Tag Archives: Social media

Powerless

I remember once trying to explain to my dad what it was like to be a teacher.  It was around the time of the introduction of the Literacy and Numeracy Hours, they had maybe been in full swing for a year or two, and I was young and tired. “It’s like being a hamster on a wheel,” I said, “only it goes faster and faster and faster; it never stops and I can’t get off.”  It wasn’t long before I had thrown in the towel, sinking into years of motherhood and domesticity with the determination (much to R’s despair) never to wear a watch again.  I suppose what I was trying to say, with my clumsy description of a job I enjoyed, but which was wearing me out at the same time, was the strange sense of powerless you experience when you are a classroom teacher.

I’ve found myself caught in the teaching trap many times, before and since that moment.  For all the appearance of consultation, I have been subject to new curricula, testing regimes, changes to school structure, pay and conditions, all of them without my consent.  And, then there are the school-, rather than nation-wide policies. The marking, the planning, the behaviour, the way we do things here, all policed by observations, pop-ins, book and planning scrutinies, the subtle and not so subtle undermining of professional autonomy.  Unless you are higher up the management (sorry Leadership) rungs you have very little chance of influence.

And, of course, the power that the Management holds over you extends even when you leave.  Find yourself on the receiving end of a boss who doesn’t like you, for whatever reason, and, given that they have to write you a reference before you’re even asked to interview, the chances of you walking into a new job if you found yourself in the wrong job are depressing.  You can find yourself in the position of starting from scratch, working your way through the supply list (if it still exists) to give yourself a new start, or calculating just how long it will be before you can hand in your notice, for fear of being trapped til Christmas.  You could, when you think about it, quite easily persuade yourself that you were a victim, as powerless as a fly caught in a spider’s web.

But. And here’s the thing.  I think about the children I have taught over the years. Children who sat, spellbound, as they listened to a story.  Children who gave me leaving cards and cuddles, little notes and gifts, a bookmark, a pen I still have tucked away in a drawer somewhere (the countless mugs with ‘World’s Best Teacher’ and adorned with kittens are presumably in a number of staffrooms I have frequented over the years). Notes from parents, the reply slip for the school report, filled in and resting in the far reaches of my memory. Those moments when I realised that I was the one who stood between joy and tears.

I look on my years of motherhood, the ups and downs the road to school, in and out of favour with the teachers who hold that same old power over my own children.  I think about the power we hold even though we no longer serve our time at the front of class, flowing from our fingertips into the digital world.  I remember the echoes of the power teachers held over me, over my child, their disbelief or belief in him – or me –  making the year – or not.

And I think about how lucky I am that I have friends and colleagues who will tell me the truth.  That when I said what I said, or did what I did, or the way I acted or wrote and indulged myself in my weakness for hyperbole and long, fine sounding words, that I forgot my power. That as well as having the power to help, to heal, to teach, I also have the power to hurt and harm.  That despite my self-perceived helplessness I have a voice – and my voice is heard.

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Handy Tips for Bloggers

 

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time (and even if you haven’t) you will know that I don’t often, if ever, attempt to tell anyone what to do.  This blog is a place for me to reflect upon events that surround me, and contribute to wider discussions I see taking place upon Social Meeja.  However, there was an interesting reaction to my Nurture 15/16 post (where I have, I freely admit, relentlessly focussed on the positive things that have happened this year, who wants to hear about my bad back, after all?), and in particular those connected with this blog, so, in the manner of encouraging wannabe bloggers who feel a bit nervous of putting their toe into the blogosphere, here are the things that have worked for me.

  1. Decide which blogging platform you want to use. When I started this one, I wanted it to look a particular way.  I also wanted it to be easy to do (I am not overly techie) and I wanted it to be free.  I like WordPress for all of these things, but there are others.  I discovered that the blogging sites have communities, and these can be really helpful.
  2. Do a bit of reading around your chosen platform. When I signed up to WordPress, I followed the links to all of their newbie advice.  It was all a bit intimidating when I realised quite what a big world it is, but, as I write about children (and my own children in particular) I persevered and took their advice very much on board.  If you write about children I would strongly recommend that you do this too – before you publish anything.
  3. Think about what you want to call your blog. I originally thought up the title years ago, when I was thinking of writing it as a book.  I couldn’t quite marry up the blog address with the blog name, but never mind.  I’m not a total perfectionist.  I started off by using my own name as the web address – which I felt was a mistake, so I changed it.  (There’s loads of musings and ramblings around, so you might want to avoid them as potential titles.)
  4. Think about what you want to write about. I thought about this really carefully when I started, and settled on three main themes: Down’s syndrome, parenting (in particular the experience of mothers) and education, and the interconnections between them.  The education bit took over a bit (!), but I’ve been really strict and stuck to like glue to my starting principles.  I realised pretty quickly that there are about a million Down’s syndrome parenting blogs, and the teacher blogging world is equally huge – I didn’t want to be just another little fish in the big wide ocean, so I thought carefully about what I could uniquely add to the discussions.  What did I have to say that other people might want to read about (or, in sales-speak, what is my USP)?
  5. Think about your principles in blogging. Some people blog commercially and promote/review products on their blogs.  I felt really uncomfortable with that (and am no doubt a huge disappointment to people who supply such things), so I don’t.  People also tell me about SEO, but, for me, my blog is about the writing, and I don’t want to compromise my artistic choices, if you know what I mean, and if that doesn’t sound unbearably pretentious. Don’t tell lies.
  6. Decide on a schedule. I decided to write weekly, and I still just about manage to stick to that.  I was discussing this with my friend Jack – as his other writing commitments have grown, so the regularity of his blogs have changed, and it’s the same for me.  When I started I had ideas falling off my fingertips – now that I’m writing more for other people, I need to honour those commitments.  When I’m really busy I can’t blog, so I have had to learn to forgive myself for that  – and hope that my readers do too.
  7. Decide how long your posts are going to be. This is a bit of a monster.  I don’t usually like posts to be as long as this!  I tend to favour stories, but sometimes poems pop out, or letters.  Don’t be afraid to do something different.
  8. Decide on how you want to publicise your blog. Most of my readers come from Twitter, which I really enjoy.  I could have joined Mumsnet or Tots100 or Britmums, but I was a bit intimidated, worried about the reaction I would have as a teacher.  I have a Facebook page for my blog so that I can separate out my blog from a platform I essentially use for keeping up with friends and family (who have generally heard me going on and on before, and don’t necessarily want to read it on my blog).  You can use Facebook to build up your own communities, but I like Twitter for that, and I haven’t got all the time in the world to devote to it.  There’s Pintrest too, and Instagram…publicising and working on your blog can become a full time occupation if you’re not careful.
  9. Don’t worry about the stats. I love seeing which posts go well, and which ones die a fast death, but I don’t let it consume me.  I’m happy when anyone reads this blog.  I’m not prepared to put any old rubbish on here, just so that the stats look better.  I’ve got something to say and I want people to read to the end, not just click and then click away.  Make it easy for readers to follow you, so use the sharing add-ons if your chosen blogging site has them.
  10. Think about your readers. Who are you writing for?  I reckon I have a specific audience, mostly teachers and people with an interest in SEND – and lots of parents too.  I try to make what I write accessible to them.  For me personally, I generally start with an idea that I want to get across, and then I spend some time thinking about how I am going to do that.   I write it out on the computer (or by hand if I have to), generally on one day, and then edit the next, put it on the blog and then read it aloud.  That way I can really think about what I have written, and hopefully not publish too many mistakes (you can always tell if I haven’t gone through this process).  It also gives me a chance to think about whether what I have written will cause any harm, in particular to my subjects.  I have people I turn to if I am really not sure, and they have been happy to read a potential post for me and make suggestions.  Sometimes I have binned the post and gone back to the drawing board.

 

So that’s about it.  I hope that’s helpful.  I’ll end with that Virginia Woolf quote again – because letting voices that are not ordinarily heard is important, and that voice might be yours.

“So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say. But to sacrifice a hair of the head of your vision, a shade of its colour, in deference to some Headmaster with a silver pot in his hand or to some professor with a measuring-rod up his sleeve, is the most abject treachery, and the sacrifice of wealth and chastity which used to be said to be the greatest of human disasters, a mere flea-bite in comparison.”
― Virginia WoolfA Room of One’s Own

 

Never Ending Laundry

Last week’s women ed conference has been on my mind.  Not in totally the best way, mind you.  It has been lurking there, tapping me on the shoulder and engendering a vague feeling of guilt at the back of my mind.  I promised I would write about it, you see, and I find that these things have more power, they contribute more to a sense of the now, especially on social media, if you can get your thoughts out there straight away.

So here’s the thing.  It is only now, a week since I waved goodbye to my internet chums that I am finally sitting down at the computer.  I have a long leggy creature (my daughter) cuddling up next to me, ever ready to start moaning that I am not paying her enough attention or to ask me some sort of hard, thought-derailing question, so I had better be quick.

It’s not for want of trying, this lack of typing.  It’s not because questions and reflections haven’t been rattling around my head in the aftermath of a long day out.  It’s that the aftermath has been somewhat, what you might call, large.

I’ve had three children to placate (where have you beeeeeeen?).  I’ve had a husband to converse with (please turn that off and talk to me).  I’ve had a mountain of housework with which to deal (you cannot leave me any more, it’s been six weeks since I was last dusted), and a real job, with real children who ask real questions from the philosophical to the mundane (What’s your real name, Miss?  Does everyone die?).  I’ve had a two part assignment to complete and hand in (check)(senco course, if you’re interested, a little project on reading practice and an impact statement).  It’s been busy and I am, I admit, a one-at-a-time kind of girl.

So what did I think of it all?

Well, I’m not sorry that I stood up for myself and my fellow teachers when I defended their feeling that if they are being a great mum then they aren’t being a great teacher and vice versa.  We just don’t get paid enough, whether we work part time or not, to pay for the kind of child care that allows us to be both.  Especially if we have partners who work long hours too.  That’s how it is for the classroom teacher.

I’m still a little disappointed that there were only two men there, and they weren’t teachers; but I take my husband’s point that I wouldn’t have found a ‘men leaders in education’ conference a particularly big draw (and I am enormously proud of him that, when he went to a mathematics conference last week he called the organisers of the pre-event dinner on the fact that there were no women there at all – they went red, apparently).

I’m chuffed to have met people I now call my friends.  I’m not ashamed of the tear that leaked from the corner of my eye when Sue Cowley spoke of the hardness that is being a woman, and a mother right now.  The pulling of every which way.

And, as I sit here, squashed into the corner of the sofa by a daughter who will, if I am unlucky, start tapping on my keys and making a mess of my sentences, I find that I am left with more questions than answers.  I feel, if not discombobulated, then uncomfortable.

Is leadership of a school something I want?  While I agree that it is a continuing injustice that the majority of head teachers, despite it being a hugely female profession, are men; while I am astounded in one sense, but tiredly sad in another, that the committees that report to the centre of power are also dominated by men (in suits), and not even men that spend the majority of their time in the classroom, I am not sure that ‘aspiring to leadership’ is the answer – well, not for me, anyway.

There was a lot of talk at the conference about being braver, about going for what you want and grasping it with both hands.  There was a real sense that day, of doing something that was important, both personally and professionally.  At my little workshop there was talk of a multiplicity of femininity – an overt acceptance that we are not all the same, and that our expressions of woman, of mother, of teacher, are necessarily different.

When I got home, I sat with R, and we watched the Blues Brothers and I thought about what really mattered to me, the things that make my heart sing.  I thought about music and writing, about my family, old(er) and young.  My faith.

I was talking to one of my young colleagues about the conference before I went.  He would like to be a head teacher.  He wants to be in charge one day.  He asked my advice on what I thought he needed to be able to do to make it happen.  I thought about all the things you have to do as an educational leader.  The meetings.  (Too chatty).  The feedback.  (Too friendly.)  The data.  (Yawn.)  The giving of your life over to the school.  And in that moment I realised that ‘leadership’ as a goal isn’t for me.

I’m more than happy to be the person who asks the awkward questions.  I want to shine a light into the dark places; to make people think.  I love to plant the seed of an idea in someone else and watch it grow.  To see friendships made and futures changed.  I don’t care if I do this for children (straightforward) or adults (tricky).

But I don’t do it because I want to be a leader.  That’s not my goal at all.  My goal is something entirely different.  My goal is change.

And now I must get back to the laundry.

Of all the things I saw, this is the thing that struck me. Talk yes, but don't forget to act.
Of all the things I saw, this is the thing that struck me. Talk yes, but don’t forget to act.