Candles in the Darkness (Part 3)

I woke up this morning with a deep sense of foreboding. This isn’t unusual for me (or most teachers I have spoken to) towards the end of the holidays. I love my job, work in a wonderful supportive school with well motivated students and yet I know that I’ll be awake at 3am of the first day back, with my mind racing and a rising feeling of panic. It will last precisely until the moment I step in to my classroom where it will instantly dissipate like morning mist. I know that feeling, but today it is different.

It was when I read this piece in today’s Observer by Victoria Coren Mitchell “I ordered 50 tiny tambourines. And then I wept.”that I could start to identify the source of my anxiety. She writes;

“Why cry, though, over a botched tambourine delivery? I’ve asked myself this, as I lie awake at night picturing my sobbing pleas being broadcast to a crowd of giggly new sales staff and clawing lightly at the headboard. 

I think the answer is: because it’s an increasingly frightening, chaotic, unknowable world and we can only control it (or make sense of it) in small, kindly, hopeful gestures. That’s what this ridiculous purchase was supposed to be. When it failed, I needed the person on the end of the phone to be kind and sympathetic and for the two of us to share a moment of fellow feeling. When that didn’t happen, it all seemed to represent something much bigger than itself. Something huge and helpless, to do with the world and everything that’s happening.”

Over the last two weeks I have watched and engaged in any number of debates: about teaching philosophy between dedicated “traditionalists” and those who do not think that all else is “progressive”, debate rage over grammar schools and the damage they could do, more figures released on the failures of the free school program, day after day we have seen more details on the harm that the government spending cuts are doing to children’s education and the implication for teacher’s workload as a result. All this before we get in to the horrifying news outside of education.

All of these are important issues. And all of them leave me feeling nothing but powerless, anxious and angry. I need to redirect my focus. I need to concentrate on those things that I can do something about. 

As teachers we have a huge amount of power, but that power resides in our individual classrooms. The most significant factor in a child’s education is the quality of their teacher. We can’t control whether the government set up Grammar schools or waste huge amounts of money on vanity projects. We can though bring a little light into each and every classroom, department and school. We can ensure that we set the highest standards for students and help them to meet them. We can expect excellence from all students regardless of their background. We can bring in our own, sensible, feedback policies that will make a difference to both pupils and teachers. We can collaborate with our colleagues and share and discuss educational research and ideas. We can start CPD bookclubs and teach meets. We have the power to do this.

I think that as teachers, heads of department and school leaders we sometimes need to take a step back from the big national debates, take a deep breath and ask “what do I have the power to do?” We all have a sphere of influence into which we can make an enormous difference to hundreds, if not thousands, of lives. Talking to so many passionate teachers and leaders makes me optimistic; each one is a candle in the darkness and if each one burns bright the darkness will vanish. It cannot win.


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