Writings, photos, politics and rants... *Original content - may not be reproduced without my consent.*

Friday, 25 September 2020

Born to Be Alive...

Just drove to Pitlochry. On the way, I heard this song on the radio. It really reminds me of a time and in particular, our family at the time it was out. 

When you are young, you yearn for independence, and to know what the future holds. At the time this song was out, I was really happy in our family unit. I felt safe, happy, loved (the opposite of what I felt for a lot of time in school, but had a good circle of friends who put up with me!). I had a feeling of my world changing, but I didnt want it to, beyond the desperation to get away from school... I still hate family change. I like new things, experiences, people, but massive, long term change of family situation, I find difficult. Dad dying and not being able to visit mum as often as I would have liked, his has made this a very difficult year.

My eldest sister, had this song. She was in to disco, but had a range of music taste, and her buying the single of "Love Will Tear Us Apart," got me in to Joy Division (though most of JD's catalogue was not to her taste... I remember her sarcastically shouting through my bedroom door, "Where WILL it end, Neil?" as I droned along to "Day of the Lords...")

Hearing this song also reminded me of the relationship with music we had back then, and how that has changed. Dad had a collection of eight track tapes (younger people ... These tape decks operated like CD's... You could switch songs at the press of a button, and the tapes played on a loop... Albums could be listened to the whole way through without having to "turn over" the tape). Car journeys in the light blue Volkswagon Beetle, were family sing songs along to ABBA, Jim Reeves, Charley Pride, Philomena Begley, Big Tom and the Mainliners and others. And Karen taped the top 40, so we'd hear that (I started doing this too), and skillfully taping new songs over old, and using the pause button and winding the tape back with a finger to make sure you didnt have the Radio One DJ's voice on it at all, is a skill no young person acquires nowadays... Is this REALLY progress?

And buying music, with pocket money or low first wages was a big decision. Buying a single or two really was a massive decision , as was buying albums. Albums I wanted for ever were bought on vinyl and taped for the car or the kitchen stereo (a huge ghetto blaster thing, I remember going to a shop in Gilford with dad to buy... for him to listen to his country and western radio show on a Sunday night. An amazing thing at the time, with LED lights that pulsated to the music, and with a graphic equalizer)... Just what was that "Metal" setting for (metal tapes usually said , "do not use metal setting," on the box ... )?

I remember standing for ages in the early eighties debating with myself in Newtonards Shopping Centre whether or not to buy Kate Bush's album, The Dreaming, based on hearing one song, and based also on the fact I'd liked her older stuff... Buying albums were like that. A hit and miss thing, based on singles. I have to say... Most albums I bought were great. Nowadays, all music , including entire albums are easily accessed . If you want to buy, you've probably heard all of the tracks.

Anyway... Born to be Alive... Yes we are.

Tuesday, 22 September 2020

De-stress that squirrel

I was driving to work this morning, as stressed as an over tightened violin played by a squirrel on a hotplate being barked at by a dog with anger issues caused by piles, when this came on the radio... I sailed into work without a care in the world as it played...


Saturday, 19 September 2020

Every School Year Should be a Mr Hull Year...

Im glad schools and teachers are changing. I now know no *mean* teachers. We all do our best to ensure children in our care are happy, comfortable and want to be there.
{P4 gave me a love of art...} 

I have lots of memories of teachers beating me, kicking me, pulling my hair, drumming on the side of my head with their knuckles, lifting me by the ear, or the hair at the side of my head. I have memories of being humiliated by teachers. I've seen children humiliated during my teaching career... And I used to protect children from one old git (who thankfully doesn't teach anymore ) who used to scream at them (i used to usher them out of the classroom-or into the playground if I knew she was on her way).

I have never forgotten humiliations from people who really should never have been allowed near children. One incident sticks in my mind. I actually liked the teacher, she was "safe." 

Anyway, I sat at a table with very  upper working class/middle class children - other teachers children, a police officers child, a business owners child...

Teachers love to set challenges, sometimes not really understanding the crushing effect of that challenge on those who never can meet it. She set a challenge of a really difficult sum I knew my friends would get- one I really could not get near to achieving. I knew another embarrassing, humiliating time was firmly set in my future, so, I "switched off," as I always tended to do in the face of more crushing, embarrassing evidence of my stupidity. I didn't take part. I froze.

When it was time to reveal the answer, my table, to a person, got it right. The teacher , in order to heighten the humiliation (she probably just didn't think , or care about humiliation, lets be honest), asked all of those who got it right to raise their hand. Like the rest of the table, I raised my hand, but shut my jotter. The teacher then singled me out, knowing perfectly well I hadn't got it, as she knew I really found number work difficult. She asked to see the sum. Not only that, but to show it to the class. I flipped through my jotter and told her I had lost the page. She was really angry with me for my pretence, and I remember the heat of my burning embarrassment as she humiliated me in front of the class. At least she didn't hit, bang my head with her knuckles, pull my hair, break a ruler over my hand, slipper me, cane me or throw a, wooden duster at me. 

I was seven.
And as I say, she wasnt the worst... She was "safe," ie. She didnt physically abuse - this was a thing... Children in those days knew the hitters, the sadists and those who were safe- it was part of our conversation, especially at the start of a new school year. 

Other humiliations were centred around my reading, PE, my inability to remember the alphabet, times, tables etc. And I suffered physical abuse because of my inability to concentrate or recite things we learned by rote. Some humiliations and pain were expected. The ones that stand out were by teachers I trusted, including the one above. And this brings me to today. All teachers should be trusted by children. Careless talk, raised voices and humiliating feedback causes long term anxiety and has a mental health impact. Our behaviours and anxieties are absorbed as lessons, without the benchmarks, "I can" statements, on display. 

I'm glad to say my son enjoyed school. He had a very different experience from me. We can as teachers make mistakes, but we do our best to get to the bottom of behaviours and to help children see failure as a positive learning experience either about the skill, or themselves. My son is confident regarding his knowledge and skills (though the present work market, created by ten years of the failure of austerity politics , and now covid, are denting that a tad).

Teaching children that if they really want to, they can do something and watching them try and try without feeling embarrassed, is incredibly satisfying and actually quite emotional. I know no teacher who doesn't feel the same nowadays. 


And we teach children to recognise that everyone has different positive attributes. And I know that the absolute imperative for all teachers, are children who have a life long love of learning ... Something i didnt properly discover until i was in my late teens /early twenties. Or what I should say, I had all my life , but formal education was almost buried because of the absolute fear I had for school thanks to some god awful people who nowadays would be jailed.

(Primary school for me, was totally saved by the "safe" teachers- P2 Mrs Cunningham, who was kind and fun; P4, Mrs Russell, gave me a love of art; P6, Mr Hull, who made learning fun and school a place I wanted to be - a teacher I really will never forget as he made me feel like I was a valued part of a little community, and P7, Mr Carlton whose stories about driving tanks etc, were just damn interesting).

Children really should not fear school. School for many, is a haven. I love seeing children having a totally different experience of school than I did. Every year should be a safe teacher year.

Every year should be a welcoming, valuing, Mr Hull year.

All behaviour is communication, and that is a, two way street. The children's behaviour communicates their happiness, fears, anxiety... As does ours. Only, our behaviour also teaches children behaviour. Cold, unkind, anxiety driven behaviours designed to control, teach children the same anxiety driven behaviours we picked up from our childhood. We need to try to ensure those mental health impacting behaviours are driven out of the front line of education, into history. Society will benefit massively from that. And there are huge hurdles to overcome to get there.
It's incredible that there were actual debates and disagreements over the legislation that outlawed some of the abuse meted out in schools, just in the way there has been debate over the last twenty years over outlawing physical abuse meted out by parents. Children really are the last in the line when we talk about Equalities. Threats, screaming teachers and humiliation really must be the next front... The next inequality we tackle within our school communities. But to really do that, we must look again at the expectations we have of young kids... The expectations we have on teachers ticking through schemes of work, and the abuse of power meted out by adult managers on staff, because of pressures they are under. Anxiety driven abuse must be stopped. And to do that, education really must no longer be an exercise in time and motion study, or a place of "control."