I have always assumed that the birth of a school followed a secular immaculate conception. That schools just sprang up, or had always been there. I find it hard, still, to work out where one finds the space to place a fully formed school in a town, or village, or extra-urban part of Hounslow.
When I left teaching last year, I wasn't sure of when I would return, but I told myself that I would only come back to do something that I could really get behind. I had one ill-fated interview at a very prestigious school, but it didn't feel right, and they didn't like me, so the choice on that one was very much taken out of my hands. But then something came up.
When I left my last school, another teacher (among many) left at the same time. This teacher was also taking a break from classroom teaching (although he did little of that in his role as a director) but he wasn't off to study, he was off to plan. Plan and build. He was off to put a school where there had previously been no school. But, more than that, he was off to answer a question that we all think from time to time; 'What would I do if I was in charge?'. And his, most wonderful of answers?
'We're going to change education.'
I offer my insincere apologies here for the mixed pronouns, but it was necessary to facilitate some inconsequential gravitas. 'We're going to change education.' it's a wonderful phrase. It's brave, it's possibly stupid, but it's all that is right. As you can probably imagine, that sort of statement sought me out from my high-brow literary malaise. I was convinced. I wanted to be part of this, or, at least, I wanted to find out what 'this' was. Turns out 'This' was the 'that' that I wanted the 'this' to be.
In short order, I had an interview, I got the job, I started becoming something. I started co-writing a story. Others were involved. Others are involved. We are becoming something and that thing feels gorgeous. A lot of what we're doing in September isn't totally defined. A lot of it isn't set in stone, or fleshed out or down on paper, but that is so wonderfully exciting. There is no set way of doing things yet, so the teachers get to define how things are done We are not encumbered by history. When we looked at the options for what to teach, we decided on what we wanted to teach. As in, what interested us. When I chose set texts for GCSE, I made a conscious decision to choose what excited me, not what was easy. I chose texts specifically for their wider ramifications; the opportunities to teach off-field. Off-spec. Off-kilter.
Going away from the teach-to-the-test rubric is the point of the school. The point is to teach. to actually teach. Not to check boxes in ever-decreasing circles, but to take steps in ever-increasing bounds. We want to engender a culture of wanting to learn. Not being tricked into it. We seem to have an obsession with 'tricking' children into learning, and that we have to 'complete' sections of education. The education is something that can be 'finished'. Screw that. Lets change the ethic. We're trying to change the ethic.
There is a lot of top down dictum in education. A lot of people making their own decisions and a lot of people below them just 'doing their best' is spite of this. Is it your best? Is it the version of you that you want to be? Be your own hero. We are. We are trying to change education one student at a time, one school at a time. Part of it, though, is who we are surrounding ourselves with; Passionate people who believe in themselves and their causes. People who question the status quo and value their own learning as much as their students. This might sound horribly arrogant, but I am starting to realise that teachers easily become very negative. It is very easy in staffrooms for teachers to enter spirals of negativity that effect our working lives. Instead of being proud of what we do, we surround ourselves with people who bring us down. The school that I have been temping at as a cover supervisor is quite close to the new school, and I have been innundated with negative energy about what we are trying to do in September. We are seen as a threat and a risk and a group of people playing at education. It has worn me down at times and given me undue doubts, but then the moment I have conversations with the other September teachers I am instantly filled with excitement. It's been fiercely dichotomous. I have found myself feeling displaced from both. But then I started to ponder, then wonder, then with enlightened wonderment filled myself with hope. Then I realised it wasn't hope. It was the feeling I should have.
I Love This Job.
I have missed it, and being a cover teacher has just entrenched this by showing me a pale imitation of what teaching is. I want to be around other people who aren't curbed by some underhand need to whine. Now I whine a lot, I know, but I will never tell anyone that I don't love my job. And, I reckon most of you do, too. You are reading blogs about teaching. You are on Twitter. You care. And most of you seen to want to change teaching so that it is more teaching, and less bullshit. So get the people around you who believe in what you believe in and start changing what you want to change at the ground level, and make sure people know what you're doing and how you're doing it. Don't suffer dictum in silence. Build narratives between teachers and other teachers, between teachers and students, between students and students. Make your own environment. Talk to each other. Come out of your classrooms and share practice. Don't be afraid of being observed by your peers, or of collaborating with other subjects or other schools. Don't be afraid to take ownership of yourself.
Be a heroine. Be a hero. Be the teacher you want to be. Don't be afraid to be positive about things you believe in because, you know what? You believe in them. Be the most positive person you can be about what you want to be positive about. This process of preparing to open a new school has taught me to be proud of my ideas and proud to be positive. It's a strange thing, but I feel like much of the education system, both as a profession and a public service, rewards a lack of ingenuity. I want to stop that. I am with other people who want to stop that, and we're stepping up to the plate. Fancy going up to your own?