Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Work/life balance

I can't sleep.

I know why I can't sleep.

I can't sleep because I didn't work tonight. I did go in work early and work productively all day, (9 hours) but I didn't come home and work more, so I can't sleep.

The reason I didn't work is that I'm tired and I'm prone to becoming insular, grumpy, downright unpleasant and alienating when I work too much. This isn't good for the people around me. Like the 5 year old for example.

The problem is, when I don't work, I become anxious. I get worried that I'm going to 'get found out' or that somehow I'm doing a bad job, being lazy.

But if I counter that feeling by working all the time, I alienate those around me. It's a viscous circle. Here's another one below. I wish we could all think about this one collectively. When did we decide collectively stress was good? What kind of stupid macho pseudo-american dream are we locked into?

Image result for vicious circle

To get to sleep I tried

- writing a plan of the day tomorrow
- 7/11 breathing
- visualising somewhere nice
- the radio

They didn't work.

In the end I wished I'd just worked all night instead as then at least my time wouldn't have been wasted worrying about the 100 million jobs I've got to do.

Sometimes I really, really, really hate this job. I hate working to a timetable, I hate not being able to go to the ebb and flow of my own creativity (I'm the sort of person who works in bursts,) I hate the fact I have to stand in front of people all day tomorrow and try to present a chirpy, cheerful and happy face. I hate the fact I have to be coherent and empathetic, strict and soft, make a hundred human judgements, maintain high standards whilst also showing understanding and all the time be an expert. I hate the fact I'm supposed to do all this whilst simultaneously recording it all and demonstrating I'd anticipated it all beforehand somehow. I hate boiling everything down into grades. I hate chasing learners who just apathetically shrug knowing that teachers will flog themselves into the ground for them because that's what the stupid system has taught them will happen.

I hate the fact everybody knows the profession is facing a mental health crisis, a recruitment crisis and a retention crisis and the best we get is a few tips on 'mindfulness' as if that's going to fix systemic problems and the underlying general anxiety of being a teacher.

If I did a 'normal' job, I'd have the day off, I'd take some leave, I'd work flexi-time to earn it back or whatever. I feel like absolute shite. I've not had a day off in 3 years. This is not a normal job. I will not have a day off.

I'm fine with mindfulness. I really am, but it's a sticking plaster on a gaping wound and we deserve better.

Am I the problem. Is my mind the problem?

Rethinking the room

We see a lot of debate, and rightly so about the efficacy of tech in the classroom.

Does it impact on results?
Does it lead to positive measurable outcomes?

That's all fine, of course we should want to prove the benefit or otherwise of technology with something evidence led.

We shouldn't head sheep like towards the future, seduced by vague notions of digital literacy (however self evident the benefits may seem) or by branded visions of a seamless and slick personalised experience with every child at the centre of their own (i)education.

What I believe we should do, is start to look beyond the technology itself and think about the spaces we ask our learners to deploy this technology in. As education becomes (at least potentially) more student centred, the vision of groups arranged in lines or horseshoes (or whatever) seems increasingly anachronistic.

Devices potentially free us from desks, allow us to consume in our palms or literally on the tops of our laps. Should we get rid of the desk? If so, how can we utilise the new found space in our rooms? Perhaps we could divide off part of the classroom for quiet contemplation, for reading or watching with headphones. Maybe we could add a couple of booths for recording documentary voice over, video diary entries and viva voce responses.

In creative subjects like music or drama the 'practice room' is a fairly normal concept - should this be part of life in an average classroom? The project room or spaces, where small groups of learners prepare work to demonstrate to the rest of the class?

That whiteboard? It belongs to the learners. Teachers are able to distribute materials without limit now, so gone are the days of copying or all looking at the projection. That can happen on learners devices so the whiteboard(s) are free for learners to map ideas, make plans, explain concepts and record as photographs.
Come to think of it, shouldn't everything be wipe clean? We don't want to lose handwriting but can't we capture it more creatively? Are your windows potentially a resource for learners?

Does the dark have a role to play? Can we focus learners on their task by turning off the lights and therefore focusing attention on their back lit devices and away from themselves and each other and all that self conscious awkward noise...

And when we put the lights back on and put the devices away, are we actually more likely to have a conversation about our learning (that can be recorded) if we don't have the barrier of desk or little cliques and can sit in a circle. Perhaps desks make much less sense if we don't actually know where the front or back of the room is.

I'm not a big advocate of education following business but I think there is some value sometimes in comparing school to the workplace. Just about the only workplaces I could think of which asks their workers to sit in rows or lines is the call centre, the Victorian Mill or some Dickensian vision of a deathly dull banking job. What does it say when we can still see classrooms, even ones equipped with multi thousands of pounds of technology essentially set up this way?

So, to come back to the essential point. Let's think about how technology can shape our spaces and therefore our relationships. Only then can we really judge it's true impact. Using it in the current setting is crudely like trying to write on paper with chalk. Let's stop breaking our nibs on slate and be brave in our designs for our learning environments.

If we want our students to engage in the technology to its true potential, we have to create the environment that enables it.

All of this rather suggests we should think about doing something about the exam system as well as ultimately having the world's most exciting classrooms counts for nought if we are preparing learners for a series of rote learned memory tests conducted in factory conditions

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Do they REALLY need time to eat? Couldn't they be LEARNING?

Image result for melting clock

I've blogged several times about the mental health impacts of over working and pressurising young minds.
(here and also here)

Today I want to showcase the thoughts of a young mind. (I apologise to said author for describing him in such horribly patronising adult tones) 

A good friend of mine posted their son's thoughts onto a social media site. He wants to point out the absurdity of the demands of the education system and the impact it has on his life. He is absolutely right. I don't actually know the lad in question, but I know he is keen to do well in school and generally motivated. I know his mum has brought him up with all the good stuff we as teachers would want parents to do. The point is, he's a 'good' learner who wants to do what he's told and values his education but has spotted the flaw in the instructions...

Below I share his post, (in his own words) as he has expressed the absurdity very succinctly. 

"At school all teachers say we should read through our books for twenty to thirty minutes each night to reflect on what was noted last lesson. Altogether I have eight subjects each day and if you do the maths, school think I should read for 4 hours each night then taking in the factors of maybe extra curricular activities and other clubs in which we may participate which can take up to and hour so, altogether 5 hours is spent doing homework and activities. We leave school at 3:25 then depending on your bus journey to wherever you live, could potentially be another half an hour . 

So let's say you arrive home at four then add on the 5 hours from before, and it's nine o'clock. The average amount of sleep should be ten hours for a person my age taking in the fact that you might have to wake up early to catch a bus.

On an average night I will go to bed at nine to wake up at seven, that is exactly ten hours so that's good but that means on most nights there will be no social activity or leisure.

So for five days straight you're practically being drilled by work and other things that may be on your agenda so your only free time is your weekend and at the end of maybe a seven week term you will have a lot of tired students that cannot perform to their maximum capability. 

Hang on though I haven't even got time to do any of my set homework or even eat at the end of my day."

You can stop reading now if you like as that's the main point really, but I've got a few thoughts below.  

1) If we train learners that overwork is 'normal' then we are not setting a good precedent for healthy lives in work. Even if a 15 yr old is 'tough' enough to last the course in education, continue to work all night every night and sooner or later the black dog is going to come knocking. 

2) If our learners have no time to engage with news, culture, friendship, family, hobbies or whatever else how are they going to relate their knowledge to anything? How are they going to develop the ability to question anything they are told? How are they going learn anything deeper than the textbook? 

How are they going to cope when the net of school is taken away and their time isn't planned and mapped out? 

3) As a teacher I bemoan my lack of time. I feel anxiety when unscheduled events happen as my life is a never ending attempt to balance work and personal duties like sleep and occasionally acknowledging the existence of people like my child and elderly frail grandmother. 

How does the child of a chaotic home feel? The child who is a carer, the child who suffers a trauma, the child for whom the demand of a 10/12 hour day is plain ludicrous. The child who struggles in a 'normal' day to get to school but is being told consistently that it's 'not enough' 

I chose my career, I'm mature enough to have developed strategies and I still wobble close to the razor's edge of mental health all too often. 

Learners haven't chosen their path, they haven't the pragmatism, the coping methods, the CPD and often the support network of caring and experienced colleagues who keep me sane.

If constant long hours and draining, intense days leave us empty, then why on earth are we making learners go through the same thing

In conclusion (a slow build to a rousing crescendo)  

I'm not going to say 'there's no place for homework' - there is, clearly, some place for learning and working and thinking between lessons especially at certain points in the year and as learners move higher in the system, they must learn to work independently. 

However, it's reaching an absurd situation when it takes a pupil to point out to a school that they haven't factored in time to eat. What is the collective salary of that school's management? This lad isn't even sitting his GCSEs yet and he's worked out your advice is bobbins. 

It's an absurd situation when 7 yr old kids are practising exams at home. WHAT FOR?! WHAT THE HELL ON EARTH FOR?! It's an utterly ludicrous disgrace of elephantine proportions when a thoughtful, clever, witty, worldly wise A-level student says to me "I don't have time to read anymore" - There's more knowledge and wisdom in the works of a great author than most a-level syllabus' combined.  

Have we lost sight of what we actually want? It's not just about 'children being children' - that's an overly romantic and sentimental way of approaching a wider malaise. Deep down it's about understanding the value of wonder, play, daydreaming, rest, philosophising, exercise, friendship, exploration and freedom for all of us.

It's about our humanity. We are not just empty vessels to be 'filled up' by someone else - We are the sum of our experiences and the less time we have to have them and understand them, the less human we are. We learn all the time, from everything and education must be a focal point for making sense of our lives, working out who we are, what we want, helping us with choices and bringing clarity to thought but it must not be our lives. 

Work does not make us free. 

We demand a human education system, not a factory education system. If you're a teacher reading this, make it happen now. It matters. Stop being pathetic and bleating 'oh the government, oh the targets, oh my career development' - WE are the education system, not them

Now read a good book and have a good night's sleep. You deserve it, you've worked damn hard today. You did your best. Tell yourself this more often and you might find the courage to tell your learners the same more often. They might not look so drained and the energy might be infectious. Hell, we might even enjoy ourselves from time to time.