Off my own bat.


Willow CC BY 4.0 Teresa MacKinnon

This place of contemplation attracted me during a family weekend near Bath.  I love a willow tree. We had one in the garden when I was growing up. I love the way the branches can enclose you in a space that is at the same time both protective but not enclosed. It is also the wood that is used to make a cricket bat, it has that strong yet flexible quality which produces a wonderful sound as it strikes the cricket ball. One I remember well from many hours watching my then boyfriend, now husband playing cricket. Those days were peaceful and yet exciting – so much to look forward to, simpler times. We both had started our teaching careers, had the security of a wage, a career structure ahead, and we relished playing our part in our working community at local schools. Our “down time” at weekends was spent playing sports, visiting local pubs with friends, talking and relaxing. We worked hard and in order to do that we played hard too.

Over many years of teaching service we have seen sweeping changes, mostly not for the better. The status of teaching has steadily been eroded, a concerted management effort has pushed older teachers out to retirement in order to replace them with younger, less experienced practitioners without a thought for how this will impact upon the learning of those new to the profession. Indeed professional status itself is undermined through a time-filling mentality which reduces the ability of teaching staff to manage their own time effectively. This makes me very sad as I fear it does not bode well for the well being of the generations we should be nurturing as we teach. I have spent my past 15 years teaching in Higher Education and I can see some of the same irresponsible attitudes being applied here. Machine learning, artificial intelligence and learning analytics will not improve learning nor will it reduce costs.

Of course teaching is not the only area of work affected by changing political attitudes and meddling. The aggressively driven austerity agenda has attacked many aspects of work, impacting significantly on the working lives of many of us. There is increasing  insecurity at work. Our political leaders have a taste for reducing workers rights and a growing “gig economy” dehumanises workers and leaves them with no fall back if they are ill or unable to work. This unfair world view was revealed recently when Jeremy Hunt revealed the government’s position on the ever shrinking welfare state: headline here spells out the  women’s role.

The Christian prayer that we had to repeat in primary school left a mark on me: “To labour and not to ask for any reward save that of knowing that we do thy will” I am no longer a believer, life has shown me the many bad things that are done in the name of religion. I frequently give of my time freely to do things I believe to be important. Teaching has long been one of those. Current political trends are making me more willing to cross examine what I do against how I can best use my time for what I believe contributes to the “public good”. Things I do off my own bat, willingly and without question or payment. Everything else can go hang.

Let me just clarify here: I was brought up to have a strong work ethic, I am not prone to fantasies about the “good old days” or any form of idealised vision of society. Anyone who reads my thoughts here knows where I stand politically. On the side of the vulnerable. I am unashamedly a Guardian reader because my values are aligned with their version of factual, evidence driven journalism which is unafraid to speak truth to power. Matthew – you are right – it is time to choose. 



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