Friday, 5 April 2013

E is for Education

With Mum & Dad on my graduation
from the Post-Grad Diploma in
Post-Compulsory Education
With two teachers for parents, I had always sworn I would never become one myself. Partly through pathetic rebellion, and partly from seeing first hand the stress, long working hours and dedication required by their roles, I was set that it would not be the path for me.

Fast-forward to me, aged 34 and I’ve now been teaching for 10 years. Having followed my ambition to become a journalist and finding it far from rewarding, I hesitantly decided to try some part-time teaching in further education. Just to keep me going. Just to tide me over.

The first time I stood up in front of a group and attempted to teach was actually during a job interview at a Further Education college in Stratford-Upon-Avon. I spent the night before trying to concoct something meaningful that I could do with 20 learners within 15 minutes. It was the most nerve-wracking part of quite a gruelling day of interviews, tests and meetings. However, the minute I stood up there and began to talk to those young people, something clicked within me. Something was suddenly right. It really was one of those ‘lightbulb moments’ that you hear about but never imagine would happen to you. They were a forgiving bunch of students, but they laughed at my jokes, answered my questions thoughtfully and joined in with enthusiasm. Those 15 minutes flew by and I walked out of that room knowing that, rebellion or no, I was a teacher. It just felt right in way nothing else had done. Maybe it is in the blood after all?

My first proper tutor group - during their final show.
During my teaching career, I have seen the true power that Further Education can have. I’ve worked with confident, bright and able learners who have needed a little guidance as they fly through A-Levels to get to University. I’ve worked with students with learning difficulties who have spent their lives being told they are stupid, only to discover an amazing flair for photography or design and been able to support them and help them to achieve. I’ve had the privilege of being part of many people’s lives at what can be a tumultuous, stressful, exciting and emotional time. Further Education is life changing. It offers people the chance to experience new things, expand their knowledge and understanding, access new careers or educational opportunities and develop their self-confidence and self-worth. To see people go on from your classroom or workshop and succeed, in whatever way they choose, is just wonderful!

You never quite know what you
will find in the classroom!
I can’t pretend working in FE is easy or constantly rewarding or that you always feel like you are ‘making a difference’ or ‘giving something back’ or any of that trite nonsense. However, you do get to work with some of the most interesting, surprising, challenging and, often, hilarious people you will ever meet – students. The politics (with a lower case ‘p’) within colleges is tedious, as I’m sure it is in any big organisations, and the responsibilities that go along with that of Educator grow by the day. But, for the majority of the time, spending time in the classroom, teaching young people is one of the most enjoyable professions I think there is. I’ve recently completed my Masters in Post-Compulsory Education and Training. Having the opportunity to study the sector in such an in-depth way and get to the heart of contemporary thinking on the nature of education was exciting and fulfilling and will, hopefully, develop further my ability to help my students learn.

With Claire and Michael,  who had
their film about AIDS screened
in the city centre: link
However, there are big changes afoot in education and I, for one, can only see the proposed shifts as harmful and destructive to the great work done by teachers across the country. At every turn, the Education Minister, Michael Gove, seems keen to attack the ‘Marxist’ teachers who he claims are ‘actively trying to prevent millions of our poorest children getting the education they need’ (of course, because Marxists hate poor people, don’t they Michael?) This man, who has no teaching experience of his own, has taken every opportunity to promote his new schemes for academy schools, (schools that are run as private businesses) and attempted to enforce his own beliefs on the system as a whole (in 2012, a copy of the King James Bible
A proud moment as Michael,
Gemma, Eloise & Anna see their
film about childhood screened at
the Co-Op Young Filmmakers
was sent to every school in the country with the words ‘presented by the secretary of state’ on the spine – in gold leaf). He is particularly vocal in re-enforcing his support for the new Chief Inspector for Schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw. Wilshaw, amongst other things, has caused much ire for comments dismissing the stress that teachers are currently under, whilst suicide rates within the profession have risen by 80% and the Health and Safety Executive have listed teaching as having the third highest amount of work related stress.
Taking a group of students on a tour of BBC TV Centre.

In the new year, my team and I will be expected to teach exactly the same amount of content on the curriculum as we have this year, but the time we have with our students will be significantly reduced. Added to this are the new pressures bought about by the influx of learners who, due to the raising of the school leaving age, now have to stay in education until they are 17 (including the many who won’t want to) and the new requirement for all learners in colleges to pass their GCSE English and Maths qualifications within 2 years – even if they have failed to do so after over 5 years of intensive English and Maths lessons at school. Combined with the pressure of short notice inspections, the ever-present threats of redundancy, new contracts that can ask staff to work anywhere within a county or on weekends and evenings without consultation and the strain is beginning to cause some very strong, able teachers to buckle. I see dark times ahead for FE.

With students waiting to see a TV show being recorded
The sad truth is that the current government has a clear agenda when it comes to education. They believe that the Victorian methods of learning by rote, assessing solely through examination and managing behaviour through fear and intimidation are the answers to achievement. Their attitude to Further Education is clearly one of dismissal and disinterest. This retrograde step is surely motivated by a desire to further strengthen the social system where the very ‘poorest children’ Gove claims to be protecting will 'know their place'. They will stop trying to develop their intellect, their creativity and their potential and get back to their menial ranks. It is the only way to ensure millionaire Gove and the other members of the elite can keep knowledge, art and prosperity to themselves. But I suppose that sounds a bit Marxist, doesn’t it, Michael?

This video acts as a form of therapy for the modern teacher. 


  1. Journalism n Teaching I wish to pursue before its too late. Interesting read. :)

    And thank you for stopping by my space. :)