Should I make that worksheet?

Should I make, or use, that worksheet?

One of the many strengths of the teaching profession is sharing resources, generously. After the weekend, most of us will be back to the classroom with our attention turned to all our examination groups: GCSE AND A-Level. For a reform subject such as English, the stake is high; everyone is determined to do it right. Being the first year of the new close-text examinations, part of the pressure comes from the demand on memory, for many students and teachers alike, memory of quotations in particular. To help students to achieve that end, and indeed, to tackle new focus on “summary” and “structure” many teachers are constructing resources that hopefully will meet the Assessment Objectives set out in the Mark Schemes for the four papers of English Language and English Literature. 

Inevitably and understandably, there has been a plethora of resources shared on Twitter. These resources range from worksheets to feedback forms; knowledge organisers to revision booklets. All of them are carefully and thoughtfully constructed and professionally presented. One cannot praise the generosity of these teachers enough.

Then, there’s the publication of an eight-point Reducing Teacher Workload poster by the teaching unions on Twitter, retweeted frequently to remind us all to work more smartly: be sensible, be reasonable and be kind to ourselves. 

But our challenge is not just about striking a balance between work and our other commitments in life. As regard the creation of resources, before I decide to create any learning resources, I ask myself these questions. Maybe you should, too, particularly if you are a middle or a senior leader:

Timetable

– How many lessons do I (or your colleagues) teach in total?

– How many exam groups do I (or your colleagues) teach?

– What are my (their) pastoral duties and how many meeting and parents’ evening are there?

Marking 

– If there’s a need to mark a worksheet, then, I ask myself what is being marked? Formative? Or summative? Do I need to mark basic literacy and SPaG, too, not to mention (mis)understanding of the content? Marking can easily get out of control if we don’t take a disciplined approach.

– Do I (they) need to provide feedback on the work completed on worksheets? How? Will highlighters or pens of multiple colours be involved?

– To keep sheets safe, sticking them into exercise books is a popular solution. Then there are logistic considerations, too: are there enough glue sticks (do they work), can the students use them sensibly particularly when they have to share one between two or more (where are the lids?). Do I need scissors (some students prefer to trim the sheets to fit onto the pages in their exercise books), are there enough ones for the left-handed pupils? Do I give gold star stickers? Or smiley face ones? A well-meaning feedback lesson can easily descend into a bad-tempered shouting match or scrap.

– But I (they) don’t just teach the examination groups. Even so, in addition to worksheets, are there other types of work that need to be marked for these students, essays, practised ‘perfect’ paragraphs or homework? Indeed is there any KS3 marking, too? Are there other forms, such as feedback or tracking sheets to be completed?

Impact

– If one or two “conscientious” student respond favourably to any resources, find out ‘exactly’ in what way. More importantly, find out the reactions of the others (majority). Are they apathetical, seeing it as just another sheet? Without truly understand how the material is supposed to help, how can they benefit from it? The likelihood is the exercise will produce only superficial outcome: the boxes are filled, scores recorded, but has any of the learning been internalised and ready to be expressed in structured, continuous prose in response to a given question in the examination? 

– Does the outcome justify all this paper work and the marking? Do I really need to mark this particular piece of work? Creating resources is time- and energy-consuming, not to mention other associated costs such as photocopying, etc.

Then there are questions about the possible further bureaucratic procedures generated by the initial worksheet or even tests.

– Recording (on mark book or on departmental data)

– Analysing (do I/they need to report? How?)

– Monitoring and tracking progress (Do I have time to analyse the data?)

– Actions 

= Is further teaching needed, group or individual? How?

= Is clarification of misconceptions required, group or individual? How?

= Do I need to trigger any interventions, when? How is it going to take place? When? Break time? Lunch time? Or after school? Should I (they) contact parents?

When I return to my examination groups after half term, I will try to ask myself these question whenever there’s an urge to produce resources of any nature.

Look after ourselves and each other.

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My story so far


My story so far

Two and half years ago in August 2014, following the completition of my MEd, I became involved in clicktivism. I started a campaign to call for free access to research journals for teachers in England and Wales. I set up an e-petition on Change.org. I used Twitter as a platform to canvas for support and to highlight the importance of research in a teacher’s professional development. Very quickly, my petition attracted attention from many educators and other professionals and individuals who were equally, if not more, passionate about education. 

Many signed my petition and left testimonials explaining why they supported the campaign. Many engaged in numerous conversations on Twitter with me and one another regarding the pros and cons and many other issues related to “free access to research journals”. There were a few who were sceptical about such an appeal, questioning teachers’ abilities to use research to improve their practice. I refuted these argument and insisted on one single belief – access is fundamental to teacher professionalism. Professional autonomy was only a rhetorical wishful-thinking without the actual empowerment through knowledge construction and sharing. 

Without professional self-determinism, teachers would be forever in the mercy of arbitrary policies in a top-down model. Teachers would always be at the subjugation of political whims and ideological dogma. Teachers would never be in the position to do their jobs without constant interference or changes whenever a new fad came along.

I wanted to change that.


My e-petition has remained open and it has had over eight hundred signatories. It has since inspired a similar petition created in the Netherlands by Dr Frank Cornelissen who achieved so much more through his endeavour. His campaign has won the support of the Secretary of State of the Netherlands, Sander Dekker, and his colleagues in the Open Science Conference during the Dutch Presidency, 2016. I felt profoundly humbled by the invitation of the organisers to make my case during the same conference led by Dekker and the European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, Carlos Moedas, in Amsterdam. Not everyone supported my cause, but all appreciated my effort. I felt deeply honoured to be involved in the drafting of the European Call of Action on Open Science.

Then Brexit delivered a bitter irony to my belief in knowledge without borders. 

If there’s anything remarkable in my simple quest, let it be the quiet and unwavering support from all those eight hundred and more individuals who share my pursuit. Two and half years have witnessed many changes in the landscape of British education. Nicky Morgan was replaced by Justine Greening, the Conservative government quickens its pace in marketisation of education, expansion of grammar schools and funding cuts for schools, all of which have far-reaching repercussions. 

Without access to research, indeed, without any tool with which to evaluate or challenge received wisdom, teachers remain a passive participants in education at best, complicit in perpetuating damaging policies and such a status quo at worst. Critical engagement in education is at least possible through taking part in research, as a reader, participants or conductors. Access to research is fundamental to a teacher’s critical professionalism. 

Teachers as change agents shouldn’t remain a wishful slogan; it can be a reality.

It is worth mentioning that during the early days of my one-person campaign, debates about the setting up of a “Royal College of Teachers/Teaching” and a “Chartered College of Teachers/Teaching” were also taking place. During my campaign, I also learned about the Scottish (GTCS) and the Irish Teaching Council’s offers of access to research via their respective memberships. Following the successful establishment of the Chartered College of Teaching by Dame Alison Peacock in January 2017, teachers in England can finally gain access, through their membership, to the research database provided by EBSCO which also serves Scottish and Irish teachers. 

It is clear that paying – regardless of the amount of the fees – for access is not the ideal outcome of my objective. It is a significant step forward nonetheless. A step towards a more critical engagement with, and reflection of, educational research amongst teachers. To some extent, it may just be possible that teachers can finally take the epistemological control over their professional and pedagogical knowledge to inform their practice for the betterment of the students and for the improvement of the teacher professionalism. 

It would be presumptuous of me to make any declaration of success of, to claim any credit for, or even to suggest a direct cause to, the real possibility to access research for teachers in England. Nevertheless, I take a quiet pleasure in knowing that a link can be drawn from the set up of my petition in 2014 to the continuous effort to make access a universal entitlement for all teachers in England and Wales. To make such an ideal a reality requires conviction, courage and commitment. 

If you are still interested in my story, the link below will take you to my “one year on” update:

https://fratribus.wordpress.com/2016/01/09/free-access-to-research-journals-for-teachers-one-year-on/

If you would like to sign the petition, you can find it here: 

https://www.change.org/p/the-rt-hon-justine-greening-mp-free-access-to-research-ejournals-for-teachers

Schools Week have also covered my petition on three occasions, starting with the latest:

http://schoolsweek.co.uk/english-teachers-finally-get-research-journal-access-similar-to-scots/

http://schoolsweek.co.uk/englands-teachers-miss-out-on-free-access-to-research/

http://schoolsweek.co.uk/teachers-face-high-paywall-to-access-research-free-to-scots/

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A serial failure’s proud confession

Another attempt to seek promotion at another school has resulted in a polite rejection. It was one of the several in the past few years. It is fair to say, however, I have never been particularly enthusiastic about becoming a manager, a middle leader. I was possibly more relieved than disappointed by those repeated rejections.

It means one thing, nonetheless, that I have possibly exhausted all my choices within a 15-mile radios from home. It looks increasingly more likely that I shall remain where I have always been since I was an NQT until circumstances dictates otherwise.

One observation has been made from my applications. Out of the numerous applications, I did get a couple of interviews. Interestingly enough, both were from private schools. Until now, it remains a mystery why my applications appeared to be more attractive to these two schools to such an extent that they decided to invite me for a visit. Naturally, I was flattered by the attention and the subsequent invitation. More importantly, I was grateful for the opportunity to be able to step across the invisible and metaphorical wall that divides the private and the state sectors. On both occasions, I left my interviews a slightly more informed person about “how the other half” live. 

Reaching the top of my pay scale and over the age of 50 possibly means that I am less attractive for the potential employees. Still, I go to bed happy that I can continue to do what I have done pretty well – making a significant difference to many youngsters’ lives. Those of my former students who have gone on to become doctors, teachers, others professionals, postgraduate students and even my friends, etc. are what continue to motivate me, counter all the other intolerable and nonsensical bureaucratic impositions to a teacher’s daily practice.

It is the notion of achieving against all odds that makes me proud of my job. 

Like many, however, I do ponder over my next move. Maybe combining part-time teaching with academic research? Now that appeals to me very much indeed…. 

Wish me luck.

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Brilliant Darkness 


I love looking at this picture of this single oak leaf against a low-hanging winter sun. The glowing russet draws my visual focus to its veins, midrib and sinuses. The brilliance of the sunshine radiates from the top-right-hand corner of the petiole. In fact, I was pleased with how it came out. 

But I was trying to capture something else by pointing my camera directly to the light source. I moved towards, and away from, the object. I reangled the focal directions a few times. I tiptoed and stood back down. Then I held my breath, like the moment before I pulled the trigger in my shooting practice in the army. I pressed the shutter button. I hoped that I didn’t miss it.

The feature that really captures my imagination is the diamond of a tiny glint at the bottom of the right hand side of the leaf – through a minute rip in the lobe – four of the pin-sharp light beams like icy thorns. Inconspicuousness is precisely its intense strength and its purest beauty.

Like many things in life, there are events and people who demand our immediate attention, and their conspicuousness can be overwhelming. Firstly, their brilliance wows us; their confidence intimidates us and their brightness blinds us. Dazed, we easily overlook many of life’s real treasures: an ostensibly insignificant event that profoundly shapes our lives; a casual encounter that rekindles our long-forgotten emotions, an unexpected experience that inspires us to reevaluate our beliefs. 

We blink. Behind our eyelids, the radiance becomes a cloud of darkness. We realise that the most dazzling is not always the most lasting. We find values often in places where the bright light doesn’t reach. 

Maybe that’s how they retain their purity, unbleached by the blinding brightness.

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Ten Years a Teacher

When I return to school after the New Year, I will be starting my eleventh year as a qualified teacher. 

The history of my role in the classroom, however, goes back further than that. In fact, from the age of five when I set my tiny feet inside my local Catholic kindergarten back in Taiwan, I have never left the school environment. Even during my national service, I was based at a cadet school only twenty-minute bike ride from home. I had given English tuitions to high school students as an undergraduate in Taiwan; I had done the same to high school students from Taiwan whilst visiting my parents in Los Angeles in the summer after my Master’s; I taught Chinese in the Language for All programme and to a few linguistics undergraduates when I was studying for my doctorate. But as a regular classroom teacher, I didn’t really start until I took up some English lessons as an unqualified teacher whilst working also as a Teaching Assistant at a 11-16 comprehensive in Essex in the early 2000s. Within this context, my career as a qualified teacher of English of some ten-year standing is particularly significant to me.

I had an ambitious career plan when I took up my first post as a Newly Qualified Teacher. I was thinking of becoming an Assistant Head in charge of Teaching and Learning in three years. Ten years on, I am still a classroom teacher. What’s happened to my high expectations for myself? What’s happened to my ambition?

The reason is more straightforward than some might think. I quickly realised that I wasn’t a career builder – not in the job that I found myself at least. I realised that I found reward, meaningful reward, from doing my job well and seeing my students achieve. It was the only sustaining, nourishing and reinvigorating source of my professional pride; it continues to be so. I value my time with my students: being there with them when they cry, when they laugh, when they get angry, when they feel sad, when they want to talk to me or when they prefer to be left alone. I am there. Becoming a manager will take considerable amount of my time away from my students, hundreds of them, I have reasoned. Or, at the back of my mind, I have always known that I am not really a “leader” material, not in the job that I am doing anyway.

So. Into my eleventh year, I continue to relish my role as a Form Tutor and a classroom teacher. 

Or do I? 

I have felt tired, burned out and doubted that I have the energy to offer the best of my teaching to my students. It is a crippling feeling. Some say, when you are feeling like this you need to go. But I don’t believe that’s the right reason to leave a job, any job. 

Instead, I see this hiccup as a timely reminder that new opportunities are waiting to be created. It’s time to reevaluate my priorities, adjust my focus and embark on new challenges. Whatever happens, I can be certain, I will still remain in education. Or will I? I hope I will. Education is my natural habitat.

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Leaves in the Wind

Leaves in the Wind

I can see in my mind’s eye the leaves riding in gusts of wind, higher and higher over the rows of metal skips labelled for Paper, Cupboard, Garden Waste, Scrap Metal, Plastic Bottles, Hardcore, Timber and, if in doubt, Landfill. The clothes banks are dribbling with last year’s fashion and the bottle banks vomiting a cocktail of mixed-strengths joyfulness and sorrows.

The words on the pages are finally set free. Letters fluttered in the cold winter’s air mixed with putrid stench of the crushed rubbish and the damp sweetness of the decomposing leaves.

And what a strange sense of relief. It had taken me over twenty years to finally let go of the manuscript of my Master’s dissertation, and fifteen my doctorate’s. In this season of taking stock and counting our blessings, I decided to carry out my intellectual laundry. I see my younger self at different stages of my life, traversing strange paths and landscapes: from the blinding lights of the cities to the astonishingly clarity of darkness of the high mountains…. I was soaring above ordinariness and mediocrity. And it was only right that I believed that my words were my wisdom and my wisdom should be preserved…. 

We are so sure of our immortality. Each sound we utter, each word we chew over, each sentence we form, each paragraph we craft and each piece of writing we construct. We believe that they are our gift to mankind, gospel to be learned and to abide by. How laughable that notion seems now…. Our imperishable intellect. Our precious cleverness.

The wind turns over another leaf. It creeps along under the mighty scraps of metallic waste. But, you look up. Close your eyes and listen

the night skies are bejewelled with shimmering stones by the shy seamstress the many rivers tell the strangest of the tales in poly-tongues and glisten like silver wires holding the beleaguered wildernesses in one piece the ferns and moss that reassure the bewildered forests and the mantis that persists to threaten its imaginary challenger with hyperbolic gesticulations of its weightless machetes a single snow flake melting in a gloved palm

and the gentlest of the ebbing that coaxes the stubbornest rocks

The soldiers of our regiment. Words. Words. Words. The prisoners of our pride. 

I came home and set other inmates free

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Teaching Grit, Character and Resilience through Literacy

Also known simply as “check your work before you hand it in!”

As English teachers, we lament and resent the relentless repetition of highlighting basic literacy errors in our students’ written work. Yet, we never seem to be able to eradicate this accuracy deficiency. All too common is because of the amount of work we cover in our curriculum, compounded by the need to mark several pieces of work produced as a result. It is hardly surprising that under such time pressure, inadequate attention was spent on some “natural” part of the the writing process, checking, proofreading, redrafting, checking again, until the piece is free from glaring errors. Unsurprisingly, such rush to produce written work has encouraged some sloppy attitudes towards work in our students as a consequence. “The teacher will do it”. 

It is time we made time. Bring back responsibility, pay attention to details and start crafting.

And the way to do it is through checking basic literacy errors, proofreading, drafting and redrafting. Highlighters and pens of various colours may be useful, too.

This is how I have been doing since last year after some calculation of estimated time required to mark all classes as a teacher with a full teaching load across all Key Stages (3 – 5).

My basic principle is simple. I direct my students to check their extended writing tasks in English by means of a literacy checklist after their initial drafts. Instead of collecting their books in to mark straightaway, then we move on to complete another piece of writing, I slow down the process and reduce the number of tasks. I spend the next lesson or two, including homework time, to guide them through the process of checking, proofreading and redrafting.

The result has been pleasing. In this way, I am able to give more feedback on developing reading and writing skills, plus addressing some stylistic issues relevant to the individuals or the group. Less time is spent on correcting basic errors. 
I use these lists and I customise to suit the nature of the writing tasks.

My drafting and redrafting process:

Start with basic literacy skills required in almost all types of texts.

1. Capital letters at the start of each sentence (green, or whatever colour, pen in hand)

2. Capital letters for proper nouns (people’s names, place names, days of week, month of the year and the Bible, etc.)

3. Full stops at the end of each sentence (unless it ends with a question, exclamation or ellipsis)

4. Possessive apostrophe 

5. Common homophones: there/their, our/are, were/where/we’re, etc.

Then depending on the task, customise by using key skills in Assessment Objectives, scaling up to the top band.

Reading:

Check PEEAL – or PEDAL or whatever acronyms that are used – first (first draft) before using the checklist, then check…. 

6. Quotation marks

7. Hinge words/connectives/discourse markers

Writing (select features relevant to types and purposes of the texts:

6. Adjectives (use Dictionary app or online thesaurus to replace “nice” and “bad”

7. Adverbs

8. Similes

9. Metaphors

10. Alliteration

11. Repetition

12. Hyperboles

13. Oxymorons

14. Tones (humour, sarcasm)

15. Adverb sentence starter

16. -ing starter

17. Double adjective starter

18. One-word or a short sentence paragraph 

19. Imaginative paragraphing 

20. Full range of punctuation 

21. Statistics

22. Anecdotes

23. Technical language

24. Expert endorsement

25. Passive voice

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Case Sensitive: Teacher Alienation (with a link to questionnaire)

“Alienation is the degree to which man feels powerless to achieve the role he has determined to be rightfully his in specific situations.” John P. Clark (1959)

Alienation as an epistemological shift to an existential quandary 

To experience “alienation” is initially to recognise the “discrepancy between his definition of the role he is playing and the one he feels he should be playing in a situation” (Clark, 1959). The underlying emotion is that of powerlessness to eradicate such acute sense of frustration. In other words, alienation springs from “man’s feeling of lack of means (power)” (Clark, 1959). However, alienation is not purely caused by the lack of self-determination alone. Nettler (1957) has argued that “alienation is a psychological state of an individual”. He describes an alienated person as “one who has been estranged from . . . his society and the culture it carries”. Clark (1959) points out the transient nature of this psychological state: “at one time the now estranged person was not so or at least that he was not aware of the estrangement”. In addition, Nettler’s (1957) definition seems to suggest an epistemological shift (the “something” ((1959)) in Clark’s words) that gives rise to our realisation of feeling or being estranged from our particular social circumstances, mentally or physically, or indeed, both. Our psychological state can fluctuate from time to time depending on the result of our critical evaluation of our interactions with aspects of our social conditions. 

In addition to feelings of separation, Clark (1959) also includes “feelings of being manipulated and of meaninglessness” (1959). Moreover, Clark (1959) argues that feeling alienated can result in social isolation and “even of being a different person in his behaviour than the self he believes he should be were conditions different”. Such Kafkaesque haplessness and helplessness is a direct result of the doubt or loss of identity. A sense of total detachment from ones immediate social milieu and professional environment seems to be an inevitable outcome. Indeed, these feelings of not-belonging are instantly recognisable for many knowledge workers such as teachers; their existential crisis is inextricably linked to their moral quandary.

Schools as a social system

Drawing from the study by Nettler (1957), Clark (1959) cautions that situations in which one feels alienated are not always specific or representative of total social involvement. The more meaningful way of measuring alienation is a single unit approach, “selecting for study only those whom we can establish to be involved in a single, well-defined unit, for instance, a social system” (1959). A “social system”, as defined by Parsons, 1951), “consists in a plurality of individual actors interacting with each other in a situation which has at least a physical or environmental aspect, actors who are motivated in terms of a tendency to the “optimization of gratification” and whose relation to their situations, including each other, is defined and mediated in terms of a system of carefully structured and shared symbols”.

Educational organisations such as schools can be thus treated as a “social system” in Parsons’s sense. To ensure the equilibrium of such as system, interactions between actors with different agendas of optimisation of gratification are constantly subjected to frequent change of personal and circumstantial situations. Moral and functional boundaries are constantly negotiated between members and their organisation and between individual members and their counterparts. Tension arises from these negotiations; emotions are aroused and one of which is feeling of alienation.

One phenomenon characterising the current educational reform is a “national network of Teaching Schools” (Education White Paper, 2010). It’s objective is to develop a “self-improving school system” (2014) that allow schools to come together to form partnership, such as Teaching School Alliance. Department for Education so far has published a first phase interim report of the progress and initial findings from 18 case study TSAs in the “Big Six” priorities: 

1. Play a greater role in recruitment and training new entrants to the profession (initial teacher training);

2. Lead peer-to-peer professional and leadership development (continuing professional development);

3. Identify and develop leadership potential (succession planning and talent management);

4. Provide support for other schools;

5. Designate and broker Special Leaders of Education (SLEs);

6. Engage in research and development activity. (2014)

Clearly, staff response to such expansion of structure has not been one of the priorities. If teacher retention remains a major concern in education, then it makes perfect sense to try to investigate reasons behind teachers leaving the profession. Alienation may well be a underlining factor.

Another latest development in education is Multi-Academy Trusts (MAT) that allows schools to expand and extend their influences. Though still in its embryonic stage, impact on staff feelings on changes cannot be ignored. Studies of alienation will help identify factors that govern attitudes towards the new structure. 

Measuring alienation

The “single unit” selected in Clark’s study of alienation is an agricultural marketing cooperative. An agricultural cooperative of this nature fulfils the requirements of the definition of a “social system” (Parsons, 1951). Clark’s study in measuring alienation felt amongst members of an agricultural co-operative can be a useful model to ascertain the degree of alienation felt amongst teachers within a school, TSAs or even MATs. 

Clark’s measuring method is modelled on Dean’s (1956) alienation scales from selected items of social interactions to arrive at a final alienation score. Interviews were conducted with a random sample of 361 of the 3000 members. The items selected are listed below. 

1. Interviewee’s statement of who actually owns the cooperative.

Farmer-members (0), Non-farm businessmen and others (4). 

2. Interviewee’s statement of how much influence he feels he has in the cooperative. 

Very much (0), Quite a bit (1), Some (2), Very little (3), None at all (4). 

3. Interviewee’s statement of how much “say” he feels members should have about how the cooperative is run.

Less say (0), About the same (2), More say (4). 

4. Interviewee’s statement of the extent to which he feels a part owner of the cooperative.

Very much (0), Quite a bit (1), Some (2), Not very much (3), None at all (4). 

5. Interviewer’s rating of the interviewee’s feeling of belonging to or identification with the cooperative.

Very much (0), Quite a bit (1), Some (2), Little (3), None at all (4). (Clark, 1959)

The possible total scores can range from 0 to 20. The statistical data collected is used to interpret the extent of alienation felt by the cooperative’s members – the higher the scores the more alienated they feel. 

Admittedly, Clark’s mix-methods methodology can be refined further to strengthen his findings. For example, whilst data collected through interviews can potentially increase its credibility and reliability, such method without means of triangulation is also liable to biased response. The bias issue in turn can be exasperated by the random selection of members in the cooperative. A focus group established through an initial questionnaire may have resolve the issue. In addition, the construction of scales is simplistic enough to yield uncomplicated numerical system whereby degree of alienation can be determined. However, translating complex feelings from narrative to numbers risk missing out more subtle aspects and ambiguity in human emotions. Finally, the first four items chosen to determine degree of alienation felt by members of the cooperative seek only to solicit subjective opinions from the members. The fifth item can cause significant criticism over reliability as the scores are based on the interviewer’s interpretation of the interviewee’s feelings. Without a vigorous process the demonstrate it reliability, the validity of the findings can be jeopardised. 

Imperfection notwithstanding, Clark’s research offers a useful model to measure alienation felt by teachers within specific school, cluster of schools, schools within Teaching School Alliances and even schools within the newly developed Multi-academy Trusts. A more sophisticated research design can be devised to produced reliable findings to inform the teaching profession of best ways to eliminate elements that increases the discrepancy between a teacher’s definition of the role he is playing and the one he feels he should be playing (Clark, 1959).
Why should we care about alienation?

It is no exaggeration to state that many teachers frequently assess and evaluate their professional situations. Many would reiterate that what we are doing is not necessarily what we think we ought to be doing to fulfil our role as teachers. What we appear to be doing does not necessarily define who we are and what we do as professionals. Professional identity should not be reduced to codified “standards” only. Besides, meeting standards fully does not necessarily guarantee good teaching. Having the power to improve is key. Having the self-knowledge of the limitations of a prescribed identity relies on acknowledging our feelings of alienation. Advocates of extended professionalism (Hoyle, 1970), new professionalism (Fullan, 1993) and activist professionalism (Sachs, 2000) all highlight the importance of teachers as change agents. Without taking a critical stance in evaluating ones own sense of alienation in ones profession, desire to change is almost inconceivable. 

Regardless of roles or status, sense of frustration is felt throughout the school structure, from Teaching Assistants to the Headteacher; from Business Manger to Midday Assistant. Causes of frustration may vary, the underlying feelings of “meaninglessness, powerlessness, belonginglessness, being-manipulated, social and self-isolation” can be overwhelming. Without understanding the underlying issues that cause our alienation, such personal predicament will only continue to undermine our professional commitment.

Our political masters apply pressure through policies based on unchallenged and “unchallengeable” “evidence”. Teachers have little freedom to shake off the shackles of ideological dogma often disguised in euphemistic terms and moral rhetoric to enforce compliance. We are all guilty of hypocrisy. Maybe that is the intrinsic devil in education. Nevertheless, as knowledge workers with an acute sense of a moral purpose, we must not simply accept such condition as an unalterable norm. We might be accused of being hypocritical; hypocracy needn’t be our destiny. Our moral purpose to our students, our colleagues and ourselves is ultimately our action to disrupt such a hypocrisy narrative from becoming a fixed moral, professional and personal reality. Only through our individual and collective struggle can we begin to seek to minimise the discrepancies between the role that we play and the role we believe that we ought to be playing in education. 

What is to be done to gain the power to rectify the situation? The solution is not just about power-gaining. We need to identify the kind of power that we need to minimise the discrepancies in areas of our professional work and life that causes our alienation.
If you would like to take part in my Teacher Alienation Survey, please complete a simple questionnaire by clucking this link: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSff-CugwQOWKxZseD1CiVXw5Mkp9kZpD1cOf7jujIBmz10RBw/viewform

Thank you for reading and taking part.

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Not Singing from the Same Hymnbook

Image source: https://stanfordfreedomproject.com/what-is-freedom-new-essays-fall-2014/lu-xun/

Not Singing from the Same Hymnbook

We mustn’t attribute success in education “exclusively” to one particular culture or even race – people need to know the specific context of the popularity, and dismissal, of the Battle Hymn phenomenon. 

If Chua’s subsequent interviews were to be believed, she had NOT intended her book to be taken to polarise a East-v-West approach to parenting and education, and the Eastern way was the more successful of the two. Quite the contrary, she acknowledged that her belligerently pushy attitude to her daughters’ schooling was by no mean “exclusive” to Asian mothers like herself. Countless middle-class white American mothers, and indeed mothers of all races and backgrounds, were no less uncompromising as she was. 

It is convenient for people to borrow the Battle Hymn and to extract an abridged mantra to suit their agenda. I can see why nonetheless; it’s a simple logic. Chinese is synonymous with success in education; Battle Hymn is publicised in such as way as to consolidate and perpetuate that popular stereotype; success fits national agenda with, alas, perceived limited success (ironically) when championed by “home” educationalists; coupling a well-documented and “disreputable fact” with a runaway best seller from across the Atlantic therefore seems a shrewd strategy. 

The message is as loud as a tiger roar: if you want your child to succeed like the Chinese girl or boy next to her/him but you don’t trust British education (presumably the progressive approach), then Battle Hymn is your Bible. 

The unsavoury underbelly of this “Chinese success” is undeniable and has so far been overlooked by many. A cultural identity constructed around domination in education partly quenches the racial and national psyche of deeply felt humiliation of military defeats since the colonial operations in the Far East in recent history. If you can’t beat your enemies at sea or on land, then an alternative arena needs to be sought to bolster a nationalism under siege.

Founded in 1958, the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) came to present an alternative battleground for the beleaguered Chinese nation following the split between Mao’s China in Beijing and Chang’s China in Taiwan. Wherever the bullets couldn’t reach, abacus was deployed to conquer. Since 2000, PISA has opened another testing ground without heavy weaponry. For many Chinese, it’s not so much about a more effective education system or pedagogy; it’s everything about construction of an ethnic identity as a more intelligent race. How many times was I given the message at school that “the Chinese are the most intelligent people” following success in mathematics and literacy in international testing? This construction is anything but benign. 

It’s a bit like claiming victory by quoting 100% in math whilst being knocked to the ground with a nose bleed by a bully in the school playground. The roar becomes a whimper. Just like the pathetic anti-hero, Ah-Q. 

Either IEA or PISA ranking is as effective as a plaster for a fleshing-eating wound. It covers an unsightly blemish whilst allowing the rot to continue.

The Chinese story of success in education is a far more complex issue than the simplistic headline news splashed around newspapers and flashed on the signages at school receptions. 

Success in education for the Chinese confirms also one other uncomfortable reality in British society – discrimination in other areas is still prevalent. If we use being in leadership positions in workplace as a measure, the Chinese success certainly grinds to a dramatic halt beyond (or even within) school gate.

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A day trip that inspires an adventure of a lifetime

A day trip that inspires an adventure of a lifetime

Three years ago, as a trial, I organised an Aim High trip to take a group of 12 GCSE students at my school to visit a Cambridge College. Having just graduated from my old College, Clare, in May after completing my MEd, I contacted the School Liaison Officer and set about planning for a day-visit in July before the end of the school academic year. Through a personal contact, we were also invited to visit Robinson College.

Three years later this afternoon, one of the students from that group came back to school after leaving the Sixth Form to say “thank you” to a few of her teachers. I bumped into her at the school car park and she greeted me with a bright sunny smile. We could have hugged. Amongst other comments about her excitement of moving into her College next week, she said, “I can’t believe I am actually going to study at Cambridge. The last time I visited Cambridge was when you took us on that trip. I just wanted to say ‘thank you'”. 

In fact, she is one of the two girls from that trip who actually went on to apply, received offers and achieved the grades to study at Cambridge.

I had set up the trip with the objective to inspire some of our academically most able students to try for Cambridge. In my statement, I explained my belief in “catch them young”. Three years later, the fruition of that ideal was incapsulated most touchingly by her broad smile and excitement about her new venture. 

Well done and have a great time at Cambridge!

PS. Since that initial trip, I have taken two other groups to Cambridge. Instead of Clare College, Gonville and Caius has been hosting our visits in 2015 and 2015. We are deeply indebted to both Colleges. Our gratitude is also extended to Robinson College which has been so hospitable in the past three years. 

Another trip in July 2017 has been planned.

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