Perhaps I wasn’t such a tosser after all . . .

July 30, 2016 — 4 Comments
The fifth Smith - but which one?

The fifth Smith – but which one?

Below is the text of an email I received, completely out of the blue, a couple of weeks ago. Feels a bit ‘showy- offy’ to put it in a blog, but in the post-modern world of blogs and twitter this sort of self-congratulatory stuff isn’t just OK, it seems to be positively encouraged. So in that spirit . . . my email from ‘Barry’ (Class of 1987!!):

Hello Mr Stevenson,

This is a blast from the past.

You taught me Economics to A Level in your first year at Hind Leys.

I am now an MD of a UK toy company and had reason to think of you this morning whilst driving into work and contemplating the Brexit effects on our business.  I started thinking of where I got the understanding of the inter relationships between exchange rates, cost of imports and exports, interest rates et al and thought of how you made it interesting and comprehensible back in 1987/8.

I then saw a post about “remember your teacher day” and thought that too much of a coincidence to let pass.  With it being the end of a school year and thinking about my own children’s teachers losing contact every year with their charges, I felt compelled to find you, write to you and thank you. 

Much to my surprise it was very easy to find you despite what I assume to be not a uncommon name on these shores.

So here goes.  I went to the University of Liverpool to study Management and Business Economics after Hind Leys where being lectured to by the likes of Patrick Minford was a real culture shock.  Anyway I had a great time in Liverpool, dj’ing, putting on bands and doing little studying and finally scraping a degree.  I stayed on in Liverpool for a few years after Uni, then moved to Manchester.  Got a proper job in London, moved to Bucks and now live and work in Shropshire.

Hope you have had good life since 1987 and thank you again for the fantastic work you did in that one year with me.  It is greatly appreciated and had a big impact on my life.  

Yours

‘Barry’

P.S you told some of us that you preceded Johnny Marr or Andy O’Rourke in The Smiths, (can’t remember which) in that first year but I now wonder whether that was rookie teacher trying to impress his young sixth formers.  You can tell me the truth now!!!  

_____________________________

Since I received this email I have corresponded a bit more with ‘Barry’. I have confirmed that I was a contemporary of Johnny Marr and Andy Rourke (The Smiths) at St Augustine’s School, Sharston, Manchester in 1974-79. We hung out on Hollyhedge Park during break times and I think he still owes me a cigarette. However my claims to have been the ‘fifth Smith’ involved some poetic license. That said, adding a saxophone break (my instrument) on ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’ would surely have made a great song a timeless classic. In my dreams I was the person to add that sax break. Listen and I’m sure you’ll agree there is something missing . . .

On receiving this email from ‘Barry’ I was minded to reflect on a few features of my experience as an NQT in 1987:

  • Things were far from perfect, and many things in schools are done much better now. In the year I taught Barry as an NQT I was observed once. My observer was one of the most wonderful teachers I have ever seen (take a bow Peter Heath) but he watched me once, wrote a one page report and that was it – I’d passed my NQT year. I could have learned much more from Peter, but we weren’t great at doing that then.
  • I’m glad Barry thought I made a decent job of teaching him International Trade. At the time I didn’t think I understood any of it in a way that I could actually teach it (2:1 Economics degree from LSE didn’t equip me to teach what I knew), It took me a PGCE and at least 10 years to get to the point where I thought I was teaching this well. Today, huge numbers of teachers have already left teaching by this point (thanks also to Barry, by the way, for reassuring me subsequently that I had more impact on his economics world view than Patrick Minford – thank God for that!).
  • The school had no uniform and no staff dress code (heaven forefend!), there were no separate staff toilets and students called me by my first name. Hard to imagine, in such anarchic circumstances, how any learning took place at all.  But as Barry’s email testifies – this was still teaching that changed lives. And to think that this was even possible before Teach First arrived  hard to believe really.
  • Hind Leys was a wonderful place to work. As I said, far from perfect, but it did so many things so well. Certainly it was radical, innovative and dynamic – where teachers worked together and schools worked together. The level of curriculum development was far more exciting than anything I see today. This is important to remember. We are repeatedly told that academies and free schools are required to inject ‘innovation’ into our school system.  My memory is that Leicestershire was such an exciting place to teach and far more creative than anything which today claims to be ‘innovative’ (and if putting poor kids in lunchtime isolation is what today passes for innovation I want no part of it) . We were a local authority school (Conservative controlled!) and highly and actively unionised. Neither were an impediment to dynamism – they just meant change was community driven and the teachers’ voice was always heard when change was contemplated. That’s a history lesson that needs re-learning.

Finally, my thanks again to Barry. As teachers we don’t often get to hear we made a difference. It is nice to know, after all this time, that maybe I wasn’t such a tosser after all (which is rather how teachers then, and now, are made to feel as the constant discourse of derision saps collective morale). The email more than made my day. It also reminded me of something I read in a book by Tim Brighouse and David Woods when I was working at Hind Leys:

‘Teachers affect eternity: nobody knows where their influence stops’.

Worth remembering on the dark days when you don’t think you’ve made a difference, when nobody has noticed what you’ve done and the Secretary of State has just imposed another major curriculum reform without asking for your opinion.

[I thought long and hard about this blog title – but on twitter I have learned what is needed to get attention . . . ]

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4 responses to Perhaps I wasn’t such a tosser after all . . .

  1. 

    I also taught at one of the three ‘phase 3’ Leicestershire community colleges – Earl Shilton (the third was Groby). I agree that they were genuinely innovative. I was appointed as a Division Head on its opening in 1977 – the VP was Clyde Chitty, of course, and the Principal Roger Seckington – all staff were appointed to both teach and work in the community. In 1979 I was seconded to the University of Leicester School of Education for 2 years, where I was LCC’s contribution to an ESRC funded research project into the phase 3 model. The project was led by the wonderful Tom Whiteside, and overseen by Gerry Bernbaum. It was where I developed an interest in the community governance of state funded schooling, which I was able to pursue practically in a deputy, later acting, headship at a community school in Cumbria. I visited Hind Leys often and admired it. Hughie Jones, first principal, had been my VP at Bosworth College previously.

    What interesting – and optimistic – times they were. Thanks for reminding me.

    • 

      ‘Community contracts’! What a wonderful innovation Nigel – and they have the temerity to argue that comprehensive education was ‘one size fits all’. That has always been a lie, to feed the ‘choice and diversity’ (aka privatisation discourse). That said, Hind Leys was always, fundamentally, about education for all – and in an age of markets and gaming, that is a battle that has to be re-fought.
      Some great names you mention there – and there were many others. Leicestershire attracted some great talent – didn’t need Football Manager salaries, just a commitment to doing right thing. We didn’t always get it right, but hearts were in the right place, and that’s a start.

  2. 
    Christine Hall July 31, 2016 at 9:44 am

    Good post Howard! Chris

    Sent from my iPhone

  3. 

    Another comment. Hind Leys is the last secondary school in Leicestershire to remain a local authority school. Very sad that a local authority renowned for its innovative community education has come to this. There is now a proposal to academise Hind Leys. There is a petition to oppose this – if you see this, please sign the petition – https://www.change.org/p/the-governing-body-of-shepshed-school-shepshed-schools-for-shepshed-people

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