There are moments in my life when I have been forced to ask myself big questions. Career choices, getting married, having a baby, having Sam as my baby; all these things have caused me to look again at the assumptions I have, the things I walk into with never a thought for the consequences, the impact it might have in the future. This weekend has been one such time for me.
I gave a talk to my peers last Saturday. I’m still not entirely sure why I was asked. Was it to do with this blog? Was it because I rather cheekily tweeted the organisers and said I’d go if only there were more people talking about things that interested me? The conference was a joint enterprise between two organisations, ResearchEd and the Teacher Development Trust, both of which exist to promote the engagement of teachers with educational research; this isn’t exactly a world with which I am overly familiar, apart from the fact that my life could be a case study.
I have to admit I was more than a bit nervous about the whole thing. I didn’t sleep much. I stayed in a hotel and missed my own pillow (I never do sleep well away from home, but packing for five people – because they all wanted to come along – means that you forget things). My mind was too full of questions, it was too hot (hotels always are), and Sam was up at just about the time I was getting comfy. Would I remember what to say? Would they pick holes in my attempt at research? Would I be laughed out of the room? What was everyone wearing? When I got the programme, there I was, the very last person in the very smallest corner, up against some of the biggest names in the education twittersphere. Would anyone actually come? I began my day feeling my way through considerable brain fog. It’s always the way.
We started off in a very non-threatening school hall, the sort of place in which I’ve spent much of my working life (although, in my case, the primary version), and the speakers were interesting. Some of them were inspiring. I have to admit, though, that I very quickly got to a point when I couldn’t take any more in and what I really wanted to do was find the people I had been corresponding with over the interweb, say hello, and thank them for their continual support of this blog, amongst other things. Being so quiet for so long became a bigger and bigger challenge.
Mary Myatt (an OfSTED inspector) was clear, and reminded me that the daily, reflective practice of the ordinary teacher is research, especially when it is combined with equally reflective colleagues in the staff room. David Cameron (I’d never heard of him before, but I thought nothing ventured, nothing gained) (a very different David Cameron to the Prime Minister!) was entertaining and energetic, relating the choice of which research gets the publicity to the political expediency of the day. Martin Robinson, author, read out a speech. I’m afraid I couldn’t listen to it all, I was feeling the lack of sleep and the lack of chat by that point. I did tweet a quote, though, just to show I was really. I wasn’t sending messages to my friends and waving to people across the room at all, no. I didn’t worry that I was about to be told off by the teacher, not a bit. Not me. Andy Day did a very good job of ignoring my increasing levels of bounce.
Lunch was a free sandwich, the company was lovely, if fleeting, and the following talk, by Jill Berry, a very recently early-retired head teacher who is doing a professional doctorate into the transition from ordinary teacher to head teacher gave me so much to think about. My professional life. Balance. Friendship and taking the long view. I am so glad I have met her, and all the other people who took the time to seek me out and say hello. You know who you are.
And then there was my talk. I got quite interested in a presentation by Debra Kidd on complexity theory, and how this related to the issue of improving standards in reading, but I couldn’t stay til the end, because by five to three I was jumping with nerves. I didn’t want to get lost, or need the loo at the wrong moment. Preparation is all.
I enjoyed it. My audience was small, but receptive; there was lots of nodding and understanding of what I was talking about. There was an acceptance of a challenge to re-interpret the behaviour of parents, particularly those of children with SEN. We may moan, we may be critical, but this means we are fully engaged. We want it to be better. This is a Good Thing.
I would have stayed longer afterwards to chat in the sunshine (thankfully a nice lady who was at my talk walked with me out of the building, because by the time we had finished the place was like the Marie Celeste), but I’d had one of those texts from my lovely husband, you know, the ones that go something like, ‘please come back, like NOW, the children are killing each other and I am hiding in a cupboard’, which is a shame, because it is at these less formal, less sitting down and listening to the teacher sessions that, more often than not, my greatest learning takes place.
The coffee bar and the seminar were my happy places when I was a young undergraduate student. My friend Paul taught me about post structuralism over a series of cheese toasties. The staff room is my place of choice to get to grips with the gritty day-to-day realities of teaching hard-to-reach children. The mother and toddler group was where I picked the group brain on solid food and potty training.
And now, here I sit, surrounded by the ironing I have just done, trying to make sense of it all. Was it worth it? Well, I enjoyed my trip to my beloved city, I enjoyed staying in a posh hotel with its posh breakfasts, I loved meeting the people behind the avi and making new friends, pulling a few legs. Would I do it again? Well, there’s a question. Of that I am not so sure. Money is an issue. Time is an issue, and somewhere, in a little corner of my heart and mind I find there is a question.
When I read this and this (if you are a teacher, please do read these wonderful posts from Ray Wilcockson and Chris Chivers) and I am reminded of my early teaching days, when Mary Myatt, she of top OfSTED inspector fame, tells me that the conversations that seek the wisdom of our more experienced colleagues are where it’s at, when Debra Kidd puts a scientific coat on what I discern with my heart, when I read of schools where staff rooms are too small to contain the staff, when colleagues don’t have time to meet, to talk, because they are on lunch duty, playground duty, rushing from lesson to lesson, gobbling their sandwiches while they make inroads into their next steps marking, I wonder about the Saturday nature of it all.
I pause because I don’t want this thing to be sucked in by the temptations of celebrity, twitter fuelled, but celebrity nonetheless. I’m interested in the next line up of speakers, but I don’t want it to be all the same people, the same ‘big names’ (unless it’s me, obviously!). I want to hear the genuine voices of my profession, those people for whom enabling others to find their feet, to take their place, is second nature. The overwhelming message I took away from the day was that the day to day, reflective teaching we do is our research. We can all ask questions and find out answers. That every teacher, from the most part time to the highest in the land, has a part to play; that we all have something of worth to say.
Thank you, ResearchED/NTEN York, for making me think.
For a list of other blogs, giving more views of the event, please see here.