On the poverty of teaching staff life

When I first met Bob Harrison, all round Educational Technology guru, I asked him how I – “just” a mere teacher in a bigger machine – could take my research and the movement towards a culture of learning technologies and impact on the institution where I work. 

The answer, Bob said, was to go to the Governors, to go to the top, to leverage what students say they want and to squeeze the middle management. 

In my organisation, the Middle management isn’t the problem: indeed, they’re encouraging of innovative teaching. The problem is complex. Leadership, hubs of leaders and administrators, a lack of resources, outdated equipment, channels of beauracracy that stifle creative innovation at the point of use and resulting student expectations. 

And social capital as a teacher.

Four years of research and a soon to be completed doctorate on technology enhanced learning later without any acknowledgment of this experience from the organisation. Here’s the picture of tech in my college: 

-I’m prescribed to use the VLE (it didn’t work at all last year). Naturally my enthusiasm for the VLE is dispirited, but it’s even less when it’s prescribed. A colleague timed how long it took to build pages (added, named, dated) and post lesson resources. Only her look of fatigue (on day two back after summer) reflected the answer. 

-to pay for a 30quid license for a particularly decent online platform for the entire department, last year I had to go through a 2 week process to get permission from central services (itself situated 200 miles away). It was eventually approved (I’d paid for and been using it anyway), but it didn’t run properly on the college machines.

– laptops must be booked a term in advance. This information is discretely withheld from staff. Laptops, wheeled about on a trolley like in a morgue, usually don’t work.

-PCs are in good number! But they too are so often booked out by a department for an entire term.

-mobiles are discouraged – but I’ve utilised them. Problem is many kids in this area don’t have SmartPhones.

-there are iPads! Or should I say, there are rumours of iPads. Conflicting ones. Some say they exist, others say not. Last I heard they are locked in a cupboard, away from inquisitive minds.

This summer, with middle-management consent, I spent about 3 weeks redesigning English GCSE to reorganise the one week intensive lesson to two, shorter lessons; one curriculum focused, the other tech-based project learning incorporating all kinds of nifty pedagogical strategies on problem-based learning, informal interests correlated discretely to the syllabus and grammar, mobile learning through enrichment trips and excursions, attitudinal improvements, engagement and creating counter-points to work skills, cultural and recreational interests, support of equality, diversity, safeguarding and real world references, cross-curricular focus and all supported by the development of vital digital literacies. My enthusiasm for the year ahead was revitalised in planning this.

But, with grand scale restructuring (redundancies) there seems a dearth of line managers and no existing time tabling representative. In the first week, with the elusive computers booked for a whole 6weeks to launch this restructure, I learn that each curriculum leader has allocated their cohort’s second lesson WHEREVER THEY LIKE. Now, I should point out that I am part-time. But now the ownership of this restructure that I relished implementing. is lost to me. The second sessions will be delivered by someone else, someone “outside of the department” recruited to teach those hours. We may flip the sessions, we may co-ordinate duties, but the opportunity is gone to engage at a sustained level. 

The reason I gave this post the title I did (in reference to a famous sixties polemic on apolitical student existence) is the lack of empowerment I feel I experience as a teacher. I recognise the institution’s constraints (they continually told us about them in the summer conference); I understand that the world does not revolve around my own desires; but I am frustrated – and so very early in the year – that the structured interventions we planned to support the students are undone due to the institution’s failure to have a single point of reference for the design of the timetables – that most basic and essential system of organisation. 

As a result of that, all week staff and students have not  known where to go, classes are double booked, changed, timetables clash- some of those GCSE students can attend the first lesson, some can’t, and vice-versa for the second session. It’s a mess. I know it’s the first week, but that one chance of a first impression on students looked pretty fraught and chaotic this week. On top of that, our contracted hours change by the day, but I feel lucky. Some staff are working in roles that may not exist in October. I’m not referring to admin staff, but learner support teams and teachers. I myself have no idea what my contract is, or who my line manager is. 

Walking in the upper floors this week, I noticed an eerie stillness throughout the management and HR offices. They were empty. Should that be the norm for the year, I wonder if any staff will actually notice. 

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