Dad Dancing Teachers
When I left school on May 1st 1983, I was given a York revision booklet, a form tutor’s ‘Yorkshireman’s handshake’, an exam time table and warned against playing too much cricket. The ensuing month was optimistically called “the exam study period”. Schools in the 1980s were a very different place to the individualised, caring institutions of today where every child is supported and cared for, even if statistics follow every child, with acronyms and labels dogging all students! In 1983, I had an interesting French teacher who was also the union rep; all in his class, including myself, spectacularly failed our French GCE. This was partly due to Doncaster youths’ inverted snobbery against all things that were not from Yorkshire and partly due to his weekly absences caused by teacher strike action or his union business. Ten years later, all in his French GCSE class including my younger brother, once again spectacularly failed French; nothing appeared to have changed! I do not believe this would now be allowed to occur. His apathy, poor lesson punctuality and lack of interest in student learning was startling, this was a teacher who would now, rightly, be challenged. Much as I rage against data becoming overwhelming and taking too much priority, ‘students are so much more than a statistic’, the data does ensure teachers are now aware of all students’ ability and what their expected progress is, which when correctly overseen by headteachers can only be a benefit to learning. My lack of linguistic skill remains an embarrassment and is a challenge that I need to overcome, as is my fixed mind-set, developed in those turgid classes copying out of the infamous text book ‘les tricolours’ confirmed by my damning GCE D grade.
My leaving school allowed me a whole month prior to my GCEs to enjoy all aspects of being independent and be 16 in Doncaster in the 1980s. My cricket and courting skills improved immeasurably. Compare this to my year 11s who are allowed to leave on June 19th, the very last day of their GCSEs. Their intense individualised timetable full of exam preparation, revision and regular past papers has meant they are extremely well prepared for the vagaries of the GCSE exam. However, for the students this has been a miserable month punctuated by a “potty” examination timetable, often with three or four GCSE examinations on one day; see earlier blog entitled ‘Drowning in Exams.’ The pressure of this month has clearly told on some students whose performance will be affected due to their panic attacks and overwhelming tiredness due to the demands the GCSE timetable places upon them. For the staff of 2015, it is a similarly stressful time with extra marking and the extra worry that their beloved “charges” will fail to reach their potential and will receive an examination grade that is an unfair judgement on their learning and the staff teaching. Therefore, the last school day for year 11 students does come as an all mighty relief with the now comforting established traditions of the last day; shirt signing, various selfies and the last assembly delivered to an expectant audience. The assembly is full of pasty faced staff and students, an assembly that is akin to a meeting of the walking dead, but there is a lovely atmosphere, with an impromptu round of applause given to Tom Sherrington’s ingenious assembly idea, “Can you get a straw through a potato?”@headguruteacher. This was followed by the latest staff dance performance! Last year we danced to Pharell Williams, “Happy,” this year “Uptown Funk” was rightly laughed at and put on YouTube before the end of the assembly.
Although I would never advocate the laissez faire approach (see I did learn some French) of my school days, I do worry that currently we are placing our students in a straitjacket, where independence and individual learning rarely surface; this is sufficient to ensure progress at GCSE but unlikely to equip learners for A level. Crucially, this system may ensure some exam success but I do not believe this is creating a happy school or a place where love of learning/lifelong learners will be established. Therefore, finding something to laugh at/enjoying a culture of happiness has to be important for every school even if this includes annual headteacher Dad dancing!