Warning: this blog contains more than one Churchill quote.
The start of the half term holiday saw myself and a few colleagues with 34 Year 10 students on a residential trip in Normandy, exploring sites linked to William the Conqueror. We also made an obligatory visit to one of the D Day museums in Arromanches where I was struck anew at the ingenuity of the allies who, unable to breach German defences along the north west coast of Europe, constructed ports in the middle of tempestuous waters to finally launch a successful attack on the Nazis. In the face of adversity and an overwhelming problem, the allies tried a different, bold approach that relied on excellent planning and collaboration to succeed. The loss of human life in this campaign cautions me against overly glorifying events but it strikes me that educators could learn something from the past (admittedly, this is a VERY ‘history teacher’ statement however, ‘The future is unknowable, but the past should give us hope’- Churchill)
My Twitter homepage is awash with educational tweets – I consider it to be one of the best sources of free CPD around. But the tone is getting increasingly dire: school budgets cut; the system is turning our students into robots; teachers are leaving the profession in droves. Among the harbingers of doom, my colleague @EnserMark recently blogged that we teachers need to be a ‘light in the darkness’.
I suppose it is easier to do this in half term, when I’ve slept a lot and relaxed, to put on my rose-tinted glasses and wax lyrical about teaching. But I look around at friends and family who work outside of education, who are also experiencing heavy workloads and poor funding and I return to the thought that teaching is a great job, despite its current difficulties. As an aside, @TeacherToolkit has blogged his ‘156 reasons To Teach’ and I challenge anyone in the profession to go and have a look and not pick out 10 reasons that resonate. Go on: take a look.
I’m not denying that education is facing tough times and an uncertain future. I would like to take this opportunity to remind the powers that be of Churchill’s statement that, ‘The facilities for advanced education must be evened out and multiplied. No one who can take advantage of a higher education should be denied this chance. You cannot conduct a modern community except with an adequate supply of persons upon whose education, whether humane, technical, or scientific, much time and money have been spent.’
However these tough times are beginning to have a detrimental effect on those of us who will have to weather the storm. As I peruse the Twitter feeds, the more positive tweets and blogs are being overwhelmed by the negative ones and I wonder: where is our ‘blitz spirit’? As educators, we are adaptable and creative- it’s the nature of our profession and we are masters at it. How many times have we stood in front of a large class just as the technology has mysteriously decided to have a melt down and still delivered a lesson? What about the occasions when we have juggled little Tommy’s water spillage, while Johnny’s nose has started bleeding and Susan is on the verge of tears because she has lost her PE kit. Again? Or during our PPA when, all in a space of an hour, we have planned a lesson, responded to a parent, completed paperwork for our line manager, finished off those last few books in the class set we are marking and still, possibly, drink a cup of tea? And, if necessity is the mother of invention (sorry, a non- Churchill phrase here), what could we achieve in these dark times? What could be our ‘darkest hour’? I think we could achieve a lot. New curriculum is an opportunity to refresh stale lessons and schemes of learning. A cut budget can force us to think about delivering a lesson without using that worksheet we roll out every year and take a risk in that delivery (“You have to run risks”). Why not pool resources with colleagues in another local school to halve planning and share problems? Where we are unsure of new mark schemes, working collaboratively with our counterparts locally can ensure that we are interpreting and applying them correctly. And, although I’ve suggested that positive tweets are becoming harder to spot than a unicorn, they are there and a great resource. Teachers across the country are coming up with ingenious solutions to problems and happily sharing them. There are Facebook groups whose sole purpose is to share resources for new exam specifications. I cannot recall another time in my career when there has been so much interaction and a sense of community among the teaching profession.
So, just like those planning and executing the D-Day landings, flexibility and collaboration will see us through.
‘Success always demands a greater effort’ but I think that this could be teaching’s ‘finest hour’.
Emma Smith, History