Mamma, learner, language lover, thought provoker, disrupter and questioner.
Former secondary school teacher.
As I approached the end of university and companies from advertising to legal to banking came to pitch to undergraduates, I distinctly remember questioning this ‘given’, this apparently obvious next step which it seemed we were being encouraged to take. But in choosing not to take this path, I wasn’t quite sure what other paths were open. Until then, the route had been clear: you went to school and through the years your workload increased. You jumped through the hoops you were supposed to jump through and, hopefully – or in my case, at least – questioned, at quite a few turns, given norms and burned with passion for what you believed in.
At that point, the burning passion, blind confidence and independence, took me to Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon and then to the West Bank, Occupied Palestinian Territories, there I volunteered with international and local NGOs to promote a civil society record of the atrocities committed in the OPT.
Returning to England, I wanted to give children the confidence to follow their passions, and went into teaching. Back in my natural environment – schools – I loved the dynamic and energy of teaching; I loved how passion can be gloriously infectious, I loved building rapports with my classes, I loved the possibility and potential of the whole school and the individual classes. But I became increasingly frustrated with the prescriptive nature of The System. Teaching GCSE English became about telling children what hoops they had to jump through, how to jump them, and precisely why they shouldn’t try to do a somersault at the same time. Since becoming a mother and teaching part time, I have actively avoided GCSE level.
Having children – three of them, so I’ve been busy – has added another perspective to my thoughts on education. Watching my children subjected to a primary school curriculum which is, at best, restrictive and prescriptive and, at worst, stressful for children, parents and teachers, has and continues to stoke the fires of passion anew. Why should children be told there are books that they can’t read because they are in a different box, if that might be just the encouragement they need? Why are 8 year old children told that you can’t write ‘to crash quietly into a tree’? Why has my daughter stopped writing the ‘poems’ she used to write in her delightfully engaging four year old scrawl? Why are they doing tests in the classroom on a daily basis? The list went on…. It all seemed, and seems, too much, too soon. It was doing our children a disservice.
So, as a family, we took A Bold Step. We decided just to upsticks, and move to Italy. To step out of expectations, challenge accepted normalities, live a little differently and find out some more about ourselves. In short, we stepped back from our lives. As mamma with the fig tree, three children and a long distance commuting husband, I had both oodles of time to reflect, think, sit with my ideas and simultaneously absolutely no time at all.
Now, back in England, the fiery passion to change education, not just for my children, but for others is still strong. It turns out I have a track record of questioning, challenging and disrupting accepted norms. Stepping back from my life in Italy helped me to define my direction and purpose and, inspired by the surging energy for change – from high profile thinkers such as Ken Robinson, through to grass roots movements and the growing numbers of children being taken out of school to be educated at home – the time feels wholly propitious to radicalise education from the bottom up.