Gulp! Five Years On…

Back in the day, my first opportunity to have my writing in print came in the highly regarded, award-winning match day magazine -programme to you and me – of the great Partick Thistle. Fortnightly, more or less, for about six years, you could read about my childhood memories of watching my team, or ponder over the creative ways I could liken that week’s political events to the experience of being a Thistle supporter. All good things come to an end though. And my page had to come to an end too. I’d written about every memory, every experience, every possible thing I could. I stopped because I couldn’t possibly continue to force things on to the page. Better to let someone else have a go.

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From then on I concentrated on teaching. I began blogging exactly five years ago – Gulp – with the intention not of sharing my thoughts, but of expressing them in a way in which I could formulate and clarify my own ideas. While I was on Twitter, I hadn’t thought of the links between that and blogging, or how they could complement each other. What I did discover was that there was a whole new world of people who had things to say and things to share. Our school context didn’t cater for that. I wanted to write but hadn’t factored in the CPD possibilities.

I’m a much better teacher than I was five years ago so I suppose the blog title is an appropriate one. I’ve connected with hundreds of great people, many have become good friends. Blogging has opened doors for me that nothing else in my professional life has come close to. I’ve been invited to write articles for many other publications, been invited to speak at all sorts of conferences and Teachmeets. However, like my days as contributor to the Partick Thistle programme, I am coming to the end of the line with this. I’ve said as much as I have to say.

I’ve never wanted to be a ‘big-hitter’ on Twitter or anywhere else. I’ve never really wanted to leave the classroom. I’ve never really wanted to be seen as an expert in anything. My work with Pedagoo intended to be a way to get teachers talking in a way they’d never done before. We do that and continue to do so. I truly believe that the educational landscape is beginning to change in Scotland and we are a part of that. There are discussions going on in staffrooms – not all but many – which may never have happened before. I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved.

So 2016? I have two huge events happening in my life this year: one personal, one professional. Potentially game changing in many ways. But I think my blogging days may be coming to an end. I’d like to move into more creative writing – something I’ve done more of recently -so may mix my educational thoughts with that. So this is no big ‘I’m off. So long, and thanks’ speech. I may still blog occasionally. It’s just a realisation that I’ve come a long way in five years and I’m maybe ready to move on to something else. Blogging is a blast and, should you be considering it, get going. Be proud of it. I know I am.

On Being Too Hard On Yourself

“It is the most shattering experience of a young man’s life when he awakes and quite reasonably says to himself: ‘ I will never play the Dane.’ When that moment comes, one’s ambition ceases.”

Monty, Withnail And I (1987)

I suppose I shouldn’t have been updating my GTCS Professional Update record and self-reflecting at the same time as teaching Hamlet’s ‘Oh what a rogue and peasant slave am I!’ soliloquy. While Hamlet contrasts his own weaknesses with that of the travelling actors, he is burning with remorse and regret about what he has not yet done in his life. That recognition of plans not yet achieved hits hard and reminds me of the empathetic nature of studying great literature. But, for me as a teacher,  when does self-reflection become self-reproach?

I don’t have any issues with self-reflection. Indeed if any reflection is going to be done, I can be quite selfish about it. The new GTCS professional update asks you to comment or reflect on every entry you make. What was the impact of that Powerpoint presentation you just sat through? How will you use that new fangled technique someone in a suit just told you all about? The possibilities for creative writing are endless. However, the problems occur when, like Hamlet, you try to compare yourself to some perceived ideal and it drives you a little bit mad.

Being a perfectionist, whenever I reflect on lessons I invariably end up disappointed. Something could always have been done better. Never mind providing me with a starting point for future lessons, I end up with a feeling of regret at another missed opportunity. It’s a bit like that feeling you get half way through your year when you realise that, inevitably, things haven’t quite gone as planned. They very rarely do. Sometimes it’s better not to look too closely. Writing down can be worse. As Holden says at the end of ‘The Catcher in the Rye’:  It’s funny. Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.’

Hamlet’s introspection and procrastination lead to disaster in the play. Perhaps there’s something in that; the dangers of becoming so self-reflective that you create a fear of imperfection or change. If you are not the optimistic bright light in the staff room then a bit of chin scratching might not be the best thing for you. It doesn’t mean you have no ambition. You may just have different ways of dealing with your thoughts.

Regrets have been on my mind  this week ever since hearing Sir Anthony Selden quote Thoreau in a speech. ‘Most people live lives of quiet desperation: they go to their graves with their songs inside them.’  Very few of us get to play the Dane, even metaphorically. The greatest role of all; the great actor’s dream. Perhaps we were not meant to. But, then again, given the choice I’m sure Hamlet himself might have passed.