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all year – and though I went in a bit of a bonus decision limbo tailspin last week – I have now finally officially withdrawn from my PGCE.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)