Sunday, 9 December 2018

Fake news: I care more than you do.

There is one thing about teaching that never changes. Teachers care. In fact, they care a lot. They care so much they listen to a lot of crap, attend pointless meetings and do things that neglect their own health, family and friends to make things better for students. I have yet to meet a teacher that didn’t care on some level. That caring might take the form of detailed marking, several unique handshakes with students as they enter the classroom, a Pi shaped cake it has taken the teacher all Sunday to make or just a silent smile.

Nonetheless, there’s a lot of ways to show people and students you care. Some visible. Some invisible.

Being a tutor is an interesting experience. I have been a tutor several times and saying goodbye to your students is an interesting one. Occasionally, it became a competition of who cares for my students the most. One teacher makes an award for each student made from a wooden spoon spray painted gold. Another teacher makes each student a keyring with a picture of themselves and the whole class. Another tutor writes a personal card to each student with a lengthy paragraph about their hopes and dreams for them. Not to be out beaten by the others, one teacher does all of these for their group. They don’t want to be accused of not caring enough. Or, for them to think they don’t care. So, they buy them an Easter egg too.

We get ourselves in knots over the ‘caring’ aspect of teaching. We channel it into some bizarre things like displays, worksheets and physical goods. We can easily forget that you turning up to school is caring. For some students that never see members of their family daily, seeing one person consistently in their week is great. Our stability is caring. Our friendliness is caring. Our conversation is caring. Our interest in their work is caring. Our pushing students is caring.   

Twitter has disappointed me over the last few months. I enjoy the symposium of ideas yet it has, lately, become a menagerie of emotions. Ideas and emotions have been twisted together and spat out in different directions. People have attached particular negative emotions on to ideas, so if you think one particular thought you are meant to feel bad. I have seen shaming for thinking a particular way. There have even been names for the different sides of an idea and people have been labelled as being on one side or another, without even consulting with the person in question.

Then, people have added ‘caring’ into the debate. If you care, then you would see X as wrong? Then, we have had people shoving their own children into their arguments. Would you want your own child to have to suffer X? What started as a conversation about writing the date in full has become a full-blown tribal war where teacher’s offspring are being sacrificed to appease the masses? A five minute trawl through Twitter becomes an educational version of ‘Les Miserables’.

The problem is that ideas and people have been fused together. People are not separating the idea from the person. If you think isolation booths / chairs in rows / knowledge aren’t bad, then you are a bad person. Instead of making rational cases why something is good or bad, we get ideas personified as twittering people. I can quite happily dislike an idea, but I like the person on Twitter. This sadly isn’t the case. It seems that people can see past the idea.

We all care and are passionate about things. That’s why we are on Twitter and reading tweets about education. However, that passion and care can be all consuming and controlling. Accusing a teacher of not caring is like accusing a fish of not swimming. We are emotional beings. We are often trying to keep those emotions repressed in the classroom. The output for these emotions are either a partner or Twitter / Facebook. And, growingly I am seeing an output of emotions on Twitter. Things are getting a little bit emotional.

The thing that disappointed me most was the ‘isolation booth’ discussion recently. There were some interesting points made, but added to them was some remarkable emotional vitriol. Instead of an exploration of the concept and the strengths, problems and weaknesses, we got finger pointing and shaming and arguing. I am one of those people who, like most, want to be convinced through reasoned arguments. I am open-minded about things and happy to have my mind changed. However, in that case we didn’t get reasoned and exploratory discussion. We got emotions thrown out left, right and centre. And, the biggest of these was that I must care less because I don’t fully (note the word ‘fully’) agree that they should be banned.  I, like others, was made to feel like an educational Scrooge (Stave 1- wink, wink) and it was shameful.  

English teachers know about the three key aspects of persuasive writing. Logos. Pathos. Ethos. You need all three when persuading people. Sadly, in recent debates we have concentrated on the emotions (Pathos) and forgotten about the logical reasons (Logos) and credibility (Ethos). One thing I spotted was a company offering their services on managing their behaviour was retweeting messages favouring the banning of booths. This, of course, is problematic as they serve to profit from the banning of the booths.  Plus, we had primary school teachers commenting on their use in secondary context and not their use in a primary context. This for me was problematic because it was viewed from an outsider’s perspective.  Yes, we are all teachers, parents, children at some point, but I couldn’t tell you of the educational value of stickle bricks because I don’t use them to teach in a primary school. I certainly could offer a point – and that’s fair in democracy – but I think the credibility of my argument should be transparent. I don’t have experience of stickle bricks but I can have an opinion but it probably isn’t a credible as a teacher who uses stickle bricks. Listen to the primary teacher about stickle bricks.

We need to go back to logical and credible reasoning and move away from the emotional ‘ I care more than you’ arguments. In the classroom, we know we can manipulate emotions. We can make students feel guilty, shame and embarrassment in our classroom, but in the same room we can make them feel pride, joy and encouragement. We are the emotional puppeteers in the classroom. We know that the way we behave, speak and act impacts on the emotional state of the people in our classroom. We can also control how others feel around us. We have a duty to deal with emotions sensibly, humanely and appropriately.    

I don’t care more than you do. In fact, I care as much as you do, so let’s not use that as an argument in education debates. Maybe my caring might not be A3 sized, laminated and photocopied in colour, but be assured my caring is of the same value.

So, let’s not question whether people are caring or not caring. Let’s focus on making people change their minds and not their hearts.

Thanks for reading,  


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