Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Wednesday Words - Dear Mr Gove

Recently,  a poet called Jess Green made *this*, a video poem to Mr Gove.  Whilst she isn't a teacher, she works with children in schools in her role as poet, and she is from a family of poets.  My point is, she's not just jumping on the band wagon - she knows. (For anyone reading who doesn't know, Mr Michael Gove is the chap in charge of Education in the UK.)

And of course there is always Michael Rosen and the Mr Men, who each have their own response to Mr Gove and his outlandish education policies, and his attitude towards children and schools.  I had to have a go at this.  I had to try and explain to Mr Gove exactly what is going on in my classroom.

Written as a primary teacher's view of things, following Jess Green’s Dear Mr Gove, which was secondary based and with a hefty nod towards Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, a book that EVERYONE should read because we are going that way.


Dear Mr Gove,

I didn’t strike, the other day.
It wasn’t me early in the morning with frozen fingers, 
Glaring at those going in to work,
Because even though I know who Arthur Scargill and Emily Pankhurst were,
I remember the miners strike.
And what it did and how it played right into government hands.
Instead I was that scab, smugly telling myself I’d put the children first.
Taking thanks off the parents the night before for doing their childcare.
I’m sure even Cameron appreciated not having to deploy the Mum’s Army to do my 'easy' job.

Instead, I dragged my son out of bed at 6am,
(I’d been working since 5)
Marked some books whilst he ate his breakfast,
Checked my planning whilst he brushed his teeth,
Quickly listened to him read,
And we were in school by 7:30.
This is all he has ever known.  

I photocopied, and laid out handwriting, so that the second my class walk through the door
They are learning.
We have no time to waste - not when there are 4 points available in KeyStage1 SATs for neat writing.
There’s a set style - no individuality here.

I checked that we had all the learning objectives and success criteria available for the day.
3 lessons, 3 pieces of paper, 3 sets of books, 3 sets of gluing.
It should be five of everything but we have SATs and PE today.
I am torn between the neatness of my books incase your spies come in
and wanting my class to be independent,
but have you ever seen 30 6 and 7 year olds gluing together?
Government ministers don’t do real classrooms, real children, real life.  
There isn’t an assessment criteria matrix for neat cutting and sticking,
which is a good job, or I’d never get paid.

I went through the boxes, made sure I had the papers
Ready for the hoop jumping that we have to do today.
Has it ever occured to you that my children might learn better if I had more time to teach,
And spent less time on testing, and proving that my assessments were correct?
If you trusted me to do a professional job?
But no.  
Why do that when there are numbers and statistics to create?

I finished marking one of the sets of books from the day before,
Grabbed a cup of tea,
And then the bell went.
I dumped my tea,
And I went.

Morning, morning, morning! Come on in my children, library books on the table please, reading books into the reading book box and straight to handwriting! Georgina, remember your manners. That’s Alice’s dinner money? Brilliant. Can you take it to the office? Right.  I’ll sort it if you don’t have time. That’s fine. Jack is tired because of what? Yes, it’s a good film.  Well I’m sure you didn’t realise it was on til 10.  Thanks for wishing me luck.  Andrew hasn’t got his spelling book because he didn’t want to bring it.  He needs it for tomorrow, it’s a different test today.  Lovely.  What’s this? Natasha’s medicine.  Did you fill in the form on Friday for us to give it to her? I’m afraid you do have to or we can’t take it. I appreciate you don’t have time, but it’s a legal requirement for prescribed medicine.  Jack, put your lunch box on the rack carefully please. Now pick all the other ones up.  Ben will help you. Ilona, what do you need?  Tell me again.  Tell me again but slowly please. You need….a pack?  Which pack poppet?  Not a pack? You have……… you’ve hurt your back? Right!  Ok, well you be careful today, we’ll see how you get on in PE. No kit? Oh well. We’ll sort something out.

I give out more pencils - what do they do with them?
I help James go over his handwriting again.  
Show him how to go over and back again.
Hold his hand so he can feel me moving the pencil.

Come in… oh dear, trouble with the car again? Well you are here now!  Come on then. I’m afraid I don’t have any change to give you for Jenna’s dinner money right this minute.

I go back to James.
I go over his handwriting again.
He smiles because his looks a bit like the pattern this time.
I smile, because he’s smiling.
I walk around the classroom, checking what they are all doing whilst my TA does the register (the electronic one is broken again)

We stop.
We gather on the carpet.
We go through the day ahead.

Whilst I’m doing that, the TA separates the tables.
I look at the children’s faces looking up at me.
They trust me, Mr Gove.  
They trust me and you make me a liar.
We’re going to do some special work,
I tell them.
It is so special that it comes in a brightly coloured booklet.
There’s a story!  We love stories, don’t we.
We’ll like this one.  
It looks exciting.
Let’s look at the poster.
We find the characters.
We read the first page together.
We look at the practice questions and I tell them how to do them.
We talk about what I can and can’t do to help.
I sit them down, at opposite ends of their tables,
Tall books between them.
Silence reigns.
We write our names.
I correct a couple.
Shush, I say.  Shush.
Open to page 2.  
Read the story.  I say.
Answer the questions. I say.
Look back at the text as often as you like. I say.

I watch as the Emerald table rush into this task with relish,
Proud of my little high achievers.
You’d like them Mr Gove.  
They have parents who read every night.
They have holidays but never in term time.
They are the Alphas of your Brave New World of Education.

I look over the shoulder of a Sapphire child,
watching him go back and forth between the text and the question
and still not seeing the answer,
because he can read,
but he doesn’t think about books or talk about books at home.  
My Sapphires are your favourite children.
They make national average progress.
They follow that green line of perfection that you like.
They fit all your boxes.
They are good little Gammas Mr Gove,
and they will make lovely, obedient little workers,
in whatever little jobs are left for them in 15 years time.

But my Diamonds? Oh my Diamonds.
They aren’t your kind of child.

I make encouraging eye contact with my little Diamonds in the rough.
They are doing this for me, because I asked them to.
I’m doing this because you say I have to.
They trust me to give them ability levelled work.
They think, that because I gave this to them, that they must be able to do it.
They don’t see that everyone has the same paper.
They see their paper.
The one with their name in shaky letters on the front.
They know I don’t give them work they can not do.  
That’s the deal.  
They try their hardest, and I make sure that the work makes them think, pushes them on, and that they achieve at the end of it.

But they can’t achieve in this, can they Mr Gove?
I know it.
I could predict their scores in this reading SATs test and put a £50 bet on it if I had a spare £50,
(which I don’t thanks to the teacher pension contribution increase.
More money paid in for less money paid out.  
Thanks for that.)

I watch my Diamonds.
They are trying so hard.
Their faces fall further with each new page.  
Their fingers get slower and slower as they try to sound out the words using a synthetic phonics method that only works for half of them.

Danny’s eyes meet mine, his are filling up.
I am weeping for him on the inside,
And I am filled with this all-consuming rage towards you Mr Gove.
Look at what you are doing to this child.
I know how hard he works,
How much he wants to please,
And how much he feels he is letting me down because he can’t do this.
I whisper to him, that he can do this.  
Just keep trying.  
Just look again, read again.
He whispers back that his head hurts, his tummy hurts, his legs hurt.
I ask him if his ears hurt, and he smiles.
I ask him if his toenails hurt, and he laughs at me.
He shakes himself, takes a deep breath, just like I’ve taught him, and gets back to it.
That’s bravery Mr Gove, that little boy, right there.
He’s taking on something that makes no sense to him.
We aren’t the kind of school that knows what mangoes are.
My children don’t all have stories in the evening, or trips to the zoo to know what monkeys do.
But your SATs, they assume that all children have the cute story book life.

We don’t.

For 45 minutes, we sit.
I walk.
I encourage.
I smile.
I don’t hint, point, shake my head, or whatever else it is the book says I mustn’t do, and I try not to feel insulted that you feel the need to tell me not to cheat in these tests.

Emeralds read, and write, and reread, and check.
Sapphires read, and write, and look around the room and try to come and tell me they are finished, and I send them back to sit down.
Diamonds struggle on, and on.
And on.

Until finally, it’s playtime.
I send them out, and follow them with a banana in my pocket.
And breakfast.
Little ones come up to show me new shoes,
Tell me about new babies,
Tell me that Zacchary pushed them,
But it might have been an accident, they don’t know.
Big ones,
That were my little ones,
Play football in the never ending game that has no rules,
That has changable sides,
That would take a year of Football Focus to analyse.
When the bell goes, only they know who has won.

(You should recognise this game.  
Your education policies are like a game of playground football,
With the name calling and the changing sides and changing goals.
And at the end of the match,
between the government and the unions,
it's the teachers and the children who are the losers.)

We line up.
We remind ourselves of our behaviour focus to walk sensibly, and we go in.
The desks are still separated.
It’s only spelling, I tell them.
Just a special spelling test.
One so special it has a booklet with a big picture in the middle.
Danny starts to panic,
Chewing on the sides of his fingers,
And I tell him it's ok.
You make me a liar again Mr Gove.

They sit.
I read.
They write.
I reread.
They check.
We finish.
We collect the papers in and come to the carpet.

And suddenly….
Suddenly there is a tangible sense of excitement in the air.
This has been promised since the Met office said today might be sunny.
(Or at least, not raining.)

We look outside to double check the weather - we are green for go!
We talk through the learning objectives for numeracy,
The success criteria.
We think about the equipment we need and check we have it.
We think about what we want to find out.
We think about what good learning will look like.
We think about how we are going to record it.
We think about if we need coats and we think about health and safety.
We go.

We GO!

Outside, we go through the gates, and we are in the Park.

In the sunshine, my children are released from their desks Mr Gove,
From the constraints of the classroom, and they explore the natural habitat.
They run, and they laugh and they talk and at the same time they discover.
Did you know you can’t measure around a tree with a metre ruler?
No.  You have to use a tape measure.
Not a short one that is the same length as a metre ruler.
A long one.
A long winding winding one that trails across the grass and takes three people to hold around the tree.
And did you know Mr Gove? Did you know that you have to hold it really tight?
That you have to find where the tape crosses over it’s own self?
That those numbers, they tell you how big the tree is.
How round the tree is.
I give Marcus a mental tick on my mental chart for being able to say the word circumference.

I watch the EAL TA try and explain what we are doing with her group of children with different levels of English,
DIfferent levels of understanding,
Different levels of trauma,
Different backgrounds,
But all joyously together right now in how to measure a daisy with a ruler.
How to hold the ruler.
How to start from the zero.
You don’t need a long winding winding tape measure for this.
It’s only small.
You need a small ruler.
I give Andrew a mental tick for being able to use the word millimetres in context.

I observe them working Mr Gove.  
I take photographs for evidence for their books, knowing that I then have to transfer them, print them, stick them, annotate them.
I watch them recording their work on a whiteboard, free to rub it out with the back of their hand if it’s all gone wrong, and rewrite it, knowing that those need postit note names  and photocopying, and sticking in and annotating.

And I mustn’t forget to put the learning objectives and success criteria in.
And three stars, and a wish.
And then check it on the APP grids.
And the Assessment Mentoring Objective Sheet.
I know that the days of me being trusted to have taken my children out to do something useful are over.
I know it would be easier and less hassle to give them a worksheet Mr Gove.
I know you’d say I’m bringing all this work on myself.
That there are plenty of ways to learn this safely indoors.
Measuring lines and pictures.
Talking about the big things, never seeing or touching them.
But look at them man!
Look at the enjoyment of discovery, the embedded learning that is going on,
Listen to the talking, the teamwork, the partnerships.
Look at Danny smile when he gets the same answer as the others.
Listen to the girls trying to find three things that are 5cm long.

And then
I hear a child shouting...

“Miss, Miss, Miss, Look!
Look at the number.  
That tree has a number. 55034.”
And Jenna shouts
“Amy, look!  Look! This tree is 55035.
What does it mean?”

What does it mean Mr Gove?
It’s judgement call time.
This is not in my lesson plan.
I did not know that they would notice the trees had numbers.  
I don’t think I’d ever noticed that these trees had numbers.
It’s a judgement though isn’t it Mr Gove.
There is no planned learning objective for this.
No success criteria.
Just interested children, showing an awareness of their environment and wanting to know something.

I look at eager, expectant faces with shining eyes.

Judgement made.

I smile at them, and put on my face that they know is fake-confused.
Well I have no idea what they mean!  How confusing!  Why would you number a tree?
Do they all have a number? Who thinks that they know what that tree right at the end might be have for it’s number?

I watch hands go up, I take answers, and I send them haring down to the end of the line of trees.
I watch them race back, eyes bright, minds busy, faces glowing
As they shout answers before they’ve got anywhere close to me.
Laughing, they tell me the answer again,
Tell me who was right,
We talk about how they worked it out,
Why the numbers are there,
What it all means,
How we can use those numbers to identify which trees we have measured.

And then it’s back to investigating whether the trees with the biggest circumference have the longest leaves.

(Do you know the answer Mr Gove?  
Maybe you should get outside more,
Away from dingy offices and boring meetings.
Find the joy that can be found in spending time with real children in the real outdoors.)

It was at that moment Michael,
Standing in the sunshine,
Facilitating the discovery-work of my class,
Photographing Jack and Matthew measuring around a tree with a winding winding tape measure,
And listening to Andrew tell Ilona about Units of measurement,
That I had one of those moments.
A moment of glorious love for my job, for my class, for my life.
A moment of beautiful serendipity,
That told me that what we were doing was right.
That *this* was worth the hours of work I had ahead of me,
Filling in spots on various lists of learning objectives.
The hours of work that will be in my time, Mr Gove.
My time that I give to my children, to my vocation.
You pay me from 8:30-3:30.  
You don’t even pay the lunch that I run choir and recorder club in.
You don’t pay the time I do before school at home.
You don’t pay the time I will spend tonight.
Or at the weekends.
Or in the holidays.
But I don’t do it for you, Mr Gove,
It may be a shock, but you aren’t the centre of my world.
You and your stats and your numbers and your levels.
I do it for them, Michael.

I do it for Matthew and Sean and James and Georgina and Jenna and the hundreds of other children I have taught over the last 16 years.
Especially for my Diamond Danny's,
Who don't fit your boxes, because they are people, not just a number.

I didn’t strike last time.
I spent the day with my class.
I don’t know how much longer I can make that choice though.
You are choosing to erode
My professional standing,
My freedom of thought,
My vocation,
My pension,
My future.

Worse though, much worse, is that you are damaging my children.
Taking their independent thought,
Their imagination,
Their freedom.
Making them Delta's in your World.

I can’t let you do that.


Crazy With Twins