The new series of popular, award winning fly on the wall documentaries began this week, Channel 4’s Educating the East End so what did we make of it? It’s really useful to watch these programmes and see some of what you’re learning as a PGCE student or NQT applied in the classroom and also to be able to empathise with familiar challenges and triumphs. Here’s a trailer just in case this is all news to you:
I love that it showed a later life transitioner into teaching, Mr Bispham, it’s relevant to me although how anyone can go into teaching with no teaching qualification or placement experience amazes me. I don’t think I could have done that, it’s a brave approach so kudos to him for that. Mr Bispham is not as old as me though, I could be his mother, he’s only 28 apparently, something I didn’t find out until after I’d written this. Maybe did a Bispham myself there and put a foot in it, it’s so easy to do.
More on that later, he came across as having the right values at heart without a doubt and imagine that with a less unruly class he is even more capable than he showed on the show. My son has just completed year 9 and headed into year 10 and tells me that all of his teachers say year 9 is the worst year to teach, maybe they suffer from middle child syndrome en masse or maybe it’s just that time when a huge swing happens from child to person who believes they are more or less an adult now. A time when most of the boys still want to play and giggle and have fun but are expected to be more mature and sensible (this continues until they are about 45 I believe), yet they not mature and sensible enough to be treated as adults and where the girls get their slap on and think that because they have functioning child bearing mechanisms that validates them as women. I can see many reasons why year 9 may be a challenge.
Any of us who have taught more than one class in training will know that there isn’t a one size fits all for youngsters and you have to take the rough with the smooth and try to manage the challenges effectively without sitting crying in a corner waiting for your ‘easier’ class to come through the door. Having a breakthrough with a challenging class is ultimately more rewarding even if it may be slow to arrive and harder to achieve, or rather because it may be slow to arrive and harder to achieve.
Mr Bispham didn’t seem to be able to prevent himself from putting his foot in it did he? It really highlighted how careful teachers have to be with what they say, there is a room of 20 – 30 individual people in front of them with different experiences, different things going on in their lives, different attitudes, different expectations and it can be a mine field where tip toeing through can suddenly result in a huge explosive mess, which then has to be managed and that detracts from teaching, the lesson plan goes out of the window, command of the class can be lost and the teacher is left a heaving wreck of emotions all swirling around a core of inadequacy and goes home wondering if Tesco need any checkout operators.
We are taught on teaching courses, whatever their label, to factor in different religions, abilities, beliefs, languages all that E&D stuff (Click for a useful if dated FE resource) but then on top of that are some of the perhaps unknown idiosyncrasies of life that we saw in the first episode of Educating the East End. A teacher can’t plan for everything but having said that, I’m sure Mr Bispham will be more careful in future when he talks about individual aspirations and about deadly diseases, although to skirt around important issues would be an injustice to the students and not prepare them for reality. We can’t always teach them about the world we’re preparing them for wearing kid gloves because when they get out there the gloves are definitely off. I’ve sat in classes as an adult student and been deeply offended by something someone has said, either a teacher or fellow student and felt disempowered to speak up about why it has bothered me and have taken it home and let it trouble me to the point that I just didn’t want to go back and be in a room with people capable of such thoughts, so I’m sure children do the same, the ones who explode and react are perhaps the least of a teacher’s worries.
I enjoyed observing the observation (here’s what is being looked at in observations) and was as proud as he was of his Good outcome. Some people need to feel that they are outstanding but when you’re at the top the only way is down so it’s good to not always excel, it doesn’t give much room for growth. I’d like to be a good teacher most of the time and have my moments where I excel and have a great lesson. Of course having a great lesson every time would be amazing and that would always be the goal but I certainly wouldn’t beat myself up about being good at what I do especially in the circumstances Mr B was in.
I noticed that the kids seemed to behave better during the observation and that is something that used to warm me from my placement days, that the kids really want you to do well, even if they might not always show how much they appreciate what you are doing they don’t want to see you fail and they do tend to turn into model students during an observation, not all of them all of the time but most of them most of the time.
I think the overriding impression of him was a man who had the right intent, who wanted to teach these kids and wanted to do it well, to make it interesting and to share some of his passion and no doubt there are classes and moments where that happens and it all feels amazing but the programme focused more on the difficulties and I guess it’s fair to do that to give a real impression of what teaching is like.
I like that the head is new to the role and hope that we learn more of her challenges, I’d like to see more of how she has to balance her leadership and management role at the helm of the school aside from dealing with student issues but then I suppose these programmes are about the teaching of the students so there may not be scope for that within the remit of the show.
I’m looking forward to the next episode and have watched all of the additional material on Channel 4’s website and feel that this is going to be as interesting an insight as the last series, I think stars are going to shine out, tears are going to be shed, there will be plenty of laughter and I’ll once again be on the end of my seat fingers crossed waiting for exam results at the end.
I don’t really want to teach in a school, it was never my intention, I feel my skills are better suited to FE for lots of reasons but who knows, it might happen one day so it’s great to have this insight and to either have confirmation that I made the right choice or to be enticed into the challenging world of secondary education.
More reading for behind the scenes interviews and to see what others make of the show:
Here’s a run down of what to expect from future episodes
Here’s Mr B’s take on the first episode which I found after I’d finished my review
Here’s the Telegraph’s take on it with their Rise of the TV Teacher article
Here’s what Metro made of it with their 5 best moments from the first episode
TES have a live blog on the show each week which you can join in or just read by clicking the link
Teach First have an interview with head Jenny Smith which is an interesting read