Monday, June 11, 2012

‘They should have personal masseuses’

Three days in the classroom gave comedian Rhod Gilbert a new-found respect for teachers.
Rhod Gilbert (comedian) spends time with children! It is clear, he is listening!
 Spending three days in a primary school for my television programme Rhod Gilbert’s Work Experience was among the most inspiring things I have ever done.
What’s key to teaching is the element that I loved the most: imparting knowledge and information to the children, watching them learn and, you hope, becoming a force for good in their lives.  It was incredibly inspiring, moving and the most wonderful privilege.
I got a taste of it for just a few days – after a very short period, kids were coming up to me and saying the most moving things, the most inspiration things, about the impact I’d had on them.  And that was me just dicking about and having fun with them, giving them time, listening.  I can only imagine what it’s like to teach them for years.  It must be mind-blowing.
In my time at the school, I learned that it is impossible to over-estimate the value teachers have in our society.  It’s priceless.  But, amazingly, teachers are fairly poorly respected.  These people are shaping the next generation, they are having a massive influence on what society will be like in five, 10, 15 years’ time.  It’s as much down to them as it is to parents.
Yet many teachers I know are tire, stressed, downtrodden, poorly rewarded, overworked, over-examined and league-tabled to within an inch of their lives, and we as a society, as parents, as politicians, have a duty to do something about it.
So I have come up with a radical solution.  All teachers should have government-funded personal masseuses, drivers and personal assistants to massage their shoulders on the way to school, rub their feet and grant them sexual favours.  All so that, when they do into the classroom, they are excited, motivated and fresh as a daisy.  The rest of us should be doing this…or, at least, the rest of us in society who are paid pointlessly large sums of money for doing sod all.
The teachers at the school where I was placed were committed down to their very last drop of energy and passion.  They were phenomenal and the school was awesome.  Despite the piles of paperwork, bureaucracy and nonsense that seem to do little more than destroy teachers, they were still incredibly enthusiastic and undaunted – a testament to how passionate they are about their jobs.
But my time in school wasn’t as simple as me walking in to the staffroom and falling in love with the profession.  The first day I spent just taking the mick because of all the happy-clappy, modern, funky teaching methods.
The main reason for my reaction was that it was so different form when I was at school in the 1970s.  Then, a jam sandwich was considered two of your five a day and schools were made up of teachers in classrooms, blackboards and rows of kids slumped over desks, learning by rote.
In Monnow Primary, near Newport, South Wales, where I was based for the programme, it’s all independent “zones”, including the “multimedia zone” and the “thinking zone”.  For example, they didn’t do maths in the classroom, they did it in a forest.  It was like something from The Mighty Boosh.
But then, over the three days, I saw how the school’s methods engaged the kids and how they loved it, and how much fun they had while they were learning.  I became convinced that teaching has really improved in terms of learning through play.
I dicked around a lot when I was in school.  I wasn’t bad, but I just wasn’t interested.  It wasn’t my teachers, it was just me.  If we’d had the teaching methods I saw in this school, I would certainly have been more engaged.
I was only at Monnow for three days, but I’m going to go back there and help out, because I felt like I had an impact.  It was sensational.  The best thing I’ve ever done.
Rhod Gilbert’s Work Experience: Teacher is on BBC iPlayer.
Times Educational Supplement Friday 11 May 2012

Monday, June 4, 2012

Passion and Power


Recently I was asked to speak to a group of people, not within the ECE sector, about why I choose early childhood, what my job entails and where my passions lie.  This was not going to be hard - especially because the requirement was that I spoke about my passion.  Obviously they had time to spare, this could end up being a very long night especially  as passion involves emotion and when it comes to early childhood education there is an abundance of that, sometimes very obvious and other times bubbling just below the calm exterior within myself and people I met through my job. 

I had just finished reading Celia Lashlie’s book The Power of Mothers which had the profound effect of once again stirring up all the passion that drew me into early childhood.  You see coming from a social worker background where I felt like the ambulance  at the bottom of the cliff I really wanted to make a difference in the lives of young children.  Not just picking up the broken and bruised pieces.  I saw education as the fence at the top of the cliff a vehicle into the lives of people, a place where I knew that I could make a difference.  Celia Lashlie’s book reminded me of this.  Her book, written with absolute passion, provides an insight into many aspects of the criminal justice system, CYF’S and in particular women’s prisons.  Part way through Celia talks about a ministry report and writes, “...... including the recognition that it is when children are young that we can have the greatest effect in terms of increasing the chances that they won’t end up in prison (or dead) as the result of an addiction or because they can’t find their place in the world.  This is the stuff that everyone working with at-risk families knows - the stuff that teachers who watch the next generation of children from ‘that’ family come into their classroom at the start of a new year know deep in their bones.”  It is so true ‘it is when children are young that we can have the greatest effect.”  I do not believe that this is just the case for ‘that’ family but for all our tamariki across New Zealand.  For me Celia could have been writing a mission statement for early childhood as later she talks about a young man “who was attracted in the Mongrel Mob in his early teens because this gave him a sense of family - his first real sense of belonging”.  Sounds very familiar doesn’t it?  Belonging one of the strands of our curriculum, this gives a new sense of the word’s importance and just why it is there so boldly within our curriculum.

So back to my night with those that really need to hear why I am so passionate about early childhood.  I started with talking about my experiences in social work, next quoted Celia Lashlie and finally remind everyone present of the increasing number of suicides  within New Zealand.  In my own life I have personally known 5 people who have committed suicide - 4 of these young men, two of these have children.  To me and I am sure to everyone else this is an enormous waste. 

So for this reason I am passionately involved in early childhood.  I want to make sure, to the best of my ability,  that early childhood settings are places that see their opportunity to create a sense of belonging, that grow children’s idea of themselves as being valued contributing members of society, that take the opportunity to allow children to express their thoughts and feelings and finally where the well-being of the child is the driving factor behind teachers practice.  Celia Lashlie’s book as I have said, once again stirred up that passion that first drew me to early childhood.  It also reminded me of the huge responsibility  we have as early childhood teachers - what a privilege, a joy and a challenge to the an early childhood teachers in the 21st century.  We have the opportunity to make a enormous difference in the lives of our tamariki.

After passionately speaking from the heart to my group of unsuspecting people, who I am sure were unaware of the consequences of giving me free license to talk about my passion - I wondered how many of them will return home to consider taking up this rewarding and world changing career in early childhood.  As most of them were in the near to the retiring age bracket this may not be possible.  But who knows because when you allow passion and conviction to drive you you may find that the future paths may vary from where you thought you were going.