October 08, 2003
Laura's school and Brian School

Last Friday I bought, because I feel that I should from time to time, a copy of the Times Educational Supplement (October 3 2003). It's a sort of giant Brian's Education Blog for centre-left to stupid-left teachers, done on paper. The economic basis of it is teaching job adverts.

The latest issue has (on page 5) what I've come to notice as a staple story for the TES, the one about the very smart person who becomes a starting out teacher, and who finds that it Isn't As Easy As She'd Thought It Would Be, and that she had to Work Very Hard.

This is the subheading of the story:

High-flyers are discovering that the teacher's daily grind is no cakewalk.

This story is about Laura Johnson, a 24-year-old Oxford graduate, who is doing a spell of teaching as part of the Teach First initiative. And she found it was very difficult, had to work from 7 am to midnight, blah blah blah.

The moral being: They Earn Their Money. Or to be more exact: We Earn Our Money And We Deserve A Stonking Pay Rise.

The more I think about these stories, and I've read plenty of them over the last few months, the more I find myself dissenting with extreme and indeed contemptuous vehemence from the usual version of what they are said to mean. They do not mean that Oxford graduates are less than very clever. Oxford graduates are, on the whole and give or take a few pomposities caused by ignorance of the world outside of Oxford which acquaintance with the world outside of Oxford will soon cure, pretty much as clever as they think they are. (It didn't take Laura Johnson long to realise how little she knew about what teachers did and how unrealistic were her first hopes of what she might immediately achieve as a teacher.) The thing that is stupid stupid stupid is the routine of flinging totally, and I do mean totally, inexperienced "teachers", on their own, into "classrooms" crammed with several dozen "pupils", and expecting non-insanity to be the result. The inverted commas in the previous sentence are there because "screws", "prisoners" and "jails" would make at least as much sense of what is going on here as does any talk of teachers and pupils. That kids get stuck in thumbscrews (see the previous story but one here), or otherwise get screamed at or assaulted, or that the kids retaliate in kind and assault their "teachers", is just the kind of Dickensian awfulness that one should expect from such a practice. The miracle is not that this happens. The miracle is that anything nicer ever does.

What would we say about the RAF if kids were plucked off the dole-queues and stuck in jet airplanes and expected to drive them straight away without crashing and burning? Of if they were "trained" for this absurd and destructive ordeal by doing nothing more than sitting about discussing and writing essays about the theory and the philosophy of flying for a few months or years?

The reason why teachers so often compare their lives to that of front line soldiers in wars is because that is indeed what their lives are like. And during the Second World War, the RAF did grab ignorant young men and stick them in complicated airplanes with woefully insufficient training, and hope for the best. That's the kind of cruel madness that happens in wars. But that's no excuse to do such things when there's no war being fought.

Brian School, will, to start with, have about one or two pupils, who can leave at any moment without explanation or justification if they don't like it, and there'll be me, and maybe one or two friends helping out, plus any concerned adults connected with the pupils who aren't sure what will happen with this arrangement and want to keep an earlly eye on it. At first there will be confusions and unpleasantnesses. Some kids won't like me or my friends and vice versa. Some adults won't approve of what is happening. But by and by, a small gang of consenting children and adults will coagulate, and slowly expand, learning all the time.

At which point, I fear, the government will shut the thing down on account of the adults not having had enough "training" (i.e. not having spent sufficient time writing essays about the philosophy of education), because we aren't helping enough with the government's latest truancy initiative and languages initiative, and because there's only one toilet. I'll say to The Government: but you aren't giving us any money, what business is it of yours? And The Government will reply: the fact that you refuse to accept any government money (fair comment – that will be the reality of the situation) means that you are a Private School and that only makes everything far, far worse.

If Brian School can ever get past those problems and get as huge as the average tiny "school" is now, new adult members will be inducted much as new younger members are. They won't be hurled into insane asylum/prisons and made to stay up half the night preparing make-work for their prisoners and then lie awake for the rest of the night worrying about how to subjugate their prisoners. They'll be welcomed, told a little of how the place is organised and how it works, and then asked to make themselves useful, doing something easy which they can easily do. Some will have been enticed there with a particular activity in mind for them to start in on.

Some will be confused and angry, and leave, which is fine – if they don't like it, they shouldn't hang about. Others will love it but be, in our opinion, unsuitable, and will be eased/intimidated out and if that fails, told to go. But some will be great and will see the point quickly, and will love it, and will stick around. It'll be the same as any other sane adult operation, in other words.

Many of these adults will (I fantasise) be ex-"teachers", who, for the privilege of actually doing some real teaching to consenting pupils, will be happy to do it for nothing.

Dream on Brian. That's what blogs are for. More realistically, if anyone is already running something like Brian School within easy-ish travelling distance of Brian (i.e. near-ish to London SW1) do please get in touch. I'd far rather not have to do all the organising myself. I'm better at just helping out.

Last Friday I bought, because I feel that I should from time to time, a copy of the Times Educational Supplement (October 3 2003). It's a sort of giant Brian's Education Blog for centre-left to stupid-left teachers, done on paper. The economic basis of it is teaching job adverts.

The latest issue has (on page 5) what I've come to notice as a staple story for the TES, the one about the very smart person who becomes a starting out teacher, and who finds that it Isn't As Easy As She'd Thought It Would Be, and that she had to Work Very Hard.

This is the subheading of the story:

High-flyers are discovering that the teacher's daily grind is no cakewalk.

This story is about Laura Johnson, a 24-year-old Oxford graduate, who is doing a spell of teaching as part of the Teach First initiative. And she found it was very difficult, had to work from 7 am to midnight, blah blah blah.

The moral being: They Earn Their Money. Or to be more exact: We Earn Our Money And We Deserve A Stonking Pay Rise.

The more I think about these stories, and I've read plenty of them over the last few months, the more I find myself dissenting with extreme and indeed contemptuous vehemence from the usual version of what they are said to mean. They do not mean that Oxford graduates are less than very clever. Oxford graduates are, on the whole and give or take a few pomposities caused by ignorance of the world outside of Oxford which acquaintance with the world outside of Oxford will soon cure, pretty much as clever as they think they are. (It didn't take Laura Johnson long to realise how little she knew about what teachers did and how unrealistic were her first hopes of what she might immediately achieve as a teacher.) The thing that is stupid stupid stupid is the routine of flinging totally, and I do mean totally, inexperienced "teachers", on their own, into "classrooms" crammed with several dozen "pupils", and expecting non-insanity to be the result. The inverted commas in the previous sentence are there because "screws", "prisoners" and "jails" would make at least as much sense of what is going on here as does any talk of teachers and pupils. That kids get stuck in thumbscrews (see the previous story but one here), or otherwise get screamed at or assaulted, or that the kids retaliate in kind and assault their "teachers", is just the kind of Dickensian awfulness that one should expect from such a practice. The miracle is not that this happens. The miracle is that anything nicer ever does.

What would we say about the RAF if kids were plucked off the dole-queues and stuck in jet airplanes and expected to drive them straight away without crashing and burning? Of if they were "trained" for this absurd and destructive ordeal by doing nothing more than sitting about discussing and writing essays about the theory and the philosophy of flying for a few months or years?

The reason why teachers so often compare their lives to that of front line soldiers in wars is because that is indeed what their lives are like. And during the Second World War, the RAF did grab ignorant young men and stick them in complicated airplanes with woefully insufficient training, and hope for the best. That's the kind of cruel madness that happens in wars. But that's no excuse to do such things when there's no war being fought.

Brian School, will, to start with, have about one or two pupils, who can leave at any moment without explanation or justification if they don't like it, and there'll be me, and maybe one or two friends helping out, plus any concerned adults connected with the pupils who aren't sure what will happen with this arrangement and want to keep an earlly eye on it. At first there will be confusions and unpleasantnesses. Some kids won't like me or my friends and vice versa. Some adults won't approve of what is happening. But by and by, a small gang of consenting children and adults will coagulate, and slowly expand, learning all the time.

At which point, I fear, the government will shut the thing down on account of the adults not having had enough "training" (i.e. not having spent sufficient time writing essays about the philosophy of education), because we aren't helping enough with the government's latest truancy initiative and languages initiative, and because there's only one toilet. I'll say to The Government: but you aren't giving us any money, what business is it of yours? And The Government will reply: the fact that you refuse to accept any government money (fair comment – that will be the reality of the situation) means that you are a Private School and that only makes everything far, far worse.

If Brian School can ever get past those problems and get as huge as the average tiny "school" is now, new adult members will be inducted much as new younger members are. They won't be hurled into insane asylum/prisons and made to stay up half the night preparing make-work for their prisoners and then lie awake for the rest of the night worrying about how to subjugate their prisoners. They'll be welcomed, told a little of how the place is organised and how it works, and then asked to make themselves useful, doing something easy which they can easily do. Some will have been enticed there with a particular activity in mind for them to start in on.

Some will be confused and angry, and leave, which is fine – if they don't like it, they shouldn't hang about. Others will love it but be, in our opinion, unsuitable, and will be eased/intimidated out and if that fails, told to go. But some will be great and will see the point quickly, and will love it, and will stick around. It'll be the same as any other sane adult operation, in other words.

Many of these adults will (I fantasise) be ex-"teachers", who, for the privilege of actually doing some real teaching to consenting pupils, will be happy to do it for nothing.

Dream on Brian. That's what blogs are for. More realistically, if anyone is already running something like Brian School within easy-ish travelling distance of Brian (i.e. near-ish to London SW1) do please get in touch. I'd far rather not have to do all the organising myself. I'm better at just helping out.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:38 PM
Category: The reality of teaching