I could never be a teacher. I don’t know how so many of you do it. Sometimes I tutor people into Drama School one on one. Even then, if you don’t care much about it I don’t care much about you. Sometimes I do workshops in universities. That’s been fun over the years. Prisons are lovely too. People are starved of stimulus and long for it. But schools? What madman teaches in a school? Nobody can learn in those places. Big swelling schools full of shouting kids? How? Still, that was roughly what I did today, while longing for the simplicity of a maximum security US prison where people want to learn.
I was out in the East End, talking about IT consultancy to year 8. Getting them enthusiastic. About IT consultancy. Oh yes. Yes indeed. What fun. Getting them to problem-solve. This is a workshop designed by adults for adults but also kids. It’s wordy. They want the kids to apply their thinking to develop technology in groups that will help with the refugee crisis, the aging population/healthcare, or food security. The heart of it is really firmly in the right place. They have to invent and pitch a bit of digital technology that can practically address issues around those subjects. It’s talking about applying technology to ethical problems. It requires them to work in groups, together, towards a common goal that they can set. There’s a lot of freedom. But it’s not simple. It needs focus.
My job is to lead it, to try to engage people in it, and to make it fun. The teachers are supposed to do crowd control but they just catch up with marking and leave us with baffled teaching assistants who do very little. I have no desire to instigate discipline and as a visitor it’s not my job. So when I’m on the line I don’t care. But my voice is worn today because I had to tell them to stop being such bastards to each other when THEY were on the line. They were fine to me. But when their fellow students had to present their findings they devolved into monsters. And I had to try to teach them empathy and stop them from being so aggressive to each other’s work. Which took away from my cache as a visiting expert. You can’t be a visiting expert AND a disciplinarian. But they were doing something I can only describe as “work-shaming.”
There are kids who want to learn, but in this school I noticed a culture of laziness supported by the stronger personalities. I come across that a great deal in different contexts. I always worry when I do. It’s the culture that Trump is giving permission for, but it’s always been there. Inquiring minds are framed by the group as somehow “boring” compared to pedestrian obedient minds. Kids with interesting thoughts are being yawned down by kids who might have more interesting thoughts but don’t want to express them for fear of being thought “interesting.” People don’t want to be seen to try. What sort of a culture is that? Where does that lead?
I went home a little upset because all I want to do on the rare occasions I visit a school is to help expand some horizons, and encourage kids to push their own boundaries a little. I hated unearned authority as a child and that means I don’t want to come in unknown and immediately discipline people. I think that the work did land, but I hate to see kids leading themselves and each other into willful ignorance.
I’ll be back in tomorrow with year 7. One year younger, they’ll probably be less self conscious but more swamped by the material. I bet they’re more willing, less afraid to admit to curiosity. Still, we do what we can. Onwards. Bed now. Zzzz