Had a fascinating time yesterday, my first day as part of an education experiment. I was teaching a group of ‘challenging’ teenagers who have gone through the school system without overly troubling the GCSE scorers, and who have been brought together to see whether ‘inspiring, passionate, achieving’ people (why thank you experiment organisers) can turn them on to learning.
It makes for a few interesting combos in the staff room, of which more anon. But having been wound up by some of my fellow teachers to expect something close to a war zone, and having heard how another teacher had already fled, I cannot deny a few nerves.
My own kids, the product of excellent North London comprehensive schools with their own share of challenging kids, were great with advice. As I tweeted last night, their basic lesson was ‘be firm from the off, offer praise, show no fear, explain clearly and never ever talk down.’ I think I managed it, and though it was not always easy to hold their attention and keep them talking one at a time, we got through a lot and they gave a lot back.
My subject is politics, media and campaigns. I wanted to use lesson one to show that politics mattered, was central to their lives, and they were more political than they might realise. Most said in advance they found politics ‘boring.’ None had heard of George Osborne. Four knew of Nick Clegg. All recognised PMs Thatcher and Blair from photos. All but a couple recognised Cameron and Brown. None recognised Major, or had heard of him. They all recognised Obama and Bin Laden. Most recogmised Katie Price, Simon Cowell, Jay-Z and Gandhi,
But whilst many maintained throughout that they had no interest in politics, they sat pretty rapt watching short films on the fight of the Pankhursts to get votes for women, the US civil rights movement, Nelson Mandela’s long walk to freedom, and on how Labour legislated on gay rights. And by the time we started discussing campaign ideas of their own, they came thick and fast, and at times with a real passion and knowledge born of experience. By the end, some were asking if I would help them put together campaigns they were interested in getting involved in.
They will all have their own stories to tell about home, background, school, and they will likely all have reasons as to why school did not work for them. But I left their company quite excited and inspired by their potential, and a bit angry that despite the undoubted improvements we made since 1997, there are so many bright kids seeing their potential go to waste.
The experiment is due to run for a month, and I will popping in and out, so more later …