The Dynamics of Teaching Quietly

“All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.” – Generic but relevant disclaimer.

 

Teaching, or more accurately “getting the buggers to learn”, is a topic that *always* generates passionate opinions and as such merits the generic disclaimer plonked rather obviously at the top of this post. I am not here to start fights. I am here to share my ideas and opinions to promote positive discussion and that is my only agenda.

 

Too many lessons these days still seem to be governed by the confines of the rather dated three part lesson, or more accurately, the two part lesson, with 2 minutes to pack away and get them out bolted on at the end.

 

The first half of the lesson (used to be known as the 5 minute starter) involves the teacher standing at the front of the class making some attempts at engaging the pupils, maybe with the reading of a list of pupils names to make sure that they haven’t gone missing so the establishment don’t get sued, and then it’s time. Time for the list. The list of all of the things. It sometimes might unfold like this…

 

“Here is all of the things that you are going to do today, in the order you are going to do them in. Do you understand what I mean by this bit? Good, don’t do this bit before you’ve done that first bit, and then after you’ve done that bit, do the second half of the following bit. Got it? Is that clear? Now go and do everything I just said in that precise order and remember it all without making any mistakes or I will shout at you.”

 

“What time is it?”

 

“It’s twenty-five past sir…”

 

“Damn… right. This is a slightly smaller run down of the big list I’ve already said that you’ve got to do and remember. Have you all learned this? Have I said it slowly enough and repeated myself enough? Tell me that you’ve learned it! Answer this question!? I’m now going to tell you off and raise my voice because you are not putting your hands up and answering my questions!”

 

One student attempts an answer.

 

“Thank god! That means you all clearly understand what I said. Right… get going!”

 

Madness ensues…

 

Some pupils do some of the things that were in the list.

 

Five to.

 

“Right! That’s it! IT’S THE END OF THE LESSON!!!! Everybody pack away!!!! Quickly!! Or else you’ll be late to your next ‘lesson’!!”.

 

This is an honest reflection of what often happens in lessons when you are learning how to be a teacher. This is happening in one form or another somewhere right now. There’s a good reason for it too. This is the default. This is the safety net, this is what the lesson often turns into despite what you planned. If you find yourself saying “I don’t have a default” then this is what you are most likely doing in your classroom.

 

The reason is this. We are human and we all want to get home. The staff and the students. We do not want to do as little as possible, but often we want or need to do as little as what makes us not appear to be un-professional or un-caring. It is the amount of effort required that means that everyone that needs to be happy is happy. From the first year 7 that walks through the gate, to the last turn of the keys as the caretaker locks the gate. It’s human nature. This default is not our fault. It is life, and it is not helped by the confines of the factory regimented institution style boundaries that we are forced to stick to. It’s that fucking school bell! Because we HAVE to have a school bell… right? We have to have a three part lesson right? We have to have uniforms and subjects with sets dividing classes right?

 

The simple truth of our system these days is that the people facing the public paint a picture that their school is not a factory focussed on mass-producing great numbers and statistics, and yet the majority of educational based decisions rely upon things like performance related pay targets which, you guessed it, have recently become more and more focused upon teachers showing evidence of meeting percentage pass rates and student numbers for the A Level course they want to run next year and that if these targets are not met that the par rewards are refused. Performance related pay?! Why not increment rewards that are productive and essential, like lunch duties or running extra-curricular *enriching*activities for financial perks at break time? Surely that would be better than distracting the workforce with meaningless targets and tasks to evidence under the threat of less pay? How on earth can workforce moral have any chance of surviving if the focus is on how the school is portrayed over the welfare of the students?

 

On top of all this the pastoral role within schools and academy’s is dying and is nearly non-existent. Now teachers have barely any pastoral time and are forced to do a tiny amount of pastoral care and enrichment within the ridiculously short time that is known as registration. The hugely important opportunity children deserve at school to have a sense of family which used to be called “form time”, where a little routine and a friendly start to the day with a chat with your form tutor helped to keep many children coming back to school on time instead of trapesing in full of Taurine and square eyed at 9am after a 3am COD fix. It would massively impact a child’s mental health at the start of the day and actually prepare them to be more prepared and ready to learn too, yet this has been cut to taking a register and get to your first lesson. It’s not right.

 

What’s left is a small army of amazing teachers and role models who do their best in a ridiculous situation that needs updating and reworking so that it works for the students and teachers instead of for the Principal who leaves the school premises in a lovely beamer whilst looking forward to the outreach trip to Malawi that the school community funded so they could look good. They sun themselves and shake the right hands while the rest of us try to teach in a culturally enriching way despite the restraints of the Government which keeps spouting forth ridiculous opinions and rules to be changed at their whim just because someone who has never been an education secretary before decides to do something that might possibly make them be remembered.

 

I have said it before and I will say it again many times. This is not good enough.

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Sing Up!

The following events are based on a true story.

 

Picture the scene.

A veteran music teacher towers above a group of Year 7 girls who have come along to a singing club. The group begin working on a new song…

 

“Sing it louder!!” the teacher taunts.

 

“Enjoy Yourselves!!” She screams.

 

The girls are looking at the floor sat in perfectly aligned chairs. They are unsure as to why they are being shouted at. They sing as young girls do, quietly for fear of standing out.

 

“Let’s take it again from the top! Sing it loudly!!”

 

The song is a popular classic normally sung at parties and the girls like the song. This should be easy.

They breathe in, the count begins and…

 

The teacher starts singing. Loudly.

 

Oh dear.

 

This wise and well-meaning owl has decided to show off her years of vocal training by going ‘full opera’. The girls attempt to join in but cannot hear themselves sing and the owl can’t hear the girls because she’s too busy screeching over the top of them, like an exploding bottle of ketchup over a Caesar salad.

 

“Come on! Louder! Smile!”

 

As the rehearsal continues the teacher is completely unaware that it is her ‘force you to have fun’ attitude that is sapping all the enjoyment out of it for these obedient and terrified young ladies.

 

She bullies through.

 

“Drop your jaw! Use your diaphragm!”

 

This is not a rehearsal. It is a bossing-you-around session and it’s painful to watch. Rarely have I seen a teacher this hell bent before. She is in a world of her own and is not self-analysing during this learning activity at all. She is deaf and blind to what is right under her straining nostrils. I daydream of taking the teacher to one side to “have a word” but it is above my station. I feel for the girls but there is nothing I can do. They are terrified and do exactly as they are told. They have volunteered to be part of an extra-curricular group, giving up their time only to be FORCED to have fun, to be shouted at for wanting to take part.

 

It was utterly depressing to behold.

“I can’t hear you! Give it some welly!”

 

It made me wonder… How do you knock an owl off her perch when technically she is your boss? How can her students have the fun that they deserve? Is this owl beyond rescue? Painfully, it escalates further.

 

“You there! What are you muttering!? How dare you talk while I am talking!? I am a grandmother you know!? I have a family and a life! I’ll end up having a nervous breakdown because of you!”

 

I watch the girls sit up in their chairs wondering why a cannon has been brought to a game of conkers. They shuffle uncomfortably not knowing what to say, trying to maintain their love for singing with their friends despite this aggressive outburst.

 

“Right! Let’s go again! From the top. Sing up!”

 

It’s sad. The rehearsal is repeated every Tuesday dinnertime in the weeks leading to the annual music show, and each week the instructions become ever so slightly more frantic than the week before, and the girls endure the same verbal battering. All I could do from afar was to hope that the owl might begin to open her eyes and ears one day, but the girls kept coming back every week without fail, because they did not want to let the owl down.

 

It is the night of the show and the girls shuffle nervously on to the stage. Loud whispers of “look at me!” resonate from the owl who is center-stage with her back to the audience, but her eyes are on stalks while she prepares the girls to begin.

 

They sing perfectly.

 

Despite being terrified of letting the owl down and making a mistake the girls show what they are made of and go for it. They give their all to the delight of the audience. The much deserved applause continues loudly as the girls leave the stage in a well-rehearsed line.

With a ‘thank God they didn’t show me up’ smile the owl flies off the stage and can be heard in the wings shouting “oh well done girls! You were brilliant!!”.

 

The girls emerge at the side of the hall and smile nervously, looking for their parents in the crowd.

They can’t wait to get home.

 

The owl had good intentions and her heart was in the right place, but she was blinded by the importance of putting on a perfect show. Her extreme methods were at the cost of the enjoyment of the whole experience for the girls. The owl was too much of a veteran to be told that there was a better way.

 

In a perfect world there should just have been a group of girls who sang every Tuesday dinnertime, whilst sharing their sandwiches, laughing, and actually having a good time.

 

Disclaimer:

I didn’t write out the recollection of this story to pick on the teacher. I wrote it out because I regret that I wasn’t able to take her to one side and reveal to her how the situation really was. I wish I could have videoed the rehearsals and shown it back to her. She was a fantastic person and she wanted the best for her students, but she was just so vastly experienced that she was unable to admit that she made mistakes and was not the sort of person who would not take it personally if you told her otherwise. I’ve worked with many teachers who have made that mistake. It’s human nature, but in education we have to always question if we are doing things in the best way that suits the students, not in the best way that suits us as teachers, regardless of our age.

 

The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

This post isn’t designed to be positive or negative to any real degree. Like most of my posts it is merely here to highlight things I notice and opinions that I have. This particular subject matter though, is all too common these days, yet I don’t recall reading many opinions on it. This post may even be in danger of looking like an attack. It is not so… It is food for thought… as all the best blogs are. So what exactly is this mysterious subject matter of which I speak? It is the (apparently) *helpful* music fan.

Being a gentleman of 35 I have existed on various music scenes in various guises for the past 25 years. My first gig was when I was 9 years old, at the Tap & Spile in Pontefract. I was extremely nervous. My dad got me up to play some guitar (the biggest guitar you ever did see!) and to play some cheeky harmonica. I got through the gig (of course I did! My dad was there!) and I felt like a million bucks when he took me to one side afterwards, and said “Well done… that’s ma boy”. I looked up to him, and thanked him, not for looking after me, but for letting me have the chance to play. I learned right then, that to help someone musically is to support them and give them opportunities for them to go on and do with what they will.

I grew up. I went and turned into a music teacher and got all helpy. I went and teamed up with Antonio Lulic and ran a wonderful Open-Mic night at O’Donoghues in Wakefield for a couple of years. A few years later I started the Open-Mic Monday night at The Hop in Wakefield, and as of next Monday the 21st Jan, it is 4 years old. I have endeavoured, in my fashion, to support and give opportunities to those who are willing to take them, and if I have passed on any experience whatsoever, then a minor success on my part has been achieved.

I speak of my labours to highlight how I believe helping and supporting people should be done, by living it, not shouting about it very often and hoping that it rubs off somehow and that someone somewhere notices enough to believe that they can themselves start open-mic nights and begin supporting people in a similar fashion for everyone’s mutual gain.

So when does it go wrong? It all sounds very cosy and nice… and it is. Yet I notice a different breed of helper, one that should be taken with a sprinkle of salt and a dash of caution. I speak, of the middle-aged music fanatic, who has *chosen* the artist that they are going to support, and that is that. Do you know of someone similar to whom I speak? The common characteristics are these;

Offers lifts to ridiculously far away gigs…

Uploads videos of every single performance of the artist nearly every day…

Goes to *every* gig and monopolises the artists time believing that they have some *right* to speak to the artist, as they’ve been *so* helpful.

Volunteers to do *the sound* but only turns the vocal up because “her voice is sooo beautiful”…

Tells the audience to SHUSH.

Strategically shows up to gigs and manages to only support the artist they *love* because they spend the rest of everybody else’s set either A) talking to someone at the front of the audience about how well they know the artist, or B) wanders around handing out bootleg CD’s of local artists that they have *something to do with* whilst blatantly costing the artist a £ CD sale…

Gets gigs for the artist and sets up events pages on the artists behalf, even though the artist didn’t ask them to, but can’t really say anything about because superfan is now so deep in the network of things that falling out now will cause 80% grief and 20% relief…

The fan decides that he (it is normally a he) doesn’t like the new band line-up and declares that you’re going in the wrong direction musically and expects their musical opinion to have weight because of all the things they’ve done *especially* for you…

Hangs about talking to people at the end of the gig knowing full well, as does everyone else, that all his conversations are meaningless distractions until he gets that hit of *talking to the star* and having everyone see him being on good terms with said *talent*…

You know someone like this don’t you? Normally they come and go, waning into the distance when everyone finally gets fed up of them… (they normally have an amount of people who aren’t on *speaking* terms at the gigs they go to as it is). But when it gets dangerous and silly and stupid, is when the artist actually makes it. Their artist! The artist who wouldn’t have made it without that PA “superfan” borrowed for you at that gig 5 years ago in Preston…

Said superfan goes uberfan. Uploading every single video they were granted access to and blasting twitter with nothing but posts of #artist. Well I think it’s a shame. Because these superfans ARE nice people. They do nice things for all the right reasons but… I have to say… what about everybody else?? What is the point in helping your artist if they have already made it??!? Surely there comes an obvious point where you have to notice, that if you spent all the effort that you do on your chosen artist on someone who hasn’t made it yet, that maybe that would actually do some good???! Maybe it might add some light relief to your tweets to actually read a tweet about a different, *unknown* artist that you also support?! Or about something else, god forbid, NOT music related??!! Now don’t get me wrong… I’m not suggesting for a minute that you give up your true love… by all means be involved… but surely as the artist’s career develops your relationship with them and how you conduct yourself has to mature and grow with them… It’s perfectly clear that these people are unaware on some level of what their actions might mean long term, or that their demeanour might make you feel uncomfortable at all. The worrying thing though, is that these few specialists suffer from a lack of control and they get giddy, and occassionally in their fight to maintain appearances they can begin to tell little white lies.

“Oh yes I’m a sound man… I have my own PA you can use as long as I can do the sound for you…”

“Hi Audioworld?.. do you have a PA I can rent?”

I don’t know. Maybe the limelight and the chance to be “the one” who the artist couldn’t have made it without is just too much of a burden to bear for these very unique people. Very lovely people. People who love music and are passionate about music but are too often blinded by *the hit* that they can’t actually let go of the artist enough for things to remain comfortable. Undesirably they change tracks onto the same line the artist is on… and fundamentally, trains on the same track crash at some point down the line.

I just believe that there is a different way to actually help and support someone… but even more importantly, I believe you *have* to remember that A) the person you have *decided* to help so much is going to make it whether you decided to help or not and that this is a good thing, and B) that it is utterly wrong and manipulative to offer help in lifts and favours only to expect to be paid back in loyalty and in opinion taking, despite saying frequently that there are no strings attached when the help is first offered.

This is what frustrates me the most. The art of favours that secretly buy favours. If I get you this gig and lend you this PA and get you this Cellist, then in 2 years’ time when I give you an opinion that your music is changing for the worse or that I don’t agree with your chosen bassist that I expect to be listened and adhered to.

You see this is a difficult subject matter, because many would argue (some who fall into this very category included) that these people are essential to the music world and to live gigging. My opinion is that they are not. When something is absent a different thing moves into its place to compensate. I think the music world would be just fine if these people left or remained doing what they do to be perfectly honest. A blog from someone like me is certainly not going to stop anyone in their tracks and make them think about how they conduct themselves. I wouldn’t want it to. These people are sent to entertain us and the world is a better place with them. I just wish they would think about their actions sometimes and how they effect the artists they claim to love. One thing is for sure. They struggle to genuinely put the artist as a person in front of their own passion for the music 100% of the time, and *that* is something they SHOULD DO.

So my advice is this. Listen to the guy who teaches you how to play the chords and be dubious of the guy who says he’ll play them for you. Especially if your male friends often blush around you and sometimes don’t finish their senten.

*ahem*

So yes, I’ve had a little rant there. Is my rant about anyone in particular? Yes. It’s about a few people. If these people had faded away and were not causing unrest anymore then I’m not sure this would have made it to blog. It’s not something I particularly lose sleep over. It’s just an observation and as it stands, I think people need to be made aware. These people are a little dangerous because they are so nice, (their intentions are utterly genuine, and they sometimes can’t see how they are being) and they offer the world and they groom #artists ego. But just beware of non-musician music nuts… They can often get themselves in a bit of a cluster.

Peace.