I am having a bit of an existential crisis.
Things are conspiring against me in a way that makes me wonder if schools and other educational organisations have lost sight of why we’re all here – i.e. for the education of children.
Here are the things that have led me to this:
- This Wednesday we are having a tea party at my school for local residents to mark the centenary of the outbreak of WW1. I hear you asking what the problem with that is (with associated snide comments about my lack of respect for remembrance etc. etc.)… well, I’ll tell you. Firstly, I can’t teach my classes that afternoon, so they will be covered. (‘Set quality cover!’ I hear you cry. I will, but… I’d rather they were taught by me. Is that presumptuous?) Secondly, I can’t for the life of me see how this will further the education of students at my school. Yes, the history department have done a lovely display, which I’m sure some of them will see… but the tea party itself is for local residents. Various primary school groups are coming to perform. I have been roped in to accompany them, which is causing me some anxiety as they simply can’t tell me what key they want to do their songs in, and we’ll have approximately 30 seconds to rehearse (also I’m not exactly in my element on a piano, and those WW1 songs have some quite complex chords in them). I have also to lead a singalong of WW1 songs – again, OK, but really? When I could be teaching Year 8? And because the Mayor is coming, it is now a ‘showcase for the music department’ (we have plenty of those, and need more like a hole in the head) so I have been arranging WW1 songs for our jazz band, who will be rehearsing at the last minute so we can keep our end up, so to speak, in the public eye. So, mayor = mare. If it had been preparing for a whole-school act of remembrance, I wouldn’t mind a jot – I can see how that adds to the education of our students. But under these circumstances, I feel, frankly, pimped.
- At my school we have a lovely 5-piece a cappella group. They had been invited to perform at the conference of a big educational group. However, last week we discovered that the next day a visiting examiner is coming for a GCSE drama exam that two of the kids are involved in. It’s a group piece, so they really need to be in school the day before, rehearsing. Putting the students’ exams first, as I thought was my duty, (and the philosophy of the organisation we were due to perform for) I emailed and apologised that we would no longer be able to take part. There are a few weeks to go, so this is no last-minute cancellation. I have no illusions that we are the only school who could contribute a quality performance for this event. By return I had a reply from the very-well-known chair of the aforementioned educational organisation, expressing disappointment but wishing us well. But I also received another email from him, which he had clearly accidentally copied me in on, which was intended for his assistant, and said (I quote) “said little because I think this conveys all the wrong messages to kids about responsibility but if they can’t see that then no point in me telling them”. What the …?! I thought the kids’ responsibility – and mine – and the school’s – and this organisation’s – was to the students’ achievements? What is going on here? What exactly is it that I am ‘not seeing’? Not pimped here, but slapped for doing what I believe is in my students’ best interests.
Now like all music teachers, I am a great devotee of extra-curricular activities, and the ones that I organise for my students have great benefit to them and to the life of the school. But these two examples have made me think that schools and other organisations are being swept up in things that are causing them to forget why we’re really here.
I don’t want to use the term ‘back to basics’ as this has become a Tory catchphrase. But I went into education for the kids – can’t we keep it like that?