Wednesday, 4 December 2013

That's so gay

This is the gayest post I will ever write. So gay it’s running around  in a tight pink t-shirt admiring your fab curtains whilst listening to Kylie Minogue. Oh, and it might try it on with you.


As a teacher, I’m often faced with the complaint: “Sir, he just called me gay”.
Ouch. Cutting. Imagine being called a homosexual when you’re actually not. Such a dent in a teenager’s masculinity (and I say masculinity as I only hear it from male students).

No doubt we’ve heard “that’s gay” to describe something stupid or bad. Many teachers may pretend they never heard it or they may just brush it off as a joke or excuse the behaviour by saying the student ‘never meant it like that’. Maybe this is where we’re going wrong.

Indeed, words are meaningless. The main message in our communication is made up of how we say it. The pitch, the intonation, our body language. However, it’s the deeper connotations associated with the word ‘gay’, in this derogatory sense. The suggestion of something abnormal, something wrong, something stupid.

As a languages teacher and socio-linguistics nerd, I can understand how difficult it is to remove a word from somebody’s vocabulary when they’ve become so used to using it. Words can be become involuntarily embedded in our lexicon via our peers or the cultural and social milieu in which we find ourselves.
Are our students really thinking of other’s feelings when using the word? Are they aware of how a homosexual person would feel if their sexual preference was being used as an insult? To be honest, probably not.

However, it’s the deep-rooted homophobia among students that frustrates me more than anything. The giggles and the sheer looks of disgust. Students saying they wouldn’t have me teach them anymore if they found out I was gay, despite the strong relationships we have formed. Students saying they’re ‘scared’ of homosexuals because ‘they might do something to them’.  Are these students suggesting that gays are paedophile rapists, too?

What students need to understand is the fact that being gay is not a choice. No-one chooses to be gay just as we don't choose the colour of our skin or our gender. Can you remember when you chose to be straight? Nah, me neither.

I myself faced homophobic slurs at school, despite being straight. When I was at school, I just wanted to be in The Strokes. Apparently, my hair was gay, my clothes were gay, my Converse shoes were gay, the bands I listened to were also gay.
10 years on, those people who called me gay are now the ones wearing Converse and sharing their Facebook statuses about "ow fukin sik" the new Kings of Leon album is.
How queer, eh?

Many of my students are of Muslim faith and see homosexuality as ‘haram’ (sinful). Others are of Caribbean backgrounds, where anti-sodomy laws in countries like Jamaica and Belize punish gays for up to 10 years in prison. Time Magazine even labelled Jamaica as the most homophobic place on earth. In addition, it has been argued that such attitudes have contributed to the under-achievement of Caribbean male students as academic success may undermine their masculinity.

However, homophobia is causing young gay people’s attendance and attainment to drop. Stonewall’s Teacher Report found that more than a quarter of teachers would not feel comfortable in supporting a student who decided to come out to them as gay, lesbian or bisexual.
Also, half of secondary school teachers who are aware of homophobic bullying in their schools say the vast majority of incidents go unreported.

Teaching forums have become a cesspit for bigotry and fear-mongering. I have seen many teachers on these forums advising openly gay teachers to stay away from supporting students who want to come out as we shouldn't get involved in their personal lives and as teachers we should never discuss our sexuality. Yet, its OK to wear a wedding ring and show the photos of your kids, isn't it?
Don't believe me? Just type 'gay' into the TES forum search and have a read. You'll no doubt find gay teachers asking for advice on 'coming out' or are worried about a parental backlash after revealing their sexuality to their students.
Teachers should not have to hide their sexuality. Many schools lack positive gay role models and if we cannot support our students in becoming who they are and who they want to be then we have failed them.

The fear of upsetting parents is a huge barrier. I often hear from teacher friends that raising awareness about homophobia in their school may not sit well with some parents. So what? Deal with it.
We cannot move forward if we continue to shy away from the issue. As teachers, it is our duty to educate our students on such issues and provide a safe and happy environment where all our students can flourish and be themselves, regardless of gender or sexuality. We have to stand up and tackle it head on. If it’s going to upset a few parents for the sake of someone's future then so be it.
We can no longer ignore the ignorance.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Numbers, numbers and even more numbers.

Numbers freak me out. Data? Forget it. Spreadsheets? Nah. Not for me, ta.

So imagine the pant-filling horror of receiving an email from my deputy head concerning the coming week's data intervention meeting complete with a full bulleted summary of what I needed to analyse. FSM. SEN. EBD. FFT5.
 It was 4:30 on a Friday and I had just sat down for some reflection time (the pub).

Data is unavoidable. I didn't see myself having to analyse data like this for at least another few years on in my career but as Lead Teacher (and the only language teacher in the school) it just had to be done.

As an NQT, this is the first time I've ever had to look at data in such depth. I never thought numbers would make me reflect so much on my teaching.
Girls doing better than boys. 100% of Bangladeshi students making 'exceptional progress'. White Eastern Europeans doing better than White British.
How? Why? More importantly, what can be done to bridge those gaps?

Are the boys growing tired of my ironic use of Justin Bieber and One Direction images on the white board to exemplify likes and dislikes?
Is it the linguistic links between Spanish, Bengali and Eastern European languages?

In a bizarre, hugely nerdy turn of events, I've in some ways enjoyed analyzing (American spell check?) the data. It really does give a bigger picture of where our students are at (thanks in part to the amazing spreadsheet and input from our deputy head).
Overall, the students are making good progress, which is a relief, but what about those that dropped a sub-level or didn't progress at all?
Intervention. That's what.

The next step now is put those interventions in place and see what will benefit the students as a whole or on an individual level. Maybe regular vocab and spelling tests to ensure a secure knowledge of the concepts learnt. Make some students our Spanish leaders. I think some students could really benefit with some one-to-one sessions. Part of me is excited to see the results. The other part wants to lock itself in the stationary cupboard with just a box of staples for company. More the former than the latter.

Update in 6 weeks.

Saturday, 9 November 2013


Hola. Me llamo Joe. NQT and Lead Teacher of Spanish at School 21. A free school in East London.

I've done it. I've made the leap. I've created a blog about teaching.

As an NQT, I need to show some form of reflection for my portfolio to reflect the Teacher Standards and being the attention-seeking, approval-needing person that I am, what better way to share these reflections than in the public domain.

Reflection plays a big part in teaching, from the 'What Went Wells?' to the 'Even Better Ifs' and for me, it has always has been easier, even somewhat cathartic, to get those thoughts out and onto paper (or blog).

Here, I will discuss recent lessons, recent CPD, MFL, current issues in teaching and learning, along with other aspects of the teaching zeitgeist. I hope other teachers can relate and find humour in my future posts.

Yes, this may be a way for me to vent but this is not a place for criticism of neither teachers nor students. All views are my own.