Sunday, 7 October 2018

The woman who fell to earth, and school

Today marks a big and exciting chapter in the world of Doctor Who. This evening we will see the new Doctor in action. We’ve had clips and snippets, but nothing significant to understand how the new Doctor has been interpreted. Oh and the new Doctor is female.

There’s been a significant discussion over the introduction of a female Doctor. In fact, some it has been purely misogynistic.  The audience didn’t batter a metaphorical eyelid when a villain (Cyberwoman and The Master / Missy) becomes female, yet when you change the hero to a woman, the world stops and spouts tirades of abuse.

An actor who previously played the Doctor raised the point that changing the gender meant that boys were losing a role model and hero. In a world full of musclebound heroes, the loss of a hero that wasn’t ‘typically male’ was an issue to be raised.  

As a father to daughters, I have been really interested in role models for girls. I’d be bold to say that there aren’t many that are clearly defined, visible and obvious to little girls.  If I could have introduced my daughter to Buffy at 5 I would have done. There’s a glut of heroes for boys in a variety of shades and forms, yet for the girls there’s very little. They even put them in groups to help the boys. Hermione Granger, however, has become my daughters’ hero and role model over time.

A big part of the problem is the idea of identification and placing ourselves in the fiction. For decades, the companion has been the audience’s way into the story. They represented the audience. They think and feel like the audience. They’d react as most human beings would do in a crazy situation. If I am honest, my heroes were the companions. I didn’t want to be the Doctor; I wanted to be like the companions – well, not all of them (The 80s). I wanted to live an exciting life and be transported away from the drizzling rain of a coastal town. I wanted to blow Daleks up with explosives. I wanted to explore new worlds. I wanted to save things. I wanted to help others. The hero wasn’t the Doctor. The hero was Ace, Sarah Jane Smith, Jo Grant, Tegan and Romana at different times. Strong, funny people.

One problem with role models and heroes is the gender issue. How often do we site the opposite gender as being a role model? We are obsessed with ‘like for like’ when exploring role models. Boys need male teachers for role models. Girls need female teachers for role models. Why don’t we talk about how women can be role models for boys? Why don’t we talk about how men can be role models for girls? The most influential person in my teaching career was a woman. Yep, not a man. A woman. A head of department who still inspires me to this day. She didn’t save the world and fight aliens, but she was a fantastic leader. What made her a fantastic head of department and leader?

[1] She worked hard and her hard work motivated us to work hard too.

I’ve worked for various managers in business and the one the stands out the most is the manager who felt it was his given right to not work so hard because he had got to the top. The office around him was full of resentment and bitterness, because others were working hard so he could relax and take his time.

[2] She was the calm waters in a difficult storm.

Every problem was met calmly and gently. We’d discuss and talk about it and then explore the solutions. We were never brushed off or given platitudes.  Her calm approach matched how we learnt to deal with things. She set the standard.

[3] Tiny details mattered

She’d ensure that no person was missed out and that everybody had a say. She’d also remember tiny bits of detail about our lives. We were felt we were listened to.

[4] Organisation

She taught me how important organisation is in a department. She had things planned meticulously and well in advanced of events and topics. ‘Be prepared’ was an unwritten rule for her. Plus, she had the neatest office I have ever found in education.

[5] Healthy distance

She was friendly but not a friend. She’d join in conversations, but kept a healthy distance at the same time.

[6] Make and don’t break people

A simple compliment goes a long way. I recall how she praised how I dealt with a student in a class. A little comment like that went a long way. In fact, it made me repeat what I did with other students.  

[7] Laughter

But, I think the biggest thing she taught me was how to control my emotions. I am not an emotional person, but we are surrounded by emotions in schools. Staff. Students. Parents. It’s easy to get caught up with things and be affected by others. She taught me how to deal with things. In any difficult situation, I always think: ‘What would L do in this situation?’ And, for me it has worked. Even this week I asked myself the same question in a meeting.

My role model in education and my professional career was a ‘custard tart eating’ woman.

Tonight, I will watch the new Doctor with my daughters and they might idolise the new Doctor or maybe worship Bradley Walsh’s character. 

One thing I want them to do is think about how everybody can be a hero. 

See beyond gender. 

Be inspired by the person.

Thanks for reading,


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