Judging by the lack of internet traffic, the rest of the UK is sunning itself at the moment and who can blame them? Sadly my pale Polish skin won’t take that sort of abuse so I’m inside, sun streaming delightfully through the windows. It gives me some thinking time (rather than languorous sun-stupor time) and I’m in need of that, because lots has been happening in confluence this week. In my head, at least.
The #learnpod13 conference was valuable not only in feeding my reflexion (and providing a lovely reflective hour with fab colleagues out on the terrace) but in allowing me an opportunity to somewhat clumsily articulate the Community of Praxis. Working in (technically) further education makes thinking time difficult to protect, though we do well at The Northern College to enable a flexibility of working which, for me at least, provides travel time to mull ideas, though not always capture them. And so, since Tuesday, what’s been running through my head is the Monty Python phrase, “Sorry, wrong idiom…” – because I realise I’m still grasping for the magical ‘elevator pitch’ that will facilitate comprehension.
What’s the problem? It seems to be that there are masses of assumptions around what teaching is, even amongst educators themselves. For the general public, ‘teaching’ generally means schoolteaching, something I know little about except as a pupil, briefly a governor and – increasingly, as my son gets older – a parent. In Higher Education, teaching is all-too-often seen as the stuff you do when you are not doing research (a sterling band of teacher-researchers notwithstanding). In Further and Trade Union Education – sadly – ‘teaching’ becomes a battleground, over-scrutinised, under-valued and competing for headspace with worries around paperwork, politics and policy. In the voluntary, community and public sectors – the context for many Community of Praxis members – the right to even define what you do as ‘teaching’ is sometimes a daily struggle. Impostor Syndrome is rife.
What’s remarkable is how persistent Bernard Williams’ “fetish of assertion” is amongst educators – the very people who, one would hope, hold out for providing dialogic thinking spaces, whatever form their ‘classroom’ may take. Are we frightened? That’s the persistent thought I have, that we have become so persecuted that we are fearful of taking risks. Fear stops listening. It stops the acceptance of possibilities.
So…I’m getting used to hearing, “Yes, but…” before I’ve even finished my sentence. “That might work in teacher education, but…”, “That might work at Northern College, but…”, “Yes, but your students…” – as though I operate in some fantasy dream world where I don’t have to fight just the same battles as everyone else. I promise you I do. I promise you I rage and cry, and want to pack in, and throw my teddy out, and plot escape and all the stuff that you do too, sometimes. But I plod on. And the great thing is, I’m not alone. I’ve got the Community of Praxis behind me (the #teachnorthern network), I’ve got thinkers as my friends…just this morning bell hooks said to me (via the medium of her essay, ‘A Revolution of Values’):
“…we must accept the protracted nature of our struggle and be willing to remain both patient and vigilant.”
Our struggle is nothing compared to those who have struggled before us. Tomorrow, I’ll be participating in the Dearne Valley Barnsley ‘Walk for Women’, organised by @kaysoclearn to celebrate those suffragists who marched on Westminster a century ago. Our special ‘Suffragette’ breakfast in the local pub won’t involve being fed by tube. When you are ready to fight for what you know is right, for a values-based education which assumes that each of your students is your equal as a thinker (no matter what hierarchy you find yourselves in), when you are ready to fight to be treated and to treat others with respect, the fight will be ready for you.
Until then, I’ll resign myself with patience and vigilance to seeking out those opportunities to explain why we do what we do, and how. And I’ll brush off all of the polite, non-listening expressions which really say to me, this time at least: “Sorry, wrong idiom.”
hooks, b (1994) Teaching to Transgress London Routledge p.33
Williams, B (2001) Truth and Truthfulness Princeton Princeton University Press
Walk for Women Walks are happening all around the UK – find your nearest one at http://www.walkforwomen.co.uk