Giving up on teaching*

*[not all teaching. mainstream, qualified teacher status teaching]

I haven’t written about education for a while. I’ve spent a lot of the last two years feeling pretty overemotional around my feelings toward teaching. My new year’s resolution for 2016 was not to work in schools all year – and though I went in a bit of a bonus decision limbo tailspin last week – I have now finally officially withdrawn from my PGCE. When I get moments of inclination, I’ll be picking out ideas & reflections about schools & education to write up.

At the end of last summer I had a defined moment when I allowed myself to feel the depth of my disgust for performing to an audience that is coerced to be present and pay attention.

I’d woken on the Sunday of a festival with my head buzzing with possibilities. The night before I’d had hours of venturing, theatrically playing fantasy politics with friends and strangers, drawing out and empathasing with vulnerabilities over the scope of our power and our complicities in the face of global capitalist exploitation and injustice, then eventually finding a group of people to share music with until we were all too hoarse to sing and deadbeat tired to let our fingers co-ordinate on our fingerboards. They said my rarely shared, soul-baring songs were beautiful. I revelled in my capacity, in free forms of performance, to draw people to me.

I went to workshops that morning. First, vagina appreciation badge making. Then a speaker on an education development project, who described Freiriean pedagogy without jargon. The audience were rapt, if lacking active involvement – reminding me of Radical Education Forum’s strength in holding participatory space. Then a theatrical workshop on the museum of love, objects of love. I shared a letter, had deep connection with someone I’d met once before in a partnered activity, and recommended bel hooks’ All About Love.

After that, a spoken word artist spoke of a community and youth centre that, despite its fight, was closed for the lack of 35 000 pounds funding. The week after it closed 40 000 pounds worth of criminal damage was committed locally. His 9yrold son’s performance was testimony to his power as educator as well as performer. When he invited others to take a turn on the mic, I shared the horrors of the exploitation of unicorns with the audience, and it worked. Chatting after, I felt acknowledged by him as a person worth talking to, and we went together to catch Akala’s set.

Akala was giving a truly emotionally generous performance. Sharing his passion with the crammed tent. Believing that his audience was open to receive words against racism, against colonialism, against capitalism. I was rapt, and it seemed the entire audience’s attention was fully drawn in. His criticism of school as one facet of oppression struck straight to me. It focussed my awareness that compulsory schooling is not something children have any choice over, and many children explicitly resist it with everything available to them, only to be coerced by a whole spectrum of emotional and social manipulation backed up by the power of the state to partake in the routines, tasks and other expectations put forward by the school and implemented by teaching and support staff. And the disjuncture between participating in this coercion, and the ethics I live the rest of my life by showed starker than before. If I promote respect for all people, regardless of their position in any hierarchy, and consider consent to be a foundation for any meaningful respect, how can I have a relationship for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, with 30 people in which there can only ever be the illusion of consent?

The self confidence I had gained, from living the expressive, confident self that had been restricted to the margins by the PGCE allowed me to release the fear of finding myself purposeless and skill-less if I were not to complete it. This fear gone, my disgust at the oppressive system I had operated as part of drove out everything still tying me to the idea of completing the PGCE. Two years of my life dominated by it [for negative CV points]? Better not let it have any more. A second batch of student debt? Who says I’ll ever even earn enough to repay it. Less chance of being paid a decent wage in any area of education? Well, that’s pretty unfortunate, but y’know. I’ll deal. I have to admit that I failed to complete a PGCE because of my mental health? No, I do not, because although that was a part of it, it is not the strongest narrative: I am not finishing a PGCE because I fundamentally don’t want to occupy the role of teacher in compulsory schooling.

owl pla

still from an animation of an owl destroying a Professional Learning Agenda (PGCE paperwork)

About Glitter Action Group

Glitter Action Group is a serious project that I’m interested in taking forward, as an interactive art/ immersive theatre project that could take a range of forms. In particular I want to use the liminal spaces of parties and festivals, when people are emotionally open and a step back from their ordinary lives, to process political ideas and emotions playfully.

I wondered about going to the Anarchist Bookfair, to troll it with glitter, because there’s so many people there to take the piss out of, but also so many people there who are awesome. I imagined setting up a mini queer/glitter dance party, and get people involved and glittered up, which tbh would be a more fun way to spend time than most options round the bookfair, and then have some others of us break the terrible news that glitter is produced from the exploitation of unicorns.

Activism is a bizarre and conflicted practice. Many people become embedded in particular sorts of practice, which can develop cultures that make them hard for newcomers to access. Anarchist street demonstrations. V. language aware queer scenes. Ethical consumption. People become so invested in their political & ethical life choices that discussing them openly is incredibly fraught and sensitive. And dealing with the limits of our power living under global structures is difficult. The ways we maintain our sense of worth are varied, and though we can attempt to make choices that are coherent between our personal and political lives if we think we’re truly succeeding it’s going to be because we’ve got heads in the sand to some of the inevitable tensions and hypocrisies.

I had theatrical improvisational conversations with so many people on the theme of ‘Do YOU EVEN KNOW where your glitter comes from?’ – and people reacted in so many different ways. How people think about global capitalism comes across really clearly. From hysterical laughter at the idea of fairtrade redemption (basically anyone who is fucking fed up with liberal lifestylist consumption politics), to ‘We in the west really should be setting an example’ (sincere hippy girl with shit Eurocentric analysis but OMG SO EARNEST), to discussion of the ideal forms of worker’s co-ops, . And the bit I like most is the deeply emotional acknowledgment that it is fucking horrible to be complicit in exploitation and there is no way out of that under our current society.

I’d like to think about ways we can channel the emotions & strategizing & prioritisation of forms of action on the disgusting unicorn factory farms to transfer to real life issues. Like the Duvet Day theatre project where people were left with the contacts of organisations taking action on issues related to stories told in the piece.

I want to bring this project forward with a tight core group of people who trust each other’s politics, but who bring different angles to it – who engage in real-world politics in a range of different ways, with different priorities but shared core values. I want to develop a space where we can operate on a basis of assumed goodwill to call each other in, and make the space as safe and comfortable as possible for a wide range of people. I want the space to be one for mutual understandings and new emotional connections to develop.

I want it to be really fun, and nourishing to be a part of this project. I want us to be able to run an expenses (or more) paid crew who are having a better time than we would attending friendly commercial-ish events as punters (such as Shambala, where this project grew as an idea in my head) or to do it for shits and giggles and catharsis and whatever else we may get out of it where-ever seems a good place. Or to be paid real money to run as a room at a clubnight or arts event that has actual money. For me, I hope to have fun with a sort of project I haven’t tried to make happen before. I want to have time being a performance persona because I love it and have never yet formalised it at all. I’m happy for this project to tick over at a low level until such time as people have the capacity/energy/motivation to make it have particular incarnations. It could just be two people playing with it at a party, and writing it up. Maybe we could spin out the mythology and make an online presence entirely within our fantasy campaign. We could play out wars between radicals and liberals, or trots and anarchists, or clicktivists or those who think ‘identity politics are a waste of time’. We could develop workshops for different audiences. We could follow our noses and do things that feel good in the gut and see what happen …

GLITTER ACTION GROUP (G.A.G.)

CALL TO ACTION: Glitter Action Group

Comrades,

I invite you to join together in forming a collective: the Glitter Action Group. This is the first written outreach I have made – though we may already have spoken about the reasons action on the Glitter issue is of vital strategic importance in the struggles we care about. If I spoke to you in the early stages, then some of what I share here has developed with the incorporation of your ideas.

We all know users of glitter, and most of us have used at some point. I have become increasingly aware of the slippery slope to abuse and dependency – but still see glitter as something which can bring joy and beauty – at the point of consumption.

The production of glitter however, continues to shock and horrify me the more I discover. When I first discovered the truth – that the fairies who control the majority of the industry are only able to produce this commodity through the exploitation of unicorns, I found it hard to believe. Yes, there are some synthetics available, but this product is underdeveloped as it is undercut by the fairies’ ruthless empire.

Some may say that unicorns are nothing like us. However, this is what the fairies would have us believe. That unicorns have an innately bestial nature and are unable to form civilised society, and therefore to suggest they should have rights equal to that of fairies or humans is ludicrous. Some of you have cited unicorns you have met in person, including those featured in the recent documentary ‘Inside London’s Hedonistic Polyamorous Unicorn Movement’. These unicorns do not represent all unicorns, and we cannot judge their species on the exploits of a few. The enslavement of the masses cannot be justified on the behaviour of a liberated few. We must fight for the radical goal that the personhood of all unicorns be acknowledged, and their rights enshrined in law.

You are all people, who on learning of our complicity in this global-industrial exploitation were eager to move from awareness to action. Would you like to come to this early stage strategy generating meeting? There are a range of leads to follow up: a link to a worker’s co-op, a clandestine union movement, political figures susceptible to pressure, ideas for Non Violent Direct Action and more.

Please fill in this Doodle to share your availability and/or reply to this email loop!

Yours in love and rage,

 

contact glitteractiongroup@gmail.com to find out updates

THE FIRST POEM I EVER WROTE (voluntarily after the age of 8 or so)

when I was 17 I went on a summer camp where my group was led by a gentle man called Li/Lee Trew. he was following/ influenced by Tom Brown’s school of Nature Connection. on the first morning we were given the chance to get up before breakfast for some sensory awareness activities. we made nettle string and gathered mushrooms by their scent (well, stinkhorn anyway). and in the autumn I made a bow drill under his instruction, and wrote this slightly er… well it is what it is and I was 17 at the time and was self concious of its fertility language clichees but it came very naturally so here it is –

Ode to my bowdrill

I have fashioned you

until you fit like male and female,

like Yin and Yang.

Now the spindle is held in the grip

of my eager bow

and I press it home.

Fire, come bless me.

Back, spinning.

Forward, grinding.

Back, smoking,

the ember comes.

I place it in the tinder like a newborn in a blanket.

Glowing growing coal

feed on my breath until you

burst into living flame.
bowdrill pic

Messing with Perfectionism

When I draw, I like to leave the sketchlines showing. Those words are from a song, metaphorically describing my desires for explorative, transparent communication processes in relationships. But most writing I share is produced with an invisible digital editing process.

A ‘zine-in-a-day’ workshop counters this digitality. We made physical stacks of printed material by cutting, pasting and writing with ink pen and printing with a Risograph printer within a few hours. With a risograph printer creating a master costs £1, after which prints cost 1p in ink, but the master can only be used for one batch: so making all the copies in one batch is the most efficient option. ‘I always think you might as well do 50’, the workshop leader told me. 30 was my compromise.

My project was personal and therapeutic: to reclaim my PGCE assignment. I’d submitted a draft a week before. Writing had been an up and down experience, spread over more than a year due to the disruptions to my course. My engagement with it had gone up and down with the normal difficulties of writing, and more personally with the processing of my experiences in schools from messy reality tinged with failure and anxiety into professional learning experiences. After many periods of serious avoidance and procrastination, and two full restructurings, I got well into it. Rediscovering educationalists who are dedicated to good pedagogy and who write research that is good for thinking with heartened me– in particular Askew, Resnick, Boaler. A coursemate’s kindly shared submission met the explicit learning criteria exactly but bored me stiff, making me value my attempts to include my ambivalences and cross the gulf between systemic critique and classroom practice.

Writing between the lines of my conclusion, literally as well as figuratively, re-claimed my ideas on my own terms, for an audience of my peers and community rather than my assessors. What I handed in was written in the academic register, and trod a line between criticality and compliance. Many of the thoughts which preoccupy me most were not incorporated, or were written in muted forms. I may still get feedback to cut the polemic and focus more on the classroom, so before dealing with that I wanted to value my personal experience and political rage, and mourn how these raw edges are controlled and smoothed over by professionalism.

IMG_0145

Paper based production challenged my perfectionism in writing. My choices of writing fast or slow, my hesitations, my corrections are all visible in the printed zine. I drew skyscrapers and some suits with currency symbols on them pulling puppet strings, and then self-consciously scrawled ‘generic clicheed representations of gneoliberal capitalism’ over them. It is unclear, and chaotic in places. I overwrote my nod to the examiners that “the capacity to convey enthusiasm, [threatened by the isolation and overwork of the teacher’s role,] is ‘a core Teacher’s Standard’” to the point of illegibility with the comment ‘like I give a shit about standards; this was a question of sanity’. I touch on ideas without finishing them, leaving threads of thoughts hanging. It’s a messy area in a way that a composed piece of writing never can be.

At the last minute I used this bit of writing to make a B-side poster fold out. I handwrote on the side ‘sometimes, when conversation fails, I end up sitting by myself and writing’ and ‘This zine is for everyone who’s been around me as I’ve been withdrawn and/or needy through my PGCE years. And everyone’s who’s grappling the role of teacher …’. I then accidentally made a black master before changing the roll to a light ink, so the text as image behind the text didn’t work. With that and another printing fail I’ve got a one-sided zine. It would have been good to have something that I liked on the poster side – but I’ve shared what I did produce with a few people anyway, and shall continue to do so when socially appropriate conversation is failing me when they ask ‘how’s the teaching going?’

This digital text makes the process behind the zine explicit, but also flattens it. I’ve found this easy to write, but I don’t know how well it conveys my thoughts and feelings. I’ve become trained into producing theoretical words, which are unnecessarily distancing to read. I’d like to re-educate myself away from the supremacy of pure text for communication, particularly formal writing. Alt text for the zine could read as briefly as:

When writing critically about teaching and learning as part of ‘professional learning’ balancing making a systemic critique, portraying personal experiences of frustration, presenting all experiences as ‘professional learning’ and complying with ‘explicit learning outcomes’ was a struggle for me.

That may be clearer, it’s certainly easier to read. But . . . it’s the process more than the product that makes me glad I made this messy little zine.

IMG_0144

Head Down Days

I hear the alarm, and start to extract myself from dreamt scenarios,

wash off the clinging images, oats down my throat, notes into file, into pannier, arms into hi-vis and bike out of door, down the road and

Queen’s Hostel

up the hill, lock it up, roll down trousers, wipe off sweat and into staffroom.

 

Eight timetabled hours and two more,

then I’m coming home past Queen’s Hostel again.

I push aside a stack of undistributed No Borders zines to shelve my ringbinder.

As I check my email media laments that a ship has sunk off Lampadusa, as if it is news.

The thought rises up of my gentle friend

who cooked rice, who rode a cement mixer in silence, who let his companion make the boat, whose head is scarred by an interrogator, who shrugged at the wait for his papers and his roommate’s nightly phonecalls,

and each time I clamp it down before it opens the floodgates.

And I strengthen my doors, to focus on this one thing.

But dammed up and directed the pressure inside me makes me immobile, paralysed,

and then in the classroom I can do nothing while a boy takes his painstakingly scrawled label that the group rejected, turns it into a spaceship, and flies it around the room.

The hope that I can be better, that I will not allow eager learners to be humiliated and sink into passivity, calcifies into grim obligation, as I follow this well-trodden path where my humanity must be administered in strategic doses to nourish my allotment of 30 thirsty young souls to grow and yield a harvest.

I hope at least that I can help them grow wild, interplanted, co-existant, joyous, and I will do this even if the yield is less orderly than that grown in rows.

And I will come back to the rest of the world.

 

This is from the first term of my PGCE. From my struggle to reconcile myself to my tunnel vision on my workload, and to hope that it will lead me somewhere where I am able again to have worthwhile engagement with people in the world. Returning to this as I stew in the process of regurgitating experience as a neatly packaged learning experience for the consumption of the academy.

regarding your question

You ask like you expect a reply off the cuff,
as if some social small talk could be enough;
but it’s a topic that’s been lying hidden in my brain
that I need to share before it drives me insane.
Can’t give you off the cuff when my heart’s on my sleeve
But if you want to know what I truly believe,
may I tell you my frame, before we discuss the picture?

The world is a sad and terrible place.
I think that’s a truth that we’ve got to embrace.
If we’re to live with it, do what we can with it,
it’s something I’d sooner just face.
What we feel may be what our warped thoughts think,
but reality may not be better, could also be worse.
Critical thinking might be a curse, a quagmire where to be stuck is to sink,
but the lack of it surely is more hopeless still.
I chose the apple, and I always will
seek out the fruits that show possibilities of infinities of change.
We can only hope our futures will not be as they seem.
If nothing is inevitable, everything is possible, we gotta be critical
and we gotta dream.

So, about the teaching. Given capitalism in general, and schools in specific are fucked, it’s going kind of ok.