The term ended on an optimistic note for me. Since September, a young Irish colleague and I have been teaching traditional music to a small group of sixth formers. Their inaugural performances were at the end of term assemblies, and they went down a storm. Even the coolest of cool sixth-formers were spotted feet a-tappin’… And the two of us broke school protocol by playing along in the band. For the last couple of days, I was inundated with compliments from students, many of whom I barely know, saying how much they had enjoyed it.
What a difference to encounter genuine, spontaneous warmth in this way – especially for something as potentially uncool as folk music – and from a group of young people who seem to set above-average store by material wealth and outward appearances.
It was a greatly-rewarding experience, a reminder of the value of all those non-Ofsted, non-exam things that education ought equally to be about. Fundamentally, people respond to others, and need to feel part of a community. Over the years, a lot of things that can promote this have been driven out in the humourless quest to achieve targets – and teacher-time and goodwill for organising them has been drained, not least through sheer exhaustion. Over time, our school has become (even more) successful at delivering Results of the official kind – but there has been a noticeable draining away of a sense of good humour and community spirit. I’m afraid to say, many of the staff are just so focused on delivering management diktats that they seem not to have noticed. It has all become just too serious and driven, and I fear this is not a good model to be presenting to young people for the future.
We need to refocus on the results of the unofficial kind – such as the experience described above – which nobody can legislate for. Apart from anything else, for me (not a music teacher) it has been great to work with the pupils in a completely different field; I have experienced talent of a kind not often seen in the geography classroom, and it has also widened my teaching skills. The unexpected reaction from the students was hugely uplifting at the end of an exhausting term, and reinforced my belief that you can still ‘cut through’ to the genuine people beneath the serious exteriors.
If only the people in expensive suits could understand that.
Season’s Greetings to all who read this, and I wish you similar uplift in your own teaching lives.