The relationship with parents has been severely damaged by politics especially in the state system, I am writing this in response to this. Essentially in education there needs to be an alliance between teachers, parents and students. The teacher is the professional who guides the content. Parents and students provide the motivation (that includes nurture) that is essential for the student to learn, the teacher reinforces that motivation, and if necessary informs the parent with regards to that motivation. If the parent feels there are extenuating circumstances that the teacher should know about affecting that motivation, the teacher should be advised and should choose as the professional how they respond to the information.
Especially in the UK this relationship was politically undermined. Back in the 80s manipulating electoral demographics Thatcher gave parents excessive power in schools. Because this power was given to support divisions in the state sector, involvement of interfering parents became a problem. Instead of accepting the professionalism of the teacher these parents were encouraged to tell teachers what to do, and this brought the professionalism of the teachers into question. Teachers became the brunt of parent criticism, and teachers were increasingly used as an escapist buffer for the failure of education policy – a policy teachers had no control over.
I left this cauldron of negativity in 1993 but returned for one year in 2003 and felt it was no better. Maybe it has changed now.
Personally I always welcomed parental involvement, and never found parents’ meetings a chore. It was always good to work with parents to improve student motivation. When I was in Africa I helped introduce parents’ day, it had benefits but unfortunately it was introduced as additional work for the teachers – although few seemed to object. I was amused by one teacher who used the opportunity to hit on the parents!!
I was never really happy with parents’ contact in private education because the parents saw they were paying for the teachers rather than paying for a professional service. Very often adminstrators colluded with this inappropriate approach because they were more interested in fee-paying parents than they were in supporting teachers. This was a particular problem in the Middle East where wealthy parents saw teachers as high-paid workers rather than professionals, and the administration did little to assuage this because they had teachers on two-year contracts and could replace them. This led to whimsical sackings based on personality clashes between children of influential parents and the teachers – with teachers usually being chastised by the administration. Here teachers were a different form of scapegoat, this time the fees being the driving force.
I welcome what I called “Quality Portfolios” but note here they do take time to prepare; I have discussed quality portfolios in detail throughout Matriellez. At one school in the late 80s when Thatcher policies were leading to increased parental interference, portfolios were introduced by a headmaster who was weak and allowed himself to be manipulated by this interference. Whilst a big PR number was made of presenting such portfolios to the parents, in my view it had limited success because the content of the portfolios was shallow eg honour marks and so on. I have always felt parents were participants in the qualifications game, and deluding shams seemed not to be of interest – weak students would buy into it.
I have never used online systems that effectively show parents the markbook, my only objection would be the amount of time it takes to complete such an exercise. Over my later teaching years I saw an increasing amount of time being used for computer systems, systems that were never usually designed with teacher time as a valuable resource. I suspect over the last 10 years more of such systems have been introduced. I enjoyed the student response in the article about parents getting on their case but would be concerned if such online monitoring led to increased parent-response that used teacher time, time the teacher does not usually have. I would also note that a significant part of assessing a test is teacher judgement, I regularly took a long time discussing test results – such judgement cannot be reflected in online figures.
I have a feeling PR portfolios have become increasingly used. I have seen one in a private school where photos of student participation in events are taken and comprise a portfolio at the end of term. This portfolio can be used by parents in a constructive way, those who wish to be involved in their child’s work but I hate to think how much time they took to prepare. In my view such time would be better used in actual education.
I do not believe the portfolios are in any way conneced to the Quality Portfolios I discussed – as they were an improvement to an inappropriate exam system.
I am always pleased when there is talk of introducing mindfulness in schools but it can be seen as a bandwagon for those advocating it – part of the non-mainstream careerism that abounds in education.
Mindfulness as a concept was “originally” raised by the Buddha (as discussed in Samyutta Nikaya 45). The mindfulness peddled in western education has nowhere near this quality of tradition and experience. I am also not so sure of the quality of those who are advocating it. Typified by this Flipboard article the western approach seems to require scientific justification, and to my mind any scientific acceptance of benefit is only the tip of the iceberg. There has been much scientific work done by the Dalai Lama with the Mind and Life Institute, I would always start there.
Having said that bringing mindfulness in schools can only have positive benefits – at worst students would think they get nothing from it, how can it hurt? Adults often wonder whether they get anything from meditation.
The real issue is how to get mindfulness into schools, not whether it should happen. Mindfulness is clearly an individual activity, and therefore does not lend itself to the classroom situation. To discuss mindfulness academically – as part of an exam or PSE – is meaningless, students have to do it. Here in Thailand meditation in schools is common place because Buddhism is the national religion. In my volunteer lessons with kindergarten kids, with the help of the class teacher we always finished with a short meditation before eating lunch; it definitely helped. Kids were sat still sitting in lotus position, both of which would be virtually impossible in the UK.
In Nigeria I had a bunch of rowdy year 7’s. They came into the room, I made them shut up, and we did meditation for a couple of minutes. This was for discipline purposes, I have previously made kids stand in silence when they come into the room for discipline – meditation is better. Both discipline techniques really applied only for younger kids. Some of the Nigerian kids actively liked it, others were just this side of disrupting the activity.
Nigeria also had some very devout Christians. I noticed that just before a test they would pray – they would even use part of the test time to pray because there was test silence. I thought it would have been good to have a silent time before the start of a test – a “5-minute” mindfulness time. It would go something like this. Give out the papers so that everyone is ready to start the test. Then have a mindfulness time in which the emphasis would be calming down ready for the test, and by agreement there would be a period of the mindfulness time for prayer if students wished – or they could just continue to try to be calm. At an important exam I got a bad case of the “wobblies” after reading the paper, I lost nearly 10 minutes of the exam; in the end meditation helped with this.
Mindfulness and concentration are associated in Buddhism (see Samyutta Nikaya 45 again). In maths I felt there was a particular place for both with regards to problem-solving. Much of maths is technique but for many students they can remember the technique but do not know how and when to apply it. Most teachers overcome this by cramming – past papers, the students do not solve problems they just remember similar problems and apply the techniques the same way. I investigated meditation/mindfulness approaches for doing this under the umbrella of study skills but only after I retired so am unable to describe whether it would be effective. LINK
A slightly different approach to this could be considered. I don’t know whether it is common in all Muslim schools but one Muscat school I worked in had a prayer room. With cooperation a prayer room could also function as a “mindful prayer room”, “chanting” v Muslim prayer battles would not be conducive.
Mindfulness could be greatly beneficial to students, and attempts to introduce all students to mindfulness techniques is long overdue. But it does need to be practitioners who introduce it, and not a curriculum-required talk on its use in an ignored PSE lesson.
I began thinking about slavery in meditation yesterday. Have I always been free? This question is the wrong way round:-
Have I ever been free?
Have I always been a slave?
Discounting my childhood as I was definitely not free to make decisions then as I was not developed enough, life decisions came when I was 21. At that stage I had some debts, I was qualified, and was considering where to enter the world of work.
But even these assumptions need examining in terms of freedom. Look at the assumptions, “I was considering where to enter the world of work.” I assumed I had to enter the world of work. Now this assumption can be considered in different ways:-
I needed money to live.
Now these assumptions socially became mixed up with
In my own case I never consciously considered any of these assumptions, I went to school, went to university, took the course of least resistance – maths, became qualified, and looked for a job. I was lucky, I got a good job in a computer consulatncy, was not suited to it, got a worse programming job that I screwed up so much that I rightly got sacked. Mixed in with this mess up was a lot of booze, I took time out, decided I needed to get back into the world of work, my compassion started to kick in eventually leading me to be a teacher. Not a pleasant decision process but eventually I made the decision to be a teacher.
This decision solved some of the assumptions, I earned money, had a decent standard of living, and I was contributing to the community. I even had a career path although at the time it didn’t matter to me. Sounds sorted, doesn’t it? Growing pains, and then freedom of choice?
But to consider this properly it then becomes necessary to examine my choices when I was a teacher. In my year of studying education I became aware of alternative education. I studied some but got a good education about education, and as a result of the year was equipped to make a good decision, and here it is:-
I decided to work in Inner City schools because that is where most education was needed. I was never going to be able to educate properly – self realisation, but to use an appalling US phrase “I could make a difference”. Theoretically I understood all the limitations of education, and I thought I could do something.
Once involved in teaching I got sucked into internal battles. I accepted that I was a teacher, began fighting for education, eventually rationalising being the deliverer of exam results. At one stage I had a crisis of conscience. In the Brixton school I remember “my cute little black girls” who worked with me after school. They worked hard but it wasn’t enough to counter all the disruption that was the classroom discipline throughout the school. They weren’t stunningly intelligent but far more intelligent than some of the oiks that got exam results from nose-in-the-air private school; their results were poor. They blamed themselves because I had worked so much with them. It was a kick in the teeth. I resigned to work on a youth centre magazine part-time. That magazine was worth doing, I chose that. But then I fell in love, moved and needed to find work to keep the woman and her family. After that disaster was over I never questioned teaching again until I retired early.
Why didn’t I question the meaning of teaching again? When my relationship broke up, I had debts and I was drinking so I needed the money. Even though I stopped drinking 2 years after the relationship, I was spending what I was earning – first the rent then buying the flat; I had been sucked in. Then financially I was forced to teach overseas, and from then on it was never a choice as to what I did it was just where I did it, even though once overseas I realised how much freer I was than living in the UK.
Was there freedom in my retiring? How did the decision come about? I left state education in Botswana ostensibly because I needed money for retirement. It is worth considering my final speech to the kids. I didn’t plan it but I found myself saying I had found meaning in education again, and there is still the haunting “we’ll miss you” from Kereng. But overall in Botswana I felt I was getting brain-dead. Botswana’s lifestyle was fun. The women were mostly fun even though they ended in disasters, and the game parks were a wonderful memory. But after working on the M Ed and a mid-life re-evaluation I realised I was brain-dead and needed money for retirement. There is no doubt that in Botswana I experienced a good deal of freedom, it was the time I was most free when I was working because it was the time when education had the least impact on my life. But was it also the time in which I was least on my Path?
The international schools were not easy places to work in, and they were places where the job took over. They were places where the teachers worked for the money, and there was limited concerns for education. They were exam factories in which the school owners were unashamedly profiting from education. The teachers worked for money to travel, and one teacher laughed at me for “principles”. I accepted that package as a lifestyle, took on HOD, and became two people – the teacher and second the person experiencing freedom on holidays because I had the money to travel. And that travel was usually to Thailand.
But over that time it became harder and harder to return to teaching as who I was as a teacher and who I was on holiday became so different. Once I got over the death of my parents I realised that I had the financial wherewithal to retire to Thailand. As is evidenced by the fact that I do volunteer teaching, I still got some enjoyment from teaching but that holiday distance was too great.
It is worth considering that current teaching enjoyment as it is a good indicator of freedom. I enjoy working with the kids, and teach them English. What I do just fits in with the prevailing system, but I intentionally have limited contact with that system. There is no change caused by my teaching, there is no self-realisation for the kids – I basically give them some skills that the system accepts. Because I volunteer I am free to accept that compromise or not, and as I have no other choice as to what I could teach where I live I am happy to do it.
But it is not genuine education, the kids will become Thailand’s wage-slaves and I will have done nothing to help them understand the Path and nothing to enable them to understand the corporate paradigm. And this brings me to the real point about freedom. I was never free to choose what to educate. In ILEA I was able to work in my spare time on “anti-racist maths” but that never had significant impact. So throughout my time in education I am comfortable in saying I never worked on anything I chose to educate about. So even though I chose education, in my teaching I never actually chose what I did. The subject content was chosen by the exam boards, the curriculum was chosen by the government’s education department. There is no choice in what you teach – what I taught, a teacher is a worker who delivers what someone else has decided what to deliver. In reflection this is so clear even though when I was involved in teaching I deluded myself into thinking I had more choice. To be fair to myself I was quite uncompromising – to my career detriment, and with that lack of compromise I have absolutely no doubts that I did act as a partial buffer to the corporate paradigm (see Matriellez). But the reality is that I was a slave. Overall I taught what they wanted me to teach – maths, I did not teach self-realisation in any form. However when I was younger I knew what I didn’t want, now with the Matriellez book I have given more of an idea. But even then it is so far from actually defining a curriculum, maybe the Zandtao book is more about that. In practice for a school that genuinely educates, there would need to be a coming together of parents and educators in a particular community in order to determine the model of the school; both books could form a basis for discussion that could lead to a free education.
The more I examine my working life the more I see slavery, and what is so crazy is that the more I examine my life in comparison with others the greater the level of freedom there has existed in my life. What an anomaly, and such a sadness to see that the human spirit is so enslaved. To see what few options we have that relates to genuine freedom. Yes we can find a compromise to fight for, but a life that is genuinely free is not possible. That is so saddening.
But in the Path there is hope, because the Path gives happiness in a society where there is no freedom. That is what is so wonderful about the Path. The Path allows us to weave our way through all the prisons that life throws us into, and find freedom in what we do. Despite my overall reflections there was freedom in what I did. I strayed from the Path often but overall I have been lucky in that I followed the Path mostly. Whilst I was never genuinely free, I did create freedoms that allowed expression of the Path – no compromise. Who is to say whether that gave genuine education?
Am I free in retirement? Now that I have money to live I am free to do what I want, and I have made good decisions about that. But there is something very significant to understand about retirement, you have limited social impact. There is community impact, the community you are a part of that becomes your life. But work is where our lives are fashioned. Work is where government makes decisions, where our food is produced, where people are healed and cared for, and where education occurs; work is where the corporate paradigm operates. Retired people have no impact on this corporatocratic world of work – life. Basically in my current freedom I choose to be free but in that choice I choose not to be working in an arena that has impact on people generally. And if I did choose to work in that arena I could have no impact. So again we can see there is no freedom, yet there is always the Path.
I am reminded of Anjali. Her youth gave her the strength to say “Get it done”, but if she lives her life waiting to see if it is done she will not be happy. For it never will be done. Throughout education I could say “Get it done”, but there is no chance. For freedom in the world of work there is a tightrope that is walked, a tightrope of freedom that is the Path, but a tightrope that retrospectively will seem that nothing was done.
Will it ever be different? That is for karma to say. The Buddha said the world is dukkha, and the Buddha is timeless – there will always be dukkha. But we have no choice we have to fight,that is the anomaly of the Path. We have to fight, we will never be free, and in that the Path gives freedom.
What a laugh.
This article on the teaching of English in Thailand has irritated me – its analysis is so shallow. And it is typical of the colonial aspect of teaching, that western methodology is better.
Firstly the writer cites the case of Khun Dang’s class – students copying from the board. Here are questions connected to that. Did the writer ask Khun Dang if she thought it was good teaching? I would guess not as I suspect she couldn’t speak English. In primary schools the teachers are expected to teach English even though they don’t know it themselves – copying from the board is a compromise. Could the writer teach a Thai class by writing Thai sentences on the board? In an English government secondary school could you get the class to sit quietly and copy from the board? That is those students who hadn’t truanted.
Is formal teaching always wrong? When you listen to western teachers this appears to be the conclusion. Why did formal teaching disappear from British schools? Was it because formal teaching had failed? Now I ask that question fr all the students and nt just the elite. Formal teaching failed the brighter students including those who became the teachers. Such teachers can remember boring lessons in which they tediously fulfilled formal requirements. These teachers became qualified. Did they have questioning minds? Of course not.
Once these teachers started to dominate teaching ethos – starting in the 60s, discipline in the schools went down. Apparently in Thai secondary schools there is too much talking but the discipline is nowhere near as disruptive as UK schools. How can you learn without discipline? How can you begin to teach a questioning mind? And the saddest aspect of this teaching methodology is:-
Can all the students develop a questioning mind?
Show me any evidence that shows that all students can develop a questioning mind. Look at the British population. Since the 60s a more questioning approach has developed in schools, have the population become more questioning? Certainly not, the corporatocracy would never allow it. 40 years later and Tony Blair took the country to war, could that have happened with genuine questioning minds? Not people who bleet because it is expected but genuine questioning minds?
So what are Bill Gates and the others doing when they want critical thinking? They want an elite who will be critical but accept the prevailing paradigm. Is this possible?
So when Thai kids don’t ask questions why do western teachers climb the wall? Quite simple. They don’t understand what education is for. They go to training school and are told education means leading out, and they believe that. Education might mean that but schooling means fitting the school population into society’s status quo. In Thailand that means students cannot be questioning or else why would they accept the social inequalities? But in England it is the same reality that has to be accepted. There are a few who are rich, and mostly those rich inherit it. A few manage to become rich but most spend their time trying to be rich and doing each other down to get there. Maybe Thai business is like that but it appears to be much more pleasant – I don’t know I am retired and never could stomach the business world.
That’s enough, I have vented after the shallow article rattled my cage. It’s going in my Matriellez blog but that’s all. I can’t even be bothered to post it on the facebook-like just to get a Thanks Bill from an apparently equally-shallow analysis.
What a complete waste of my professional life. I started teaching in 1976 in Inner London, and chose to work in an Inner City. I held onto some illusions of self-realisation, but once I started teaching I realised the kids just wanted exam passes. Over the years I learnt to do that better and better. I left the UK in 1993 for many reasons, and lost touch. Thatcher had destroyed manufacturing, and engineered a society where the educated wanted a job. I didn’t like this but I thought that students from all backgrounds had subscried to this appalling ethos, and were getting jobs rather than souls.
I then watched this BBC documentary:-
It’s horrific. Class structure has worsened. Kids are desperate for work experience – unpaid slavery. Rich kids take internships to get jobs – unpaid. I’ve always known British people are prepared to sell themselves but this is crazy. And I don’t just mean white British.
I am actually quite shattered. What was all that fighting for. I should have just taken the money and shut up for all the good it did.
And the teachers interviewed. Ok they interviewed the careerists but these teachers were just training job robots. This is depressing. My mind is spinning, what was I doing?