Sunday, 21 October 2012

If not now - when?

Photo: Simon Webster 
I had an idea for a blog post the other day. I was glued in my car by  BBC Radio 4's  Afternoon Drama : Christopher Reason's  "Special Measures" when I should have been shopping. Yes, it was about a school being inspected and so relevant to me; and the personal twist added subtle layers of meaning that explored the relationship between work and personal life, also currently relevant to me. I enjoy telling people I am semi-retired and that I'm having problems with my work/life balance because I keep forgetting I've got to go to work...
But then I started wondering, why am I thinking of writing my third review in a row, when I rarely write reviews? Surely my stock-in-trade is useful classroom-based tips for people interested in Media Education? 
It took a while for the penny to drop.  For the first time in a very long time, I'm spending more time feeding myself (culturally) than others. The boot is now firmly on the other foot; my batteries are charging not expending and, as a consequence, ideas and experiences I've had over the past few years are beginning to synthesize.
This afternoon Mrs DG and I were out cutting back the jungle we call a front hedge, and passers-by were stopping to talk. The last of these was a teacher friend, who has now retired. She told an all-too familiar story, how her unit was to be closed (for financial reasons) and how she was told that if she refused to retire, procedures for incompetence would be taken - just as in the play "Special Measures", decisions were being made elsewhere and dressed up to appear to address a local issue.  As you can imagine she felt disheartened by the experience.
Thinking about de-motivation Dan Pink's video (below) came to mind and I mentioned it to our friend. To sum up Pink's thesis (rather crudely) , people who are relatively well-off are not motivated by rewards (money) or punishment but by autonomy, mastery and purpose. It struck me as we spoke, that these are precisely the  things that have been systematically removed from teachers over the last decade or so.
Autonomy:  We are told what to teach, when to teach it and how to make sure we've done it properly.
Mastery: We never have time to sense that we are mastering our profession because as fast as we acquire new skills for dealing with the demands of the job, new demands come along from outside the classroom.
Purpose: Our sense of purpose comes from our relationship with individual learners ( the kids) and we seem to have less and less time to spend fitting our teaching to them and more and more time fitting them to the curriculum. It leaves little space for us to chat, tell stories, laugh and dream.
All of which serves to de-motivate any teacher.  Old'ns like my friend and me (I've been teaching for 36 years) compensate for lacking the energy of youth with the wisdom of age - navigating the "latest thing" as a passing squall.
Eventually, though,  we stop caring for a job that continually seems to be getting in the way of helping young people learn and start thinking about the things we'd rather be doing and, like the graffiti writer, the tee-shirt and the title of this piece, start to ask,
If not now...when?