Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Journey

I had to write about them really.

The main reason is that their journey has been my journey too.

I remember when I first started teaching. The lessons I prepared. The lessons that were observed. The mistakes I made. The inappropriate things I said. The inexperienced approach. The struggles. The trials.

So it was for them too.

They were in Year 9. I was a naive 27-year-old. Teaching was new to me. Being a teenager was new to them.

And now they are men...of sorts anyway!

This is why I'm going to miss this particular year in a different way to all the others: the observation and experience of their progression. For example, there is one boy I taught for five consecutive years from Key Stage 3 Geography to GCSE Business to A-Level Business.

There is something incredibly satisfying about contributing to someone's progress in this way. It's the reason (that gets forgotten all too quickly) why I became a teacher.

They should also know that they contributed to me in their way too.

For this I am truly grateful.

I like to think they'll remember me too.

Actually - not so much remember me, as remember something I taught them.

May they go on to live their lives as they want and make cool things happen.


Sunday, May 17, 2009

Past, Present, Future

Who controls the past now controls the future
Who controls the present now controls the past

Who controls the past now controls the future

Who controls the present now?

- Rage Against the Machine, Testify

This is also a quote from George Orwell's 1984.

I've always thought it's something about the nature of the mass media being used to control the people.

But it works on a deeper level too - perhaps about the nature of time.

This past (!) week I've been thinking about how the future influences me now. That, and the power of our thoughts to effect change on an individual level, and beyond.

I'm not sure what the nature of time actually is...I mean just because perceive it as past, present and future doesn't mean it is. Stuff I've read and heard it described as 'it's all happening right now'. All there is, is the 'eternal moment of now' or something like that.

This idea is showing up around my job. Well kind of.

For quite a while, I've been looking at my future in my job. The particular direction I'd like to go, what my potential career path might be etc. In teaching, there's usually two ways you can go: the Head of Department route or the Head of Year route (from there on it's a bit like Deputy Head and Head).

Of course there's no such thing as the 'right' career path and mine has definitely been eventful...

But the future seems to have an effect on what I'm doing in the present. (For some of those who know me, this is not a particularly revolutionary idea). I mean if I know where I'm going it makes the journey a lot easier.

So I'm vague about my future - does that really matter? What effect does that have on me now?

I got some feedback when I had my appraisal (In teaching the only way to judge the effectiveness of a teacher is to watch them). I kinda knew what was coming (I'm a reflective practitioner don't you know!) so it wasn't a complete surprise, but I don't always find it easy being judged.

So the point was, my lessons lose focus. I'm clear about what I want to achieve, I do something relevant but then don't tie it together to end with. Planning a lesson is like a story - beginning, middle and end.

It's not something I'm totally unaware of, but at the same time, it's not something I've always been willing to confront. Don't get me wrong though - the pupils still learn, it's just not as effective as it could be...and I want to be the best right?

But there's a more subtle thing going on here. I started to join the dots and think about all the stuff I've read, experienced and learned.

Me being unclear about my general career direction is impacting my lessons now.*

Stephen Covey
in his famous book talks about 'beginning with the end in mind'. As far as my career goes, I haven't been doing this. OK fair enough. But then, this is also how my everyday teaching is coming across...

Hmm...seems like I've got some creating and working out to do.

Taking it further, I know I want to be a teacher for the rest of my working days (yeah yeah ok it's true!) Getting out of bed to go to work is not generally a problem for me. On the whole I enjoy my job.

But direction?

If I'm clear about the future of my career, then the everyday teaching takes care of itself.

Fair enough then. What can I do about it?

Well that's where the present comes in...if I'm going to change the future, it's all about what I do now right?

My favourite analogy on this, is about one of those oil tankers. They're absolutely huge and take an enormous amount of power to get moving, but once it's up and running it's ok. Now apparently, directions are really important for these tankers because they're not very manoeuvrable. Once it's on course, it's difficult to change direction quickly. A tiny miscalculation on departure, can have big consequences on arrival...

In other words, getting the appropriate career direction in the present is going to affect where I end up...

OK fine. But what now?

The big question - what do I want to create? And I've got a lot of nonsense in my head telling me 'I can't...it's not possible...that's ridiculous...' etc. etc. All those thoughts swirling around my head. Wonderful.

But I can change that right? Just by changing my thoughts?

Is it that easy?

I suppose we've been 'told' how to think: religion, the media, parents, culture blah blah blah.

Changing thoughts isn't meant to be that difficult - if we can think all this negative stuff can't I think some positive stuff? Where does all the negative stuff come from anyway? And how come that's the default way of thinking?

Lots of the stuff I've read talks about this. Someone I know has been working on their thoughts and resetting the defaults. No mean feat. I feel it becomes a habit to think negatively - so why not create a habit to think positively?

Developing habits is a tough one. I've heard that if you do something 28 times on a regular basis, it becomes a habit. But the negative thoughts I've had, have been going on for years...it'll take some reprogramming...

Being responsible for my thoughts in the present is the start. Altering them moment by moment is the next step...and then that will create a different future. If I think about what I want to achieve as a teacher and clarify where I want to go, my lessons will start to change.

I control the present, future and past. All at the same time.

All I can change is what I'm experiencing right now - that's all I can be responsible for. Moment, by moment, by moment...

It is now safe for me to take charge of my own life. I choose to be free.

Now this slightly convoluted stream-of-consciousness post is only a view. It's only a way of looking at something. It's not the truth. It's a mish-mash of ideas, stuff I've read, thought about and experienced. There may be other ways of understanding how past present and future interact. Let me know.


* Of course there are other reasons for my teaching being the way it is, but that's the topic for another post...see Reasons for (my lessons) Losing Focus

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Having a Blog...

...allows me to express myself.

I give free rein to my opinions, thoughts, aspirations and creativity.

I use my blog to comment on everything I experience, and it's interesting that I've felt the need to qualify and analyse my own writing,

The 25 Things I Don't Want To Know About You and its sister post 25 Things About Me are me expressing the way social networking is making a misnomer of real friendship and humanity.

It's also a comment on the effects of technology.

I do think the internet is a wonderful thing, as is technology in general, but the addiction to hyper-reality sucks us away from just hanging around people. Technology has the ability to lift us up, but as a few sci-fi authors have hinted - our technological development is outstripping our spiritual development. It's been suggested that this disparity is causing a lot of our global problems.

Just because we can, doesn't mean we have to.

Perhaps Ben in Spider-Man said it best: "With great power comes great responsibility".

Or maybe Austin Powers: "Right now we've got freedom and responsibility. It's a very groovy time".

Oh, and please note: my original 25 Things About Me post contained only one fact about me...


It highlighted pretty quickly how well people knew me and my sense of humour...

PS. I'm writing a pretty much a post a week...so flip through the archives and there's a fair few bits and pieces - not all so umm...angry!

PPS Reply to the original 25 Things About Me post and guess which one is true...and spot the other deliberate mistakes...

Thursday, May 07, 2009

25 Things I Don't Want To Know About You

So this is from a ubiquitous social networking site...25 random things, facts, habits, or goals I don't want to know about you. I was originally 'tagged' in someone's 'note'...which means I'm supposed to respond with my 25 things.

So here's what I don't want to know about you.

1. How many times you've been in love.
If you're not in love now, no-one gives a shit. If you've never been in love, no-one gives a shit. Grow up. Get on with your life.

2. How your childhood was.
No it's not funny, or nostalgic or in any way interesting to man woman or beast. Everyone was a child. Everyone was happy, and shit happened. It's now in the past. Move on.

3. How wonderful your parents were.
Unless you're still a teenager, you should have matured enough to realise they did the best they could, with the knowledge and resources they had. That of course doesn't necessarily make them wonderful - but you say they're wonderful to show you don't have any issues.

4. How horrible your parents were.
Unless you're still a teenager, you should have matured enough to realise they did the best they could, with the knowledge and resources they had. That of course doesn't necessarily make them horrible - but you say they're horrible to show you have lots of issues and need help.

5. Who your heroes are.
Why broadcast this? Oh purely to make yourself look good to everyone - of course! Everyone loves someone who's hero is David Beckham, Gandhi, or the Dalai Lama. The thing is, so few people can be funny or original - it just comes off as fake.

6. Your taste in music.
There's only good music and bad music. And even then, it's completely subjective...and most probably influenced by what you hear in the mass media...so not even remotely worth listening to. This is especially true if you're a music critic.

6. Your taste in food.
As above. (Note: especially true if you're a food critic).

6. What your dreams are.
Look unless you're putting your dream out there for people to support you in achieving it, and you're serious about it - you're just spouting hot air. Best to shut up.

7. How you eat your food.
How the fuck can this be interesting for anyone? Jelly babies, wine gums, lunches, sandwiches, mum's home-cooked meal and all that...it's just there to be enjoyed.

8. Some vaguely embarrassing incident that happened when you were a child.
The sad thing about this is that it reveals more about your behaviour now than you realise. Stop telling everyone about it and save yourself looking like a prick.

9. That you actually watch Pop Idol/ X-Factor/ Britain's Got Talent/ Big Brother/ Dancing on Ice etc. and you've phoned up one of the shows.
Now please go and give yourself a frontal lobotomy. Oh wait - you've done that already.

10. Who your first childhood crush was.
See number 8.

11. That you're actually quite geeky.
What you really mean is, you're actually quite intelligent and not a total fuckwit. But you're really afraid of being thought of as a total geek. That's because all 'intelligent' people are socially inept and 'uncool'.

12. Your annoying habits.
Surely this is self-explanatory? Why the fuck would I want to know something about you that is annoying? Moreover - why would you tell a load of friends?

13. Anything to do with the "Three Things You Should Never Talk About" - that's Sex, Politics, and Religion.
You risk of alienating people on the one hand...on the other, you get to be 'controversial' and 'non-conformist'...but really you just want to look like you have an opinion - when you don't know fuck all.

14. How many friends you have on "a-n-other-socialnetworkingsite" .
Oh sorry I forgot it's a popularity contest, and you really do know all those 'friends' don't you?

15. Some vague bodily affliction.
For fuck's sake - I don't give a shit if you always get verrucas, shave your eyebrows or wax your hairy back. Don't fucking tell me stuff that REALLY should remain private. I don't need images like that floating around my head keeping me awake at night.

16. Corrective surgery you had.
So you're actually deformed then? What are you inbred?

17. Some really obvious fact everyone knows. Except that you: i) only found out about recently, ii) keep forgetting or iii) need to keep reminding yourself about.
How do I say this? You. Are. Fucking. Dumb.

18. Some strange or special talent you have.
OK - how do I say this one? You. Are. Fucking. Weird.

19. If you're male - that you like a chick-flick or if you're female - that you love action movies.
Yeah alright - we know you're only doing it to appeal to the opposite sex. A bit like "Attention Ladies - I enjoy Grey's Anatomy". Whatever.

20. A Controversial Opinion.
In a way, this relates to
"Three Things You Should Never Talk About" except usually the "Controversial Opinion" is either about something mundane, or it's just a contradiction to 'the norm'. Whatever it is, it's usually a way for the person to seem like they're interesting - when they're really not. Often expressed (as someone close to me says) as Being Controversial For The Sake Of Being Controversial. Fuck off, do some research and get some real opinions.

21. Super-duper, Super-Clever, Postmodern-Ironic-Honesty. (e.g.
I'm writing this 25 Things About Me list for attention and sympathy).
It's a double-bluff - they want the attention and sympathy, but think they're being humorous and 'cool' by meta-commenting on it. In reality they're in serious danger of disappearing up their own backside. Or having someone jam them up there. No-one likes people who think they know-it-all...but actually don't.

22. Using words of five syllables or more on a website.
Talk about making yourself difficult to understand. People reading stuff on-screen means their eyes are more likely to tire. Using long words means their eyes are more likely to close. And of course what you're saying will get completely lost. Especially to the vast (stupid) majority of people (can you even think of a word with five syllables or more - let alone get it into a sentence?)

23. Some stupidly tenuous and pointless link with a vaguely famous person (i.e. a claim to fame).
The cult of celebrity is one of the biggest problems with society today. Everyone wants their 15 minutes of fame. People famous for being famous? No-one without the afore-mentioned frontal lobotomy gives a fuck about people like that. What makes you think I'd be interested in how you met/ are linked to a nobody? Meeting a genuine hero (e.g. Mandela, Dalai Lama etc.) might be a bit different, but would most likely be a humbling and authentic experience...and humanity could do with a whole lot more humble pie and authenticity...

24. What you did last night/ summer/ year/ winter/ holiday.
Boring. Boooorrrrrrrrrrriiiiiing.
When someone writes something like this on their list - they're running out of things to say. Reading what they write is like looking through someone-you-hardly-know's holiday photos (oh wait you do that on myface anyway...silly me).

25. When you last cried or what makes you cry.
Attention-seeking at its most crude. And if it's a male - a blatant attempt to appear sensitive and thereby more fuckable.

25. Blatant lies.
The simplest form of attention-seeking. On a list like this - designed either to get a laugh (unlikely) or make the person seem clever (highly unlikely). Yet society values people who can spout a good line in bullshit: politicians, priests, celebrities and sports-people all spring to mind. I'm sure there are more (teachers perhaps?)

So there you have it.

Interestingly, these 25(?) things can all be summed up as an attempt to look good to everyone.

The even greater thing is - my wildly creative, humorous, forward-thinking, zeitgeist-challenging post is just that - an attempt to make myself look good to everyone who reads this blog.

Am I part of the problem?

PS This post relates to my earlier 25 Things About Me Post in April..

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

One Hundred Push Ups-Update 5

I've finally completed week 5.

Tomorrow I start week 6.

I'm able to do more press-ups than I could ever do before.

I'm getting closer to that 100...

Wish me luck.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Being a Teenager

You never quite know what a particular week is going to throw up on you.

I don't know if my profession makes me more susceptible to the influence of television or a particular craze (be it yo-yos, playing rock paper scissors or links to obscure websites [infoslash.net anyone?]) or if it's just my personality.

Perhaps I'm just hip and trendy. I've got my ear to the ground on what's 'in'. Maybe I could become a 'coolspotter' or even better a 'futurologist'.

Maybe I'm just 'down with the kids'.

Whatever it is, one particular part of being a teacher (I think) is understanding the world of a teenager. I don't mean trying to hold on to my youth (although being around young people undoubtedly keeps me young), I just mean an awareness. A willingness not to bury and forget what that world was like. Not because I particularly liked my teenage years, but more out of a commitment to be good teacher.

I'm not sure why else I bother.

Sometimes though, things happen outside the normal confines of a lesson in a classroom. Perhaps the syllabuses and the subjects can only take our young people so far. What can really prepare our youth for the world beyond school?

Just having a sensible conversation with a two of my year 12 boys seemed to have an effect. Well at least I think it did. It was just a straight authentic up-front conversation about life, how they feel things are going, their own hopes and ambitions for the future etc. etc.

I think those moments are rare.

There's a lot of pressure on people to behave a particular way in different situations. Part of the a-level psychology syllabus explores this: there's a whole section on social influence. The stuff that: keeps us in line, means people are more scared of public speaking that death, and stops us from questioning everything around us.

Sometimes I feel school beats the natural curiosity out of young people.

So when those rare moments of authentic conversation open up they need to be nurtured. They make the job of a teacher interesting. They rely on the humanity of the teacher.

They are real opportunities to effect some positive change.

Beyond the syllabus.

Outside the borders of a blank piece of paper.

Inevitably, they happen outside timetabled lessons.

So there I was on Thursday late afternoon/ early evening having such a conversation with two Year 12s. They were talking and sharing how hard it was to study; to choose a path for their future; to keep focused; to please everyone. It was an open and frank discussion about how to deal with their lives practically.

So I told them the secret to life (as I've read and heard everywhere since I first started questioning consciously when I was about 20-21): make promises and keep them, and if you're not going to keep a promise let the person know and recommit.

That's just the beginning because the next question is - how do I know what promises to make and keep? Sure enough that topic came up in the conversation.

So I told them to give themselves a future, a goal, a problem worth having.

They found this hard because they are afraid.

Afraid to dream and create and really go for something because they might fail. They don't want to commit themselves in case it all goes wrong - because that's all that's ever happened before.

I heard it expressed to me like this (and I use this analogy with my pupils).

Imagine a nice, warm, clean swimming pool. The water looks great, and it looks like it would be wonderful to swim in. That pool represents my classes at the beginning of the year. It's an open pool of clear dreams, ideas and creativity.

Each time one of them forgets a homework, doesn't come to a lesson properly dressed, or I don't mark a homework by when I said I would - that's like dropping a soft warm poo in the swimming pool.

Of course by the half-term the swimming pool has all sorts of poo in it: from new floaters, to turds that are caked onto the bottom that would require a bit of scraping off.

The two Year 12s I was talking to completely understood what I was talking about (one of them knew all about my 'poo-in-the-pool' analogy). I told them one of the best ways to get back in touch with the creativity and reasons for doing what they're doing is to start cleaning up their swimming pools by making a list of all the poo.

Again they got the idea pretty quick - and mentioned the concept of a Karma List...much like My Name is Earl (what a brilliant show to illustrate such a simple spiritual point...'love your neighbour as yourself').

Of course the swimming pool analogy can be used for the whole of one's life - not just school.

So one of them is going to do a Karma List...I'll be interested to see if he's done anything about it tomorrow...(the whole conversation had some effect because I found out from a Year 13 that one of them had changed his facebook status mentioning what we'd talked about...)

These conversations with one's teachers are rare. I don't think the rules of the playground have changed that much...have they? Was it really so different when I was their age? It can't have been. Did anyone know what they wanted to do when they were 17? (Apart from one of my friends who knew he wanted to be an accountant in Year 12, went on to study it at university, qualified and is now in middle management...please bear in mind this person did not see any Star Wars film until he was 21 - no I'm not joking).

And guess what - my questions were answered in true early-21st-century-popular-culture style.

By a television programme.

I found my answers by discovering The Inbetweeners this week.

Oh my gosh. A true revelation.

I'd heard rumblings about this programme from the boys and from a couple of teachers. I had the luck to manage to cram viewing of all the first season and all the second season in two days over the weekend (thanks to the my brother-in-law's subscription to cable and the internet).

I haven't ever seen such a well-observed, look at teenage life. Where Kidulthood and Skins are the edgy, risk-taking, art-imitating-life-imitating-art, serious look at the serious issues of being young, the Inbetweeners is just fucking hilarious (whilst also being edgy, risk-taking, and art-imitating-life-imitating-art).

There's no way the series could have been created without being grounded in some kind of reality. I get the distinct feeling the writers either directly experienced or built on their own experiences of being teenagers.



The world around us keeps changing - technology, crazes, what's 'in' and what's 'out', or whatever the fuck is being rammed down our throats by the establishment.

But being young and being human hasn't...