certainty and superiority. ”

    On the one hand, I sort of think that perhaps this is overdoing it. Blogs are written for a public audience and the in particular the unforgiving audience of the internet. People deserve to have their ideas challenged and if that is something one finds disturbing then blogging might not be one’s best choice of hobby.

    On the other hand, and it is this that concerned me most, the lack of any actual examples of what you meant set off my paranoia. What if you meant me? I don’t want to link to it but some time back there was a blogger I found through your blog who wrote a blogpost I found to be completely wrong-headed. So wrong-headed that I wrote an entire blog in reply attacking the ideas (though not the individual) forcefully. Now I expected a bit of robust debate and was a little surprised when I got what struck me as a concerned acknowledgement in reply. At the time I thought I had, perhaps, been a bit too forthright with somebody who wasn’t used to internet debate. Perhaps we do take it for granted that anyone blogging is ready for an argument, or that if they are not they are probably SMT or consultant types and will censor any disagreement without a second thought. Perhaps I do need to spend more time considering how “up for it” some bloggers are. So thank you for making me think.

    And finally, if I am somebody who deters others from blogging, then I have tried to do my penance. I have put some time into a couple of things recently which I hope will encourage and support other bloggers. So I would like to draw people’s attention to the following:

    1) A blogpost I wrote with advice for new education bloggers:

    2) The Education Echo Chamber: This site is meant to promote good quality education blogging. I will add anybody who asks to the blogroll. Also, I will consider first time bloggers more favourably when it comes to reblogging, so if anyone reading this does have a new blog to publicise please let me know. Also, at the end of each week, if I haven’t reblogged you then you can add your posts to the comments on my end of week round up.

    • Thanks for your comment, Andrew, I do appreciate that you took the time. I’ll try to deal with as many of your points as possible.

      Firstly, while I agree that the stereotype of ‘old hands’ may be unhelpful, I was and am speaking from my own experience and that was to, I suppose, set up the point of the post. The point being that it can be the case that it is wearying to have those ‘old hands’ being relentlessly negative – for whatever reason – in the face of optimism. Whether that optimism is about new ideas wasn’t really the point. I would like to think that my blog is, for the most part, a positive one and, while I have blogged about negativity before, I do so very rarely. I attempt to turn stereotypes around on a daily basis and find it challenging to say the least.

      On your second point, I would wholeheartedly agree that anyone who blogs opens themselves up to challenge. People deserve to be challenged on their opinions, and if they make those opinions public shouldn’t be surprised when that happens. However, that wasn’t really the point I was making. I was expressing the concern that it wasn’t what was being said but the way people were being challenged. We can criticise each other constructively all day long but that criticism steps over the line when it becomes personal. In my experience that has become more implicit, if not explicit, recently. The changing tone was my point.

      Thirdly, I was surprised by your paranoia (your word, and I know you weren’t being serious). I don’t follow you on Twitter and you don’t follow me. I read your posts when they are retweeted, which they generally are, and so much better than mine. I don’t see all of them and I disagree with some. I hadn’t thought about you especially but your comment used the expression ‘attacking the ideas’ of a blogger. Perhaps that word leaves me a bit uncomfortable. I’m all for robust debate but many bloggers use terms like that. The post wasn’t about you at all but perhaps the language you use at times.

      Finally, I think your Echo Chamber project is one of the best things about Twitter. I read some amazing posts on there and know that anything new will be of decent quality. The tweet which describes you as ‘intimidating’ though might make that seem like a paradox. Like Jimmy Conway from ‘Goodfellas’ welcoming you into his playhouse. Your Twitter persona is somewhat different from the welcoming arms of The Echo Chamber

      I aspire to be a blogger in your class, Andrew. My post expressed the notion that, perhaps, Twitter can be an intimidating place to share ideas at times and that we need to be a bit more constructive in our criticism without being personal. This post was never about you but, I suppose, it was worth it for this exchange.

      Thanks again,

  3. Thank you Kenny, if I ever need to define the meaning of a “growth mindset” I’ll know where to look. Thoughtful, reflective and honest – which is a lot more than can be said for a lot of bloggers out there.

  4. Thanks for this, Kenny, which I enjoyed reading and which made me thoughtful, which is what I look for in Twitter posts and blogs!

    I was a teacher for 30 years and a head for the last ten and since I finished as a full-time head I’ve started a doctorate in education. One of the most useful things I’ve learnt from my doctorate experience is that I don’t know as much as I thought I did! I am LESS sure of myself than I think I was when teaching/involved in school leadership, and I find this both humbling and also hugely positive. I’m sure it’s good to revisit and rethink. I’d have been a better teacher and school leader if I’d done more reflecting, and it’s ironic that it’s only now that I feel I have the time and space to do such reflecting. The doctorate is certainly helping by providing a structure to this, and I do far more reading and thinking now, and spend more time on Twitter (about an hour a day, on average, I reckon) than I would have been able to manage when working full-time.

    I haven’t been on Twitter long enough (can’t remember exactly when I started but I know I wasn’t on Twitter last summer) to be aware of any particular shift in mood among the educational community, but one of the things that does strike me is how DEFINITE some educationalists are in their views. I’d describe myself as quite a strong-minded individual but reading tweets, blogs and books on education constantly encourages me to reconsider and review what I think and how I feel about education. I see changing your mind about your views in the face of evidence and after really listening to and thinking about the views and experiences of others as a strength and not a weakness. I suspect others would disagree!

    What do you think?

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