One of the things I am most excited about with my new job is the chance for me to do new things. Some of the things are the same as things I would do if I was working at school (with less actual cutting things out), and some of them are excitingly new. And one of the things I am most excited about (I try not to bounce too much) is being allowed to go to places. When you work in a school, that’s it. That’s where you go. When you are an intervention teacher, support staff, part time, you don’t even get to go on school trips, not very often, anyway. A course? Don’t be daft.
And last Thursday I did something entirely new. Not only did I go to That London (ok, that’s not new, I am getting used to doing that for work purposes – everyone stands on trains, you know, eyes closed, like sleeping horses, or plugged into some sort of escapist device, so that they can pretend they aren’t really there), but I attended an event that had only, on the surface of it, a very tenuous connection with teaching and learning. And I was allowed to go. I didn’t even have to beg.
It was held in a rather swish place underneath The Guardian offices (there were glass walls and a sort of cafe thing where they sold healthy looking drinks made out of grass – I may be exaggerating, I didn’t stop to stare like the country bumpkin I actually am, I was far too intimidated – and important looking men wearing cords and man bags and women in jersey dresses strode about in clumps being important, and glided up and down the escalators) and it was attended by Creatives. And me. It was about design and disability.
What was interesting about the delegates, apart from the glamorous sounding jobs they do, like TV executive and journalist and comedian and marketing, is, unlike a gathering of teachers, quite how united they were. There was no loud proclamation of woes, no paroxysms of rage at the latest policy decisions, absolutely no uniting whisper of Ofsted, and no argument about inclusion or whether or not it was a good or bad thing or, even, possible, or dead. It was refreshing.
I came away with many things, not least that I wasn’t, perhaps, as big a fish out of water as I first suspected, when I stood in the coffee bit (I don’t drink coffee) and was too scared to speak to anyone. There, gathered in the underbelly of a great glass monster were, indeed, people like me. There were people who were disabled. There were people who loved someone who was disabled; I wondered at one point, when I chatted to my lovely seat-neighbour, who told me that she was there to support one sister and honour the other, how many of us had a close family connection. There were people who wanted to make a difference and who wouldn’t stop until they had.
And despite the talk of markets and commercial sense (I mean, when the disabled population is as big as it is and getting bigger with an ever-aging population – like the woman said, disability will affect us all), words I have heard so little of lately were talked of loud and long. I wrote some of them in my notebook. In capital letters, too.
These things made me think, and think hard, about the difference between us teachers, as a profession, and our creative counterparts in other industries. Because, make no mistake, we are a creative profession, and what’s more, we work at the immediate end, at the doing part, not the planning stage. We like to think that we have the moral high ground. We certainly don’t do what we do for the money (but maybe for the holidays – the holidays are great). But do we truly, do we honestly, as a united profession, accept the world as it is, rather than as we would like it to be?
We might accept, on the face of it, that when you design something well, like a shopping trolley, when you make it good for a disabled person, you make it good for everyone. We might pay lip service to the idea of removing barriers, in the same way that we drop the curb so that not only the wheelchair user but the mother with the overloaded pushchair can cross the road. We might love to have the child with Down’s syndrome in our school because, you know, they are all so loving, so compliant, no trouble at all and doesn’t it make us look good when we are all doing a spot of Makaton in assembly.
But while advertising, and product design, and TV shows and banks might be coming round to the idea that we are a diverse people, and that means more than gender, race or class, and that building something, making something, selling something that works for everyone not only makes commercial sense but is the right thing to do, why are we, the workers at the sharp edge, the team of formers of the next generation, the ones who can’t? Why is it that we can’t seem to design a school, a worksheet, a lesson or, even, a behaviour policy, that works for everyone?
Why is it that, in that film, the Yes You Can film, the one that introduced the Paralympics, that the person, the one person who says, ‘No You Can’t,’ is a teacher? Is that true?
Is that really who we are?