What subjects do you teach?
English and Media Studies.
Why did you decide to get into education?
I was invited to come and give some rapping workshops to students in a high school in London. The person that asked me told me they wouldn’t be able to pay me and that it would have to be a voluntary thing. I was working at the time and I just couldn’t afford to take the time off. She asked me “Have you ever heard of teacher aide? I think you’d be good at it”, I hadn’t. She told me about a job coming up at that same school, I applied and got the job. Within about two weeks I went from working in a bar to being a teacher aide. I was assigned a few students who had issues going on at home or learning problems and I was there to support them. So I would follow 7A around all day and I would see 7A not paying attention with one teacher and then behaving quite nicely with another teacher. I quickly realised that it was about the relationship the teachers were forming with these kids. I felt inspired by that and I started thinking “I could do that. Actually, I could do a better job than this teacher”. So I started asking questions about how do you become a teacher and found out that I needed to complete my degree and then do a post-graduate degree, so that was my inspiration. I went back and finished my degree, moved to Australia to complete my Dip Ed and started teaching in Melbourne.
What was your first impression of Doncaster Secondary College?
My first impression was just WOW! My previous school is very well-regarded, with a very similar group of kids who are easy to work with, very respectful, very aspirational, but when I came here I was just blown away by how friendly and generous the staff are and how lovely the students are to work with. As a teacher when you decide to move to another school, you can research on their website, you can look at their mission statement, you can look at their AIP to try and understand what the school’s like, but ultimately, you’re going in blind. You never really know, so it’s a bit of a gamble. I was very apprehensive about leaving my last school because I didn’t think it was possible that I would get into a school that I liked more. I’m very very happy to have found this school!
At the end of last year, you were involved in the SRC Planning Day. You mentioned that “SRC is the bridging group between teachers and students”. How important do you think student voice is?
I think student voice is hugely important. I haven’t seen it done very well at any schools and I think that’s because it is something only just being recognised as valuable. Part of seeing it’s value involves realising the number of areas that student voice should be involved in and the number of areas that they’re not involved in. The excuse of, young people don’t know what’s good for them, we’re the experts, are not good enough excuses for why students are not having more of a say in what they’re learning. I have very radical ideas around education, but you have to learn to work towards them slowly and incrementally.
Where do you see education going in the future? Is there going to be a radical shift or is it going to continue along similar lines?
It’s probably going to continue along similar lines. I think that changes in education have always been around the ‘How’: ‘How do we teach Maths?’, ‘How do we teach English?’, whereas radical change is around ‘What’ do we teach, so questioning whether we need to be teaching English – what is relevant, what is important, what do young people need to know? When you know from your own experience of having been through education and talking to other people, then you know that 80-90% of everything that they learn at school is forgotten the moment they step out of an assessment. What’s not used and not applied and not relevant to their life beyond that assessment. There’s something seriously wrong with the ‘What’. There’s a whole industry of education that’s all about that ‘How’ do we teach, and this is new, this is radical, this is different – it’s only different in terms of the method of delivery or the philosophy and the framework around how do we deliver this thing. It’s never, ever a drastic, radical change in content. Never.
What do you hope students take out of their thirteen years of schooling?
I would hope that out of their time at school, students have taken an understanding of what it means to make and form meaningful relationships and friendships with people. I think that’s a really important life skill. To understand what it takes to meet a new group of people and integrate yourself into an affinity group and to see the important role that you play within that affinity group and the important role that that affinity group plays within your life and your sense of contentment and satisfaction. I think that’s the most important thing. Relationships and friendships give us meaning in life and something that I’ve experienced in my life, particularly in the West, is isolation and loneliness because of the business of our lives, because of the demands of working in such a fast-paced lifestyle and using devices that allow us to pick affinity groups that are not necessarily in proximity to us. I feel like understanding the value of friendship and community doesn’t have to be big. It doesn’t have to be more than two or three people, but at least knowing that it’s important. I’d like to think that a person would have a real sense of urgency around making meaningful relationships with the people around them. Putting it has more of a priority than doing well in your subjects or whatever it is that you’re doing because you can be happy anywhere if you’ve got good friends around you. Happy anywhere, doing anything, otherwise you can be miserable anywhere doing anything.
How important is student perception to you as a teacher?
I’m not overly conscious of trying to be perceived a certain way but I think that perception is hugely important. I do believe that your perception of things, is what your reality is, so I guess thinking along those lines I do try and operate from a place of integrity and a place of authenticity. I hope that’s something that students and staff see and respect. If you operate from an authentic space and you’re a person of integrity, then you can be trusted. You don’t necessarily have to be someone that they particularly like, but need to be able to trust you. They need to have a sense for what you stand for and see that you’re coming from a good place.