Hang around the FRINGE, that’s where the future is

(Photo credit: https://bit.ly/2Mhimdw)

It’s taken until now for me to realize that in fact when I was teaching children for years, I really wasn’t like the other teachers, though I thought we were all the same, actually we weren’t. It took me until I heard some thought leaders today speaking badly about the reprehensible education system that still lingers in the developed world today. The rote learning, the chanting and memorizing of facts, the dominance of the exam system and entry qualifications all based on results. I realized that I have never taught to that vein and never thought anyone around me ever did. Alas I was wrong, such is the blind spot of the alternative thinker.

I think the key point about teaching was for me that there was always a freedom there. A freedom of humor and discussion and every day seemed an endless roll of discoveries and journeys, but also there did need to be some rules and disciplines put in place, purely for the sake of respect for others and certain regimes that could be set in place to move things along faster. The key point however that I realized was that I never feared the loss of my job or being ostracized by others or the management for my teaching directions.

I do remember if anything the surprise from neighbouring teachers that I was doing such things and often they too adopted these ideas and sometimes even asked for guidance…I was happy to do that. But I realised that they just had no ideas. To execute one simple thing was an eternity of pain for them when they could simply go to a book and print something off.

In the end I realised two things. I always wanted to do something interesting, if not for the children, then for myself. Also I have a lot of energy to put into it and enjoyed the fun of it all, as well as having a laugh with the children who were always a source of great wonder and humour to me. Life to me was for living and living to the full, wherever or whatever it would be.  However, for others it wasn’t the case. Most other teachers felt bound by the curriculum, bound by the hours in the day, bound by the parents expectations and ultimately only ever saw their teaching as a job.

Saying all this, I have to say there were some wonderful teachers who executed the curriculum perfectly, who gave 150% to the class and used every hour of the day to make their teaching better. They were wonderful teachers, but were they game changers? Perhaps some were and some weren’t –  can’t be sure. But ultimately anyone who stands up in front of a class on a daily basis, must be saluted. Teaching is the most noble of professions.

I later had an interesting experience with someone who I had worked with before and they came to my current school and looked around. They were very excited by it and asked me one simple thing. “Where did you learn how to make a school like this?”, to which I answered, ‘I didn’t learn it from anywhere, I just made it up as I went along and discovered what worked and what didn’t, it all comes down to common sense’. She quickly answered, ‘but did you go on a course’? I told her that I hadn’t. To which she answered, ‘Yes, but how did you know even where to begin and how to make all the decisions?’

It was at this point that I realised that this conversation was going nowhere. That though she was an amazing teacher she was missing one vital ingredient. Initiative and creativity. As a result, I’m sure her children learned well, but were they inspired, driven or creative? Perhaps some were, and some weren’t, I really shouldn’t generalize, but her one question about where I learned something made me realise that the world she had been living in professionally was a world of mainstream learning. Where a textbook and series of activities were the rule of thumb and one must stick to these tried and true things and never deviate because there lies danger!   The mainstream is like the road well travelled. It will get you to your destination and will work for most to provide something very adequate.

The road less traveled is not mainstream, in fact it lies always at the fringe. This is the main goal of fringe-dwellers, to boldly reinterpret the curriculum, take journeys on tangents that are wild, open and full of adventure.

The biggest issue however is how to get those from the mainstream road off track and into the fringe. As mentioned earlier, I was fortunate to suffer from a blind spot, which meant that I always thought I was doing the right thing, when in fact I was on another tangent. But saying that, no one complained, or if they did I can’t remember them. And I also need to admit that though I would say my classes were dynamic and interesting, it wasn’t always easy. Of course being in the main Govt system I had all kinds of children in the class, and did have to deal with all the same disruptive issues that other teachers had.

So ultimately I’d still recommend to teachers of children to get off that mainstream highway and move onto the fringe. That’s where the fun is for you and the children, …oh and think about developing a blind spot…that helps too.

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