What do you feel passionate about: write about it
I went to Leeds University in the mid-80’s to do my PGCE in Sociology and English. I loved studying there. I think they must be one of the teacher training departments that the government felt most bothered about. Not because of the standards they achieved.
My PGCE has had a profound impact on me.
In two ways
Firstly – all my lecturers were out and out left wing progressive Marxist. I have this impression of an entire year of lectures all of which were focussed on a single subject elaborated upon in extraordinary detail – the education system served to effectively filter people according to race, gender and class. In was an inherently unequal system that served the interests of capital. We had a lecturer who once offered a different slant. He went through all the arguments that analysed discriminatory processes and ridiculed them. He was a lively lecture, witty and entertaining. But his message was clear and chilling. We discussed it afterwards in seminars: if all these social explanations for inequality were unsound, the argument he was for was one that established the educational order as natural as the outcome of intelligence. Middle class, male and white students did better because they were more suited to academic education. But he was a one voice and one we rejected. Everyone else elaborated on variations on the theme education, sociology and inequality. I can’t quite remember the Sociology team but I do remember the English teaching team and they were great. But I was happily indoctrinated by Leeds University and year later, I thank them for it.
I was one of two black girls on the course. I meet at Leeds (not at the University, in Chapeltown in a night club – the first person who was black and doing a PhD). It did not occur to me in those days that I would be even remotely capable of a PhD. At the time probably wasn’t.
Secondly – years later, this passion for, commitment to, insistence upon equality – continues to saturate me. This is what I am and it is what I do. I qualified to teach in secondary schools but after spending 3 months in a school (on the PGCE course) I left because I realised these were not the relationships that I wanted to have with young people. Having chanced upon adult education, I stayed because I loved it. The looseness of it. The informality of the teacher – student relationship. Boundaries are different in community education. Professionalism is defined in other ways. In community ed there is a commitment to equality. I liked the fact the students could join management committees and be members. The commitment to equality was translated into practice: praxis in community education. I felt as a young strutting 20 something year old black girl, and a teacher that I was undermining the education system. There were several, but particularly, there were two black guys in my first cohort of students. They had just left school and joined the local adult education institute to take GCSE English and Sociology having failed a year earlier. They passed. I liked the fact that having failed after 10 years of schooling, they were able to pass after a year n adult ed. I guess with a bit more experience, it was not as simple as school = bad and discriminatory, adult ed = good and committed to equality. I loved being a teacher, the black girl and going out blusing in the evenings, I’d bump into my students who seemed pleased and surprised that I was part of my community. This is another line of narrative – but the Leeds was the first time I’d felt part of a black community. I loved it.
So now – some years later – what do I feel passionate about?
Well, thanks to the formative influence of Leeds University – equality is still my passion. I want to create change through the work that I do: through my teaching, through my writing, through the systems and structures I establish.
I’d forgotten this.
It’s important that I return to this and remember it. It’s my passion. Without it what I do has little meaning. The gratification that rewards what I do is constantly deferred. And what happens to a dream deferred?
More than deferred. It is made irrelevant.
I have recently started reading a colleague whose work I have read before Taylor-Webb, he writes these impassioned essays about teacher knowledge, the choreography of accountability, the anatomy of accountability. He writes about the performativity culture in schools and its impact on teachers.
I am most interested here in his ideas – these I recall at a distance and now loop back to connect to my research – on the reterritorialisation of teacher knowledge. Asking and answering the question – what happens when teaching is made teacher-proof. What happens when teachers’ knowledge is made irrelevant. When teachers ‘deliver ‘ the commodity knowledge that have been created elsewhere, by someone else.
He refers to this as epistemic suicide.
What happens when the dream of equality is constantly deferred?
This is the opening quote from a paper I am now writing.
doesn’t always fit in. It’s great theory; it’s good. You know, we’ve talked about how to contextualise it and the wheel, all of that. It was very refreshing. But my [manager], all she’s interested in is, ‘Oh! He failed. Can we get him back in?’ Not, ‘Can we develop this individual?’ ‘Can we get him back in? What do you think he failed on?’ And that’s the environment we’re in. And with the contracts coming up for renewal.
It’s very target driven, when you are in a target driven environment professional judgement goes out the window, it suffers, because, that’s the main critique of my teaching, it’s not an excuse, it’s a business. They want more for less. It’s stressful; they are asking you for what you can’t deliver. It’s terribly stressful. I’ve had 10 years of it and I’m burnt out from it. 10 years. It’s too long for this environment. It’s too long. You should probably have a shelf life of 5 years.
I worked with this quote as an early example of some of the ideas trainees have in reference to their teaching. But I was asking the data one question while ignoring that it was telling me something else – ignoring it because this was not the question I was asking.
This student is clearly unhappy in his work. Clearly unhappy with teaching and clearly feels that the professional frame that surrounds him, what he is required to do – has no meaning for him. Worse still, has a meaning that undermines is sense of who he is and what he is meant to be doing,
He finds what he is learning refreshing – but this is made stale by the voice of his manager.
He is asked to critique his teaching – his main critique is the environment the works in and the limitations that this imposes.
Situational analysis – I think – invites us to analyse situations to explore our themes. This implies a more open ended data analysis, rather than one that focuses exclusively on our concern but one that reads the situation. I may have an interest in conceptions of literacy, but may find that my answer lies in first of all analysing the situation in its entirety and reading the data in the first instance at face value.
I have chosen to answer my question I passing That is I am asking – not the direct question : what do you think of literacy, but in passing, what conception of literacy emerges in the course of this programme.
Everybody quotes Silverman – so I will maintain the tradition. This is just a nodded acknowledgement rather than detailed referencing. There are some narratives of methodology that I love and will refer to in another blog. What I am thinking of here is the idea that if you ask a direct question, for example, if you ask about a culture directly you get everything included in our answer; its like asking fish what water is like. The answer offers little insight. Instead, put your hand in the water, compare it to land, send a dog or cat into the water. Heat the water up or cool it down. Add things to it. Or at least, invite the fish to tell you about his life in the water – what she can and can’t do.
And so in the quote about Joseph, my trainee teacher, provides an example of the epistemic suicide, the dis/connected ventriloquised self that teachers experience. This sense that there values are not even allowed full articulation. What does it mean to describe yourself as a holistic teacher? How do you in the context of a literacy class develop the whole person? What aspects of your professional judgement go flying out of the window? What would your teaching be like if theory was able to fit the possibilities of practice? There is a sense of potentiality being stalled before it has tine to flourish. There is hankering, desire but no space to explore, embed and develop.
it’s not an excuse, it’s a business.
What strikes me here – is the professional cul-de-sac that Joseph seems to inhabit. The trouble is there may be critiques of his teaching – even within he realms of a target driven culture – but the all pervasiveness of the context obscures the possibility of him seeing this.
So – with the desire to push the boundaries of my thinking, to cover new terrain – the ideas to further explore.
Taylor-Webb on teacher knowledge and epistemic suicide
The data may answer a question that wasn’t actually asked, allow yourself to read the data in ways that enable it to speak to you – open up different explorations
Sometimes a question asked in passing is more valuable than a direct question: there is little to gain form asking a fish to analyse water
Where and how and is there any point in creating space for teachers to explore their values and reasons for teaching, if these values are unlikely to find institutional expression
I like this image, I know too little about it.
Maeve Rendle, Blackpool: Rendle takes the inspiration for this, her first solo show, from a line in Marcel Proust’s reflection on the nature of memory, In Search of Lost Time: ‘I could not help being saddened by the fact that there was now nothing left of my former frame of mind.’ Her series of installations is on show at the Grundy gallery, Blackpool, until 5 June 2010
The broken letters of a typewriter – I wanted to start thinking about the moments when literacies can be dysfunctional. I have to be careful here – because literacy is always told in terms of limitation, lack, deficit and I have no desire to fuel this. But, I want to explore the idea of independence. This seems to be something that those who come to literacy classes value. It can be a strong motivator.
It may also be a metaphor for the dysfunctionallity of skills based approach to literacy. The letters of the typewriter lay strewn and broken, apart from the machine that enables them to perform.