Well, I’ve done it now.

I have just submitted Dragonsoul to Tor UK.

Who are Tor UK, you ask?

Only one of the biggest publishers of fantasy, science fiction and horror novels in the UK. They accept unsolicited manuscripts, but I’ve been putting it off because a rejection from them kind of tells you it’s time to give up the dream with this particular novel. But, as Delboy says, he who dares, wins, plus other such ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get’ platitudes.

There literally aren’t enough Maltesers in the world to calm my shattered nerves.

Oh well, onward and upwards! Time to get back to editing Predator X, I suppose!

*silent, terrified scream of ‘what have I done?!!?’*

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I am not a number! (And thank you… I think)

First of all, I need to say a big ‘thank you’ to those of you who have commented, liked and shared my last blog. I’m used to being a teeny tiny, slightly nerdy fish in an incredibly big ocean, and so for it to garner such attention is a bit mind-blowing. And scary (very scary). And a bit sad, because it obviously touched a nerve with a lot of people, which just goes to show how demoralised so many people are right now – not just teachers, but the vast majority of public sector workers out there who feel everything has just gone insane over the last couple of years (I have a lot of friends who work for the DWP, and the stories I hear are enough to make your hair curl. Seriously – if you ever have to deal with the Jobcentre, please don’t blame the poor sod on the end of the phone who is trying to deal with your problem. They are just as frustrated and appalled by this mess as you are).

I feel incredibly nervous at writing a follow-up blog. I could have gone back to sporadically writing about my writing journey (I’m sprucing up my latest novel before sending it to my publisher whilst trying to ignore the rejections another one of my novels is attracting, if you’re interested. Getting an Agent is hard…), but this is a subject I feel so strongly about, and after it provoked such discussion, I felt it churlish to treat it as if it has never happened (which, believe me, is a tempting offer). Y’see, I’m not a hugely political person. I’m not really all that politically literate (I know more about the rules of Dungeons and Dragons than I do about modern politics), and I tend to write stuff from the heart rather than from any great political platform. I don’t want to change the world, or even your opinion. But I do want to share this with you. This is taken from a conversation I had with another dear teacher friend of mine earlier today:

“I’m fighting for the kids. Don’t want more money, sod the pensions and screw my holidays. I just want to pick my kids up from school and hear them say they enjoyed themselves for once. That they weren’t being tested to oblivion. 2 weeks ago, (my son) was asked, what do you consider to be your key academic strengths. At 10! Why is that important? When I was his age I was desperate to read the next CS Lewis book, and learn about the history of theatre, and history generally. And learn the solar system off by heart and make models. I didn’t even know what academic meant! Think I turned out ok…”

I don’t think I can sum it up better than that. She didn’t say this to an audience, or indeed to anyone else but me and the couple of other people who commented on my status update. I sincerely hope she doesn’t mind me sharing it with a wider audience, but I think it’s an important thing to share. When teachers start saying this kind of stuff, you know it’s time to worry.

Everyone wants their children to succeed. Everyone wants the best for them. That is no different for teachers. There is nothing like marking a set of books and finding that every single kid in your class has taken what you’ve taught them to heart and tried their hardest to produce the best piece of work they are capable of based on it. I am not ashamed to say I have been reduced to actual tears of joy whilst marking (and I bet you thought you’d never hear a teacher ever say that!), which is why the current culture upsets me so much. It is taking the joy out of it all, for both the person delivering it and those it is being delivered to – all for the sake of a bunch of numbers. Because data is King right now. Have a son or daughter who likes, for example, drama but isn’t hugely good at it? Forget them taking it for GCSE even if they find it rewarding and enjoyable, because if they fail, they run the risk of damaging the school’s rating in the league tables (and yes, that has happened recently, and on more than one occasion). Silly me – I thought schools were there for the good of the kids, rather than the good of their position in the league tables.

 

EDIT: Also, this – http://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/teacher-blog/2014/feb/08/secret-teacher-work-academy-chain

I noticed everything went downhill when we were earmarked for forced Academy-isation, too. (And they took credit for our jump in results this year, despite the fact that they were only really involved in the last term, you know, after the YR 11s had all but left…)

We’re going on a Gove Hunt

This is quite excellent and very timely, so I had to share…

Education, Teaching, Technology

Michael Rosen has written an open letter to Michael Gove this week (http://bit.ly/wOR2vl). Rosen is critical of Gove’s policy and approaches, I think it’s fair to say he’s not Gove’s biggest fan.  Rosen’s classic children’s book casts the bear in the role of the scary monster, but what if we were to face our modern day demons and go on a Gove hunt….

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Life lessons, fear of failure and why I left teaching.

This morning, I found out an excellent teacher, someone I respect and look up to, received a Requires Improvement from an Ofsted QA Inspection. Needless to say, she’s gutted. I’m furious for her. Not just because she blatantly does not Require Improvement (and any idiot who spent more than 20 minutes observing her would realise this), but because this is the reason I decided to take a break from teaching.

I loved being a teacher. I loved the buzz of the classroom, and teenagers are the most inspiring, frustrating, wonderful, bonkers, infuriating and downright excellent people I have ever had the pleasure to work with. The workload was hard, but a lot of the time it felt…, well, not fun, but certainly not boring. I loved designing lessons, trying to bring in new stuff as and when I could. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t, but I never once felt like I was wasting my time.

Then things changed.

All of a sudden, I wasn’t allowed to judge my own classes and make planning decisions on what I knew they would enjoy and engage with. Instead, I had to shoehorn in a load of gimmicky nonsense that they believed to be ‘outstanding practise’, like asking your class what would happen if the world ran out of coffee, or making them write down endless reams of feedback (written in red, or teacher is, yep, RI), or stopping them every ten minutes to ‘check their progress’ by asking them to stick their fingers up their noses if they understood or their thumbs up their arses if they didn’t. You also had to stop the lesson the minute anyone higher up the foodchain walked into your lesson and ‘go through the learning objectives’ no matter what they were doing, even if you’d just gone through them 2 minutes before and the kids were working brilliantly. Because teaching is now less about teaching and more about proving you’re not letting them doodle flowers in their books whilst you read Heat.

But I could have coped with all of that. What I couldn’t cope with was the toxic culture of fear that now pervades the whole profession. People no longer talk about ‘what this brilliant kid did’ – it’s always about who had a drop in and what grade they subsequently received. As a profession, we have been reduced from largely innovative, invested individuals to a bunch of approval-seeking junkies, because we know we’re only as good as our last Ofsted rating. Forget what the kids think of you; forget what the parents think of you, if Ofsted say ‘nope’, then that’s it. You’re not good enough (although in my case, Ofsted rated me Good, but that still wasn’t enough, but that’s another story for another time).

This culture of fear doesn’t just stop at the teachers, though. No, the trickle down effect on our kids is something that really, really scares me. Not only do kids pick up on stress when their teachers are stressed, but what does this constant climate of assessment and judgement teach them? Well, as a life-long member of the ‘Pathological Approval Seeker’ club who bases her entire self-worth in the opinions of others, I know exactly what it teaches them. It teaches them that nothing is worth doing unless you’re being judged. That being judged and the arbitrary approval of people you’ve never even fucking seen before is more important than your own instincts. Forget cultivating independence of thought; all this does is teach kids that unless that stranger says you’re Good, you’re a failure as a human being.

What happened to doing something for the sheer joy of doing it? Or discussing something because it’s important, or simply interesting? Or encouraging kids to take risks, where they very well may fail or make mistakes but that doesn’t matter because it’s better to have the guts to give it a go than be terrified of the failure that inevitably comes with constant and relentless assessment against an increasingly narrowed set of markers? Because THIS is what we’re teaching our children right now – that the grade is everything. Forget the journey, it’s all about the destination. You are nothing more than a number, a grade, a set of statistics – and if you EVER deviate from the path laid out for you by people who don’t know you, then you are a failure. And even if you’re not this time, you will be. Oh, you will be. Because you’re being assessed again tomorrow, and who knows what tomorrow brings?