year of bible – songs of the road…

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Earlier this evening we were listening to a radio station when an Oasis song from 1994 was played. Straight away I was transport back to 20 years ago. Facing my GCSEs, thinking that my life was panning out in a particular direction (how many times…). An almost visceral reaction to a few moments of music.

It’s incredible how it can have that impact on us. Like you, I’m sure, I have something like a soundtrack to my life in my head, which when triggered can really transport me back to wherever and whenever that particular piece of music captured me. They can be the weirdest tracks, the most bizarre links…and yet they speak deeply to me.

Each day on this year of bible features words from the psalms. These are the ‘soundtrack’ of the church in many ways – the songs we keep returning to again and again. As I reflected on the song I heard earlier today I began thinking about some of the psalms which featured at particular times in my life.

Psalm 139 when everything fell apart at 16 and the got put together again…

Psalm 1 on my gap year as I was seeking to root myself…

Psalm 51…well…whenever I (all too frequently) messed up…

Psalm 63 in the midst of uncertainty on the journey out of the Salvation Army…

Psalm 23 as words tumbling into my mind preparing a eulogy for my Grandma’s funeral…

We could go on.

These words capture us, challenge us, enliven us, confuse us…

They speak out of the depths of the entire human experience – not just the incredible moments when everything is so straightforward, but the bitterness and anger of rejection and uncertainty. They are human…and yet divine…

Right now the psalms which speak to me are those which call out to God for a sense of presence (for example psalm 44). Sometimes they speak of abandonment, sometimes of despair, sometimes of simple emptiness. I’m not pretending that this is the depth of my experience, but instead it reminds me of the vital place of questioning within the journey. The place where we stand and cry out ‘why’…where we remember the promises, the covenants and we attempt to once more invoke those days gone by whilst simultaneously pressing into the not yet.

We need songs for the journey that don’t ignore these moments. We need songs that speak of disappointment and uncertainty. To ignore them is to ignore life. Let’s not focus on the happy-flappy and emotional manipulation. Let’s be real for once.

Perhaps the most beautiful part of many of these psalms is the way they end. Not with a whimper but with a statement – “and yet still I will praise you”.

This is incredible.

I’m abandoned and yet God, I’m still going to believe.

You’ve let me down…and yet I’m still going to believe.

I’m hurting…and yet.

I’m lost…and yet.

I’m here.

Where are you?

The answer is not always as we expect…or even there at all…but that shouldn’t stop us from asking in the first place.

So as we walk this road I wonder if we could create something that embraces this lost heritage. Something that expresses the fullness of the life we live seeking to follow – the gethsemane as well as the resurrection, as it were.

Then, well then we’re singing.

restart…

restartTime to end the blogfast…haven’t written anything since May 19th – 70 days.  Woh.

I haven’t shutdown or decided to sign-off.  But I do sense it’s time for a bit of a restart…

A lot has happened since the last post…

Finished my first year at Uffculme, as a grown up RE teacher. Loved it. Love it. It’s not complete, it’s continuing. Next year is a little daunting – teaching a bit of English. Lots to learn, but that’s a good thing. Never cease learning…

Shared the news that we are expecting our second child. It ‘it’ is anything like ‘it’s’ big sister, we’re in for a treat.  Blessed doesn’t even begin to sum it up, but then I think if you read this blog you’ll know how I feel about being a Dad…

Kay decided to finish work for a year to let her focus on what lies ahead.  Much I could write about the why behind this, but sufficient to say that it’s utterly the right thing…

Started to train for the Great West Run with my friends Andy and Tobit. I tried this in 2007, not hugely successfully, but hoping and training for better things this time.  Enjoying the discipline of getting out on the road – even on my own now.  Currently up to about 7 miles in a reasonable timeframe.  Lots more mileage to get under my belt, but not a bad start…

End of school meant end of the reading famine – currently on my third book of the holiday…only one week in!  Just don’t seem to have the staying power during term-time…

Looking forward to Greenbelt and our little arts project we’re dreaming up at the moment.  I’ll keep you posted…

Feeling like something within is reawakening – something tied to the past that is linked to Isaiah 61. Perhaps something to explore over the next 6 weeks before getting back to school.  Too early to say what, but something is brewing.  Much to ponder, much to develop…

It is good to be alive.  It’s good to be thinking.  It’s good to be sharing life with my beautiful family and friends.  It’s good to celebrate all that is behind and embrace all that is ahead…

So, here’s to a blogging restart…

on why lying doesn’t help anyone…

http://taitcoles.files.wordpress.com/2011/07/photo2-teaching-standards-wordle.jpgWARNING – TEACHING FOCUSED POST

I don’t often blog on here about teaching, but I just wanted to share a few thoughts on the problem the profession is facing at the moment.

On the one hand is the reality of many teachers’ lives – hours of prep, teaching, marking, parents evenings and extra-curricular activities; stunning levels of stress and depression across the sector; never ending paperwork; focus on exams and statistics. As a profession, though, you won’t find many who don’t work their hardest to help their pupils achieve their potential. Hours of extra revision sessions, one-to-one coaching, marking and simple encouragement is the norm, not the exception.

Ok, that’s the deal, I get it. We have a reasonably good package in terms of salary, benefits and pension scheme in comparison to many others. We have great holidays (which don’t quite stack up as people think). So hard work during term time is to be expected.

There are signals that there are some problems in education. Commentators (few who are actually educators, or at least front-line educators) talk about curriculum and behaviour issues in particular.

I’m privileged to be at a school where everything seems to run smoothly with few discipline issues (if any). Our results mean that we don’t necessarily get the level of OFSTED scrutiny that other schools do. We do have some pupils who cause problems, but they’re managed well. I’d argue that most schools are more like us than like those nightmare schools you see in terrible TV dramas. The reality is that all professions that work with people – especially every young person in society – will have notable exceptions to the rule. You just deal with it when it arises and try your best to help modify behaviour as well as punish that which isn’t appropriate.

There are, of course, frustrations with the limitations of what we have to teach and why we have to teach it. You often find that time constraints allied with what exam boards ask of us mean that you can only scrape the surface of fascinating subjects. Everyone has an opinion on what we should teach and why – and that’s just in school. To suggest, however, that the curriculum ignores basic knowledge in subject areas like history, or doesn’t teach grammar (as I heard in a laughable interview last week) is ridiculous. We can only teach a certain amount in the time and with the resources we have. If people want to explore these areas in greater depth they can do at college or university. The point of secondary education, surely is that it gives a good comprehensive education – not specialist.

On the subject of history – I’m a bit of the history geek, but there are areas of history where my knowledge is, well, shaky. Ask me about history from about 1700 onwards and I’m fairly confident. Anything before that I’d have to go away and find out about it. That’s the point, though, isn’t it? I was taught at school how to find the information, not all of it! Of course, ‘experts’ outside education can talk about what we don’t teach (19th century British politicians, or ‘classic’ British authors) – whilst what we do achieve is give our pupils a sense of what it is to be a British citizen in an increasingly diverse society, as part of a global community. Learning about white male heroes winning battles doesn’t achieve anything. I love my military history – but I recognise that what is much more important is what prepares us for the future, not the past.  Skills are the key tool, not the ability to hoover up parcels of information.  Having said that, the acquisition of skills can sit comfortably alongside the gaining of knowledge – that’s clear in any classroom.

This post is an attempt to lay out some of the issues we face in school, acknowledge some of the challenges we are given from outside the sector and accept that there may be room for improvement. I think education is up for debate because everyone has experience of it. We’ve all been there…and dare I say it…we all think that we’re experts because of our experience.

We need a new social contract between educators, decision makers (government and academics) and society at large. We need to stop swinging punches at each other. We need to treat those who work in school with respect. We need to treat ministers with respect who have the hard job of pleasing the electorate and their power base – chanting “Gove must go” makes us look silly, really. We want parents, carers and the general public to have a deep interest in the future of our children, but more importantly we need them to actually take their time to listen to what is happening in schools, not just what they’re fed by a media that doesn’t have anything helpful to add to the debate.

We also need an Education Secretary and Chief Inspector who believe in dialogue and working with professionals, rather than against us. We’re not interested in protecting the status quo – we’re developing new ways of doing things all the time whilst working with the most unpredictable and fascinating people in the world. We’ll embrace ideas that take us forward, not backwards to a time when privilege decided who got the furthest in society. We want an education system that gives everyone the chance to succeed, not just the few who go to a select group of fee-paying school or gilded universities.

Stop using examples that are simply inaccurate (all teachers leave school at 3pm) or verge on untruthful (claiming that schools use Mr Men to teach about Hitler…).  They make you look silly and people ‘out there’ think teachers are useless.  Maybe that’s your aim.  That would be very sad, though, wouldn’t it?

Give us a chance. Work with us. Listen to our ideas and let us contribute to this new curriculum. We want to help. Just give us that chance.

why RE?…

asking questionsSo – why am an RE teacher?  In recent days I’ve asked myself this as I’ve seen headlines like this appearing in the national press, combined with RE not being included in the EBacc, which will become the standard ‘kite mark’ qualification for pupils from 2015 onwards.

It’s dispiriting at times, especially when you’re working with pupils who often ask why they have to study the subject, or even parents occasionally challenging the usefulness of RE on parents evening.  You wonder why you bother – why spend the hours of prep – or the year training – to be part of a subject that some would have us believe is dying, and at worst utterly irrelevant to society today.

I guess my answer is to share with people the conversations we have in RE – about who we are, what makes us ‘human’, what helps us to understand what is right or wrong.  My instinct (perhaps wrongly so) is that we provide a unique space in a frenetically busy timetable for pupils to ask huge questions about life, death, purpose, meaning.  We complement subjects which help pupils to understand the nuts and bolts of what we are and why we are.

In a place like Devon we provide a vital space for pupils to explore the world ‘out there’, when they may have little contact with different cultures or belief systems.  Without this, it’s easy to have a negative mindset about anyone or anything ‘different’.

We live in a world that is still defined by what we believe – somewhere in the region of 90% of people across our world claim adherence to some kind of belief system.  Even atheism is a belief system – so we need to study why we believe what we believe.  We need to learn from each other so that we can defeat fundamentalism and ‘phobia’ wherever we find it.  We open people’s horizons, not close them down.  We learn about belief because, basically, we all have something within us that needs to believe in something.  When we understand that, we understand ourselves and each other.  That’s worth something, isn’t it?

Perhaps it’s the name?  Religious Education makes you think that we spend our time indoctrinating pupils into some form of religion – mainly Christianity.  That we present a glossy understanding of the religions we study, never really exploring some of the problems religion creates.   I for one would prefer it if we focused on something like philosophy and ethics, whilst retaining the importance of studying religions for how they have answered the biggest questions.

Whatever we call it, RE has a place in our classrooms.  Not just because I need a job, but because pupils need to explore the world in which they’re growing up and trying to make sense of who they are.  I think we provide many of the tools that will help them to do this successfully.  We help pupils be lifelong learners by having an open mind to whatever they encounter.

If you’re a doubter – I invite you to come to my classroom for a day…

Tomorrow we explore our response to asylum seekers and immigrant workers, we try to define what makes us human, we think about wealth and poverty.  That’s a day well spent, I think.

day 355…

not my usual brew...Night out with colleagues from school last night…

I only stayed for an hour or so as Mum and Dad were down, but it was lovely to hang out with people on a social basis. Very content to be part of this great team…

Anyway, the night lasted longer for some of the others, so we gathered at a MacDonalds the next day for sustenance to get us through the last day of term.

MaccyD coffee…how low were my standards this morning?!

day 353…

teaching rocks sometimes...You’ve witnessed the creativity of my pupils before…

Well, here’s another great example.

Year 7 (11-12) have been working on a sequence of lessons about ‘who am I?’, trying to understand the ways in which we understand ‘who’ we are.  We’ve thought about whether we’re our ‘image’, or our relationships, or decisions.

To cap things off we worked through Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s incredible poem ‘Who Am I’, written during the imprisonment that would eventually lead to his death at the hands of the Nazi regime.  Bonhoeffer is one of my heroes, so to work on this with pupils was quite special.

As we read through the poem I asked pupils to draw what they thought Dietrich was feeling or thinking, and then their emotional response.  As you can see they’re a fabulously creative bunch!

Proud teacher this week…

day 342…

marking...Marking…

Just got to love it…

As a new teacher I made a schoolboy error…leaving all my marking to build up until the last week or so.  D’oh!

So, over the last 7 days I’ve marked:
120ish yr7 books
32 yr8 books
32 yr9 books
64 yr10 books and 64 yr10 assessments
64 yr11 books and 64 yr11 assessments

Just the small matter of 64 yr11 mock exams to mark now…and 64ish yr8 assesments

So – for all of those who think teaching starts at 8.50 and ends at 3.30, welcome to the real world!

Now, where did I put my non-red marking pen?!

day 340…

stuck in a line...Rubbish trip home from work today.  A 20 minute commute took 1 hour 20 instead.

I think there’d been a nasty smash on the M5, so I guess our thoughts should be with those involved.  An hour or so wasted is nothing in comparison to what they must have gone through.

Still, driving home with a lovely sunset, beautiful Devon all around me.  Lovely.

Can’t really complain (even the thought of a pile of marking isn’t too much at this point)…