Thoughts on Educating the East End Episode 4

This is going to short and sweet. I always thought that exclusion was pointless, unnecessary and detrimental to the development of a child, but after watching last night I’m of a different opinion. It was clearly a difficult decision, there was nowhere left to go with discipline, other children were going to suffer and I am sure there was far, far more to the story than we saw out of respect for the child and his family. It was easy to forget that Jebb was introduced as a boy who had been excluded from another school previously as his dimpled cute smiling face touched our hearts and his plight and obvious struggles with coping with his parents’ divorce brought tears to our eyes. I felt deflated when he was excluded and couldn’t help but think that he was bound to become a statistic, a failure and then I was delighted to see that he is doing well, that the actions taken were right for him, they worked, he’s happy and thriving.

These programmes are never going to give us the whole picture but I think this is one of the reasons this team win awards, they take us on a realistic journey and they lead us to make assumptions and then they turn all that on its head, they challenge the way we think and our haste in making judgements.

Well done on another fabulous episode.

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Educating the East End Episode 3

I loved this episode. I was struck by a couple of things and that is how this one seemed to show much better behaved, driven, involved and inspired kids who realised the importance of education and the added extras. I felt this was far more representative of young people in the main, or at least the young people I’m used to.

I loved the elections, the campaigning, the obvious camaraderie and support throughout the school, the barrier relaxing between students and teachers, all of it was inspirational. As a teacher who has shifted from FE to Secondary I was able to relate so much easier to this and I think it is true that they began the series with the difficult year 9 which consensus has it is the toughest year as mentioned in my first post on this series.

I was also interested to see how it was noticed that things going on outside of school were affecting the outgoing head girl’s performance and how it was nipped in the bud and ultimately did not affect her achievements at GCSE. I felt it was interesting to see the focus on developing her self belief and I felt educated myself by the head teacher’s comments on exam performance being largely due to a mental attitude. I’ve seen people filled with fear and negativity prior to an exam and have wondered how they can do that to themselves, believing that negative mind set can’t be productive but for some people positivity and self belief doesn’t come easy and that’s something to bear in mind now as a teacher. I don’t think I’m bigging myself up too much to say that I’m pretty good at encouraging students to have faith in themselves but I saw it more in action on the programme and feel that I understand the importance even more now of building that positivity. Some people do not have it instilled in them by parents or anyone else in their life, even society may have a low expectation or give out signs that trying is pointless and we as teachers do have to fight against that.

We were shocked that nobody seemed to know who the eventual election victor was. I guess that’s because he was under the radar, probably well behaved, always on time, good attendance and a high achiever. Nobody’s noticed him because he hasn’t given anyone reason to and in some ways I think that’s very sad. Imagine if he had never stood for election, he would possibly have passed right through secondary school with nobody ever noticing him.

I see how easy it is for deserving students to be bypassed on awards events and for opportunities to represent the school and for treats and rewards and while I get it now as a teacher that the challenging students take up the lion’s share of your time and focus, it’s really not fair. It’s made me want to make an even more concerted effort to make sure I notice the other students, not just the high achievers but the middling, average students who come in, sit down, get on with their work, achieve comfortably and leave. I know who they are in my current classes and I know who they were in my placement classes and I have to hold my hands up and admit that in my placement classes they were the ones I took longest to remember the names of, the ones I engaged with the least and the ones I should have recognised more.

As a student teacher you will soon realise that it really is the challenging students who you remember first and you will be shocked when you reflect and consider the amount of time you spent talking directly to them (another reason why reflection is important). You have to be careful of that, some ‘disruptive’ students just crave attention and they are very skilled at commanding it.  In one of my observations my university tutor advised me to ignore any behaviours which were not threatening or affecting anyone else. As an example in the observed class one of my students decided to make a paper plane and I asked why he had done that and I should have just ignored it, nobody else had noticed he had made it, it wasn’t detracting from the overall flow of the lesson and I brought everyone’s focus to the paper plane and thereby I caused the class to become distracted from the lesson and of course myself. Later on he wrapped toilet paper around himself and again I mentioned it and created the conflict situation the student wanted when again I could have just ignored it.

So lesson learned, less time on the attention seekers and more of acknowledgement of the under the radar, safe kids, they might not crave attention but everyone likes to be noticed for something they’re doing well and to have some attention now and again, I’d hate to think a student of mine would put himself up for an election and I wouldn’t know who he was but am aware of how easily it could happen.

Looking forward to the  next episode.

Educating the East End Episode 2 Review

This is just going to be quick one as I went into lots of detail last time which can be found HERE and I don’t have so much time now I’m TEACHING!!

I watched episode 2 with my son and he said something which I thought was quite relevant in response to the discipline and that was “if we’re supposed to act like adults to prepare for being adults then when do we get to just be kids?”.

I thought it was quite significant and pertinent, when do they get to be kids? I know there were some serious issues of getting involved with the wrong crowd, but had the boy in question been battered outside of the school gates it wouldn’t be “a school issue” and parents would be advised to go to the police. The police had been involved yet the school still disciplined as well. But anyway, I digress, the kid is a boy, he’s having a laugh, teenage boys find everything hilarious, they are  being forced to stifle this essential element of who they are, the element which will bring them their most fun childhood memories because they are expected to act like adults which they are not.

Part of preparing for the adult world is them learning how far they can push boundaries and of saving face. The challenge was thrown down to put the ball on the desk within the allocated time ‘or else’, he played by the rules, he did as asked, he put it down within the time frame rule dictated by the teacher, the adult, and yet he was still the loser, the adult chose to break the rules and the ‘or else’ happened anyway, even though he had played by the rules dictated. I guess in that sense we could concede that he was being prepared for adult life, in that quite often as an adult you play by the rules and it gets you nowhere, or people with authority will change rules to suit themselves or they will break rules and that’s OK as long as you know your place and you don’t. He wasn’t pushing the boundary to irk the teacher, he was doing it to save face in front of his peers, and the same could be said of the teacher who had to save his face in front of the boy’s peers too, but he won and grandad was called in, detentions and exclusions bandied about willy nilly and when the kid does something really bad there is nowhere left to go with punishments and the whole process breaks down.

I was hugely in agreement with the PE teacher and the way he persuaded the football crazy lad to think of a plan B. It can be a fine line between destroying someone’s ambition by asking ‘what if’ and encouraging the back up plan but I think he did a great job of it.

My only concern is that the opportunity to coach football was seen as an opportunity at the right time and put to good effect and tied to performance criteria which is arguably a good thing, however the opportunity to join police cadets should have been identified sooner. Why do we wait for things to go wrong before we take action? Why does it take a child being ‘a problem’ before we get to know them and tailor part of schooling to meet a need and avert a crisis? Why is there little in the way of risk management for all from the start?

One of the down sides of waiting until there is a problem is that the other kids who are not offered these opportunities see them as rewards for bad behaviour and who knows where that could lead? Most likely to further bad behaviour.

Final point, the jewellery on that deputy head’s hands is ridiculous. How can you say you set rules around appearance as a preparation for adult or working life and then have teachers with hands rattling in rings, tottering around in high heels and with ear tunnels? It’s a conflict. You can’t wear those rings because in the adult world you won’t get a job if you go to an interview or to work like that and that’s being told to you by an adult in the adult world with a job… go figure, it’s confusing.

I’m not as into this series as I was into the last two but Educating Yorkshire took three episodes to grip me so let’s see what the next one brings later this week.

Educating the East End

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 thatdownload 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 keep-calm-and-stop-putting-your-foot-in-itfor 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 imagesE&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 product_olo_sh2moments 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.

images (1)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 download (1)

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 

Channel 4 Last Chance School

If you missed it, this is worth a watch whoever/wherever/whatever you teach or are going to teach. The trained eye will spot some classic examples of behaviour management and engagement activity and also some essential traditional school rule bending.

Last Chance School Documentary

There are a few more education related fly on the wall type documentaries coming up including Educating Yorkshire One Year On. A one off catching up with the kids from the award winning series due to be aired on Channel 4 on 21st August 2014. Click this link for more info

Then the same team move on to bring us a brand new series of the same ilk, Educating the East End (I think is its official title although some reports are calling it Educating Walthamstow). Whatever it’s called, it is a series due to start on Channel 4 very soon set in a secondary school in Walthamstow (of course) so watch out for it.

If you’re studying your PGCE and looking at a placement or a future in Secondary or FE these are really interesting programmes to watch… with eyes wide open watching and listening to the kids as much as the teachers.