A caged bird that has forgotten how to sing or fly


“So what would be the most daring thing that you would do in a lesson?” Or something along the lines of what I would do in a lesson to really push the boat out?

That was one of the many questions that I was asked in one of my interviews for a job at a private school. I stumbled. I laughed nervously. My brain frantically searched my memory folders for some of the most daring learning activities that I had done in the past. An image flashed in my mind’s eye – a giggling class wondering around aimlessly – unconvinced and somewhat confused – in the quad when I took them out to appreciate the cherry blossom. . . .

However I replied, and whatever I came up with, it couldn’t have been impressive. Why? It’s because I can’t even remember. Nevertheless, my predicament and my memory exposed one thing – both my students and I had somehow lost the ability to enjoy freedom.

When given the opportunity to be out of the classroom to place themselves in a situation that might have inspired a literary creation, they stood mystified. Some eventually took the opportunity to chat with friends; some wondered around the quad aimlessly; some tried to look thoughtful. All appeared incredulous, none enlightened. I took the class back to the classroom where they knew exactly what to expect. They finally regained their sense of security in their books and my instructions.

When given the opportunity to be my most creative and imaginative in the way I would teach a lesson, I froze. I wanted to do so many things, and yet I felt the invisible tether jerking me back. The strangling sensation was powerful. My ideas appeared to be forced, my tone unconvincing. I, perhaps many fellow teachers, had only been trained to teach in the manner prescribed by Teacher Standards, endorsed by the Department for Education and reinforced by Ofsted. I could only perform within such pedagogical birdcage. Over time, I seem to have forgotten my wings, my songs.

I longed for freedom; I was ready for freedom; but I failed to convince my potential rescuer that I deserved to fly free from my birdcage – I made a step out, flapped around in the sun-lit room, then I was gently placed back on my perch in my shiny cage.

I feel trapped; I chirp occasionally in a mild protest; yet I feel – safe. Or am I?


About W. S. Lien

Tweed Wearer - Country Lover - Teacher Researching Professionalism and Identity@Clare College, Cambridge - Keen Amateur Photographer - Devotee to Poppy my Labrador
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