Teaching for Equity and Wellbeing: Lecture-related Post

 

(Sorry… the title today is rather uninspiring… so if you can think of one that’s utra-inspiring… feel free to inspire me!)

Reading. On. Poverty – and closing the attainment gap. Oh, and emotional and physical health in the classroom. It’s all weighty stuff because … as teachers… we do not possess the super-power of being able to sort out society alone. And, we aren’t that strong either. Perhaps it’s me still on those 4kg weights! Anyhow…! Thinking about health led me to consider what my responsibility is in the classroom: sadly it’s not as simple as telling our little ones not to eat apples like Snow White. Sadly not.

The Scottish Government (2019) see health and wellbeing as: [wait for it] … ensuring that pupils are able to make the most of their educational opportunities regardless of their background or financial circumstances and through promotion of attendance at school. So, this means that we ought to find a way around most problems, come to a reasonable solution. Interestingly: Mcleod and Mowat (2019) found that no large-funding or project will solve the poverty issues in education. Instead, incremental changes by everyone will result in a long-term systemic change in society. Isn’t it obvious, then, that teachers need to think of the everyday practical stuff. Start small: stop tall. The pencil after all is what’s needed to change the world – and of course, positive relationships. Let’s look at the list from the Department of Health and Social Care (2013) about … how our lanyards give us more power than making us into the mould of today’s teachers. (If you’re a ‘secret shopper’ from TurnItIn, don’t stress. I did ‘re-word-ify’ it!)

Practical Steps for a Practical Poverty-Beating Solution (DoHSC, 2013)

• Establish good relationships with your students’ parents/guardians;
• Ensure a child has a positive experience in at least one of the following:
– Their social circle – Academic work – Sporting goals
• Run breakfast clubs and after-school clubs;
• Focus on properly developing a child’s skillset;
• Establish a routine/structure (discipline must be fair);
• Set tasks for the child to do at home (to boost self-esteem).

Thinking back with my autobiographical lens (Brookfield, 2017) the highlight of my first-year placement (other than teaching) was running the after-school clubs. Honestly, it’s a real perk. To be able to do something you love and share your enthusiasm with the students always leaves you with glitter in your brain. However, more sparkle comes when pupils light the spark to a topic you previously disliked! Someone close to me told me:

How can you not be interested in something, if you know little or nothing about it.

Through spending time with children outside the classroom, you not only find out more about yourself – but also, positive relationships are built upon. (Brick laid. Cemented. Then another brick…voila Disney castle established!) Over my six weeks at the school, I witnessed the mending of half-broken friendships during a simple lunchtime pop-music session… the daisy chain was completed. Thinking ahead, I need to plan smartly to allow myself appropriate time to run such sessions – and to think about the tiny details that could affect students. A teacher’s response from an interview by Saul (2019) highlights the need for everything to be as accessible as possible:

We spoke to students why say they won’t go to free after-school football clubs because you can wear what you like, and so everybody is wearing the latest football kit. Some students have since said that for afterschool sports clubs, all children should only wear their p.e. kit.

Wow. Doesn’t that just show how the simplicity of uniform can have a ripple of an impact? Uniform is not a ‘maybe’ but a MUST. There are obviously a myriad more MUSTS out there too. But for now, it is a MUST that I leave the laptop and head for the paper to create a list: let me list the everyday things that could make the difference to student’s health and wellbeing! And then, yes, I can look at my upcoming assignment. Oh, lists are so satisfying when you can put a smiley face next to each item!

References for this Post:

Brook, S. (2017) Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. 2nd edn. San-Fransisco: Jossey-Bass.

Department of Health and Social Care. (2012) Our Children Deserve Better: Prevention Pays. Available at:
https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/255237/2901304_CMO_complete_low_res_accessible.pdf (Accessed: 3 October 2019).

Macleod, G. and Mowat, J. (2019) Poverty, attainment and wellbeing: Making a difference to the lives of children and young people. Available at: https://www.scottishinsight.ac.uk/Portals/80/ReportsandEvaluation/Programme%20reports/Poverty%20Attainment%20and%20Wellbeing_Final%20Report.pdf (Accessed: 3 October 2019).

Saul, H. (2019) ‘Nine simple things teachers can do to ensure the poorest students don’t get left behind’, INews, 6 September. Available at: https://inews.co.uk/news/education/nine-ways-teachers-and-schools-can-poverty-proof-their-classrooms-290621 (Accessed: 3 October 2019)

Scottish Government (2019) Schools: Health and wellbeing in schools. Available at: https://www.gov.scot/policies/schools/wellbeing-in-schools/ (Accessed: 3 October 2019).

Fractions! Did you just call for pizza – and a party?!

We have had a few inputs now on mathematics: and they have all been most useful in helping me to realise that imagination is maths and maths is imagination. Long way to say it; basically think to the limits of space. Endless? Yes. Claire needs to enter the classroom and not just see the earthly game of “ooo, where are the ticks and crosses on my worksheet?” Children need to be exclamation marks and rocket to the next planet of discovery. As Juliet Robertson (2011, 00.33) says: “Maths isn’t about a pencil and paper… it is about using numbers as a tool to understand the world around us. Our lecturers and Molina (2004) emphasise that children need to realise what the sum is about – and not just recite the steps required to reach the answer (conceptual – former vs. procedural – latter). The depth of understanding must be enough that the child can build their own marshmallow spaghetti tower to hold an egg… and not just to fit the ‘it’s a tower that stands.’ I appreciate that I need to understand how best to deliver subject knowledge in a way that caters for every student too, if my children want to leave as confident individuals. And, doesn’t such success start with consistence in the little habits? Here’s a bad stereotypical student habit: ordering the red and yellow triangles! That’s the pizza habit – that maths can actually solve my guilt with!

There are times to throw a party, celebrate and dive into a box of Dominos. Maybe student life? Perhaps (okay, true). But, a classroom also benefits from having pizza. Children like to socialise and discover things. So… why not ask them to budget for their own party and introduce fractions at the same time? I am back to developing confident, creative and conceptual-focused maths learners: remember the Scottish Government (2019) design principles are for children to have depth, relevance and choice in their learning. By holding a pizza party, a child can be introduced to the fairness of fractions as well as budgeting for their needs. Let me explain (whilst I distract my mind from its desire to seek out the nearest pizza shop). Perhaps I’ll use the technique that we were taught through a sweet story shared in our latest tutorial: count the objects around you! Whilst typing this up, you find myself counting all the flowers in my window view! Sadly, I’ve only found one. Dundee’s library has more leaves (better for symmetry, though!)

Fractions Call for Fairness

Our lecturer was talking about making everything exciting for young children: the same goes for teenagers – which I realised when taking a group of 16-18-year-old Italian teenagers around a fairy trail this Summer! They. Loved it – seriously. Walking can be fun (if you don’t particularly enjoy it) when you have small goals to work towards: so, fractions can work the same way too, I presume! Here it goes (my plan for a pizza party at the end!).
Pre-lesson Activity (Starter):
We introduce what fairness is about – f for fractions and f for fairness. In the end, fair and equal are almost synonyms (kind of!). This could be done using a cake. Oops, food again! Give one student a bigger piece than the other… and watch the chaos unfold or cake end up in your face! Not really.
Lesson One:
The students could then explore the meaning of a whole (perhaps look at percentages.) What exactly is the meaning of the denominator compared to the numerator. How do you show how much of something you have using fractions? Visual resources are more important than worksheet questions for a start. Why? Penner-Wilger et al. (2007) found that finger representation whilst counting will increase a child’s ability to estimate well and understand the number-system. The same idea could be applied to fractions: mental representation goes along way. Maybe that’s why it’s the old-story that a face-to-face conversation is better than an email?! Anyway…
Lesson Two:
Recap fractions and introduce the idea of budgeting: that’s the next stage. Depending on the level of knowledge and depth of understanding of the students, the pupils could explore the cost of pizzas using greater than/less than signs or even percentages! It would be important to also look at some questions on fractions at the end as a formative assessment – okay, well just so you know what to plan next to teach them.
Sequential Lessons and the End Goal
Obviously, you cannot plan weeks and weeks in advance as you are unable to predict the students’ learning progress. UNLESS: a crystal ball has been inserted into your brain. I remember, when on my first-year placement, the teacher saying that they never plan longer than a few weeks because: you must change your plans; AND therefore, your time is most likely into space (and you use up fuel!) However, the end goal should try and remain the same or be appropriately adapted to the pupils. Hello, differentiation!
For instance, some complete the budgeting and other students just focus on fractions. Still, by the end, the class should come together to hold a pizza celebration. That would show that (I think) that we use maths all the time – and that you can have a choice in your learning. And, could a community of enquiry be created all whilst doing this? Maybe!

Now, back to circle time. Well, reflection! Our recent maths lectures have really cemented the idea of discarding textbooks more and more – and trying to make as many things applicable to real-life where necessary. Obviously not everything can be done in that way… but a lot could. Juliet Robertson (2011) discussed having an outdoors master-chef cooking lesson, involving mud and measurement! That does sound like a rocket-fuelled idea – that even astronauts might want to explore. I’m getting excited for teaching maths. Even more exited than I was before. If we make the students realise the everyday value of actually knowing why we carry out a mathematical operation, then our we are on the right route. Ollerton (2004, p.81) does a rather good summary for me: “The ultimate prize is for students to recognise they are learning for their own benefit.” That’s a tad better than pizza, I’d say.

References for this Post:

Molina, C. (2014) ‘Teaching Mathematics Conceptually ‘, SEDL Insights, 1, pp. 1-8. Available at: http://www.sedl.org/insights/1-4/teaching_mathematics_conceptually.pdf (Accessed: 26 September 2019)

Ollerton, M. (2004) Creating Positive Classrooms London: Continuum.

Penner-Wilger, M. et al. (2007). “The foundations of numeracy: subitizing, finger gnosia, and finemotor ability,” in Proceedings of the 29th Annual Cognitive Science Society, pp. 520-525. Available at: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/cc16/9648993eccb49088b511d37590f93e3fc1a2.pdf (Accessed: 27 September 2019)

Robertson, J. (2011) Messy Outdoor Maths. 31 March. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nh_4SEUpSrA (Accessed: 27 September 2019).

Scottish Government (2019) Scotland’s Curriculum: How We Do It. Available at: https://scotlandscurriculum.scot/5/ (Accessed: 27 September 2019).

Update Central

Deciding not to do placement. Bad decision? It could be. Wrong decision? It might be. Wise decision? For now – at least. I am most certainly not stopping teaching, as it is what I really do love. However, the time doesn’t work out to do placement and various circumstances have led me to this choice. (Dundee University, you need to know that you’re amazing and play zero part in this!)

It’s not been a decision that I’ve taken after having a headache one day. Nope. To be honest, I’ve already investigated the routes into teaching after leaving at the end of third year – and yes, there are options. I’m a tad disappointed as yes… there is nothing better than making a difference to a child’s life. However, my days in practice are not concluded come April next year. The lanyard may travel in zigzag but returning is on my agenda. Somehow.
And so how will I continue?

The blog has always been a crucial part of my journey. It has been. It still is. It will be. I may have to end my GLOW account with Dundee – most likely. Yet, there is now a new updated site (so my writing world isn’t over). Don’t cry, Claire… blogging can continue. The ability to check myself against different professional GTCS standards will remain online! Yipee! Future plan… when I graduate (in the foreseeable future)…I can look back at how my teaching has improved. It seems as if I will have to apply for the post-graduate option somewhere! However by that stage, I hope to have experience that will make me an owl of a teacher (with glasses because a -5 prescription calls for that!) I have looked into options whilst studying with Open University. Here they are:

TEFL;
Going across to Africa where I am trying to support an orphanage;

Working as a classroom assistant.

I know it sounds bizarre to an outsider to essentially stop a degree two-thirds in. But, well, life experience is needed. We are meant to teach our children – and I want to give my pupils the best knowledge I can. I owe that to them. I really do.

Learning for Life made me realise that the outside workplace can add another dimension, another aspect to your teaching which entering straight from school doesn’t let you have. I do quite fancy working as a classroom assistant where kids have challenging behaviour to put into practice the knowledge I have learnt. Then, in a few years, I hope to come back to some university (somewhere) to complete everything. I’m sad that Miss Smith may not be a full-time teacher to be honest – very sad in a way. But I know that through this blog… I shall keep my goal alive. It will happen. One. Day. It’s just not the right timing. Not for now 😊

This year, I am going to just go for it – and upload all my thoughts, lesson plans and ideas anyway. There are quite a few hiding in my document folder right now! I still tutor part-time. I am writing children’s books (cause yes, my brain is still five). And, I am making the most of what is offered during these next academic terms!

Well, c’est la vie – and it’s bonne!

I thought I would write. Write quickly – not a long post, but a “hello Summer, goodbye Second Semester” reflection. Time has passed and placement is now over. Over and done with, unfortunately. But, well, that’s it. This year has flown into history (too quickly) and even though my Lfl ’19 placement did not challenge me significantly, I learnt from it…and worked with such a lovely group of people that I miss! I learnt from this life placement something simple: do always challenge yourself (not just in certain aspects of your life!).

Ironically, the events that life threw me two months before placement helped me to develop as a teacher. Because, sometimes things don’t turn out the way you expect – and that’s not always bad. A couple of months prior to placement, I injured my leg (oops) then ended up misjudging the distance of a car on a main road island crossing… and was hit… then went to jury duty the following day (because one of my hobbies taught me to #nevergiveup) and as of March this year, potentially have two witness court cases. I’m extremely lucky (rather a miracle) to still be here…!

It’s not the course of events I expected over these past months: and I’m glad for it (in a way). There are always positives in negative situations – and you have to find them (thanks sport for teaching me that).

After the car accident, I very, very, very narrowly escaped head injury however my leg was still playing tricks. I didn’t realise, until about four weeks later that my leg was fractured from a separate accident a few weeks prior to the motor because… compared to my sister’s operations, it seemed minor. Take a day at a time – and by some miracle, the leg healed up well (and I escaped the cast/boot because it was too late!) I missed sport then, and was so grateful to be given the ‘okay’ in February. I have realised that, in the future, I wish to work with primary kids in a sport environment (or even abroad): I’m not athletic but physical activity teaches you to keep moving forward. Press on when the tough drills through your reserves. Life requires you to #carefullyreflect BUT: look forward, hope to the future and be grateful for today. Being optimistic, maybe my fourth year research could be related to health and wellbeing in primary schools?

Anyhow… on a separate yet kind of related note.. this 2019 placement taught me to really be patient – and be grateful (but for the small things.) The little aspects count. Count massively.

People are writing this week about mental health and #thepowerofpositivity. Thinking with a smile is not something school teaches you. Life teaches you that (including my previous two placements). What I want to throw out into the teaching community is this next question: how can we implement ‘let’s think on the bright side’ when kids are institutionalised? For me, it’s about taking the tiny parts of school life and making them light up your face – you have to do that with everything. You see, even in A and E, there is something to smile and hope about. You can ask for a glove to be made into a smiley face (yes 😉). Without training your mind to look on the upside and push through difficulties, life will pass. Quickly. Time doesn’t stop ao: grab every opportunity, see to your loved ones and well, do life as you like to. There is no right way, wrong way… but as long as you learn from mistakes, you are sure to be a better practitioner.

As my Grandpa told me this year: “You cannot stop the hand from writing life!”

Let’s think about (ma)thinking, okay?

Mathematics? Oh so fearful of it…are you? Or… look… there’s a sum! And… the answer? Let me spend time sourcing it. Right now. Some people leave education with this desire to crawl under the table when 5,6,7 and all the other numbers approach them. Others, well others, carry maths in their head – and would prefer to speak in digits if possible. The myth (according to the results of a 2013 research study) of ‘I’m right brained so call me a problem solver’ vs. ‘I’m the more rational leftie’ means that children should no longer be brought up to consider themselves as naturally mathematical or a born linguistic. Indeed: we have talents, we have strengths, we have preferences. But – of course, there’s a ‘but’ – mathinking is vital if we are to efficiently carry out everyday tasks. From recipe reading to saving our red squirrels ‘in the animal superhero cape,’ the digits that surround us must be of comfort. And, most certainly not, be treated as those spheres in bubble wrap. Our toddlers, our children, our adolescents ought to grow up ready to fail. Then succeed. Then… realise… that mathinking is about the effort and determination and less about the green-tick solution. That’s confidence-fuelled mathinking… in my head.

Recently (in fact only a matter of less than 72 hours ago) MA2 – that’s moi included – received their final STEM input. Nope… not how to arrange flowers for Valentine’s Day  or for the Chelsea Flower Show. However, we did receive a Happy Valentine’s on the top of our sign-in sheet from a lecturer with the last name of Valentine! And, that was topped off by creating our own game involving mathematical concepts. (Smiley face!) Lots of discussions were held on how to take maths out of the textbook and away from standardised assessments. A connectionist-belief approach involving open conversations was found to be the most effective way: and well, a recent starter-activity on consecutive numbers confirmed that. Sometimes, our inputs involve being the children – or attempting what the primary students have to do but with a university student’s mind on. Once (a very long time ago… not really, but I like to pretend I’m a storyteller sometimes) we had to figure out a word-problem involving consecutive numbers. At first, we all panicked. By the end, however, it was ‘Happy Ever After’ and everyone was wearing fairy-tale gowns. How lovely. Let me tell the story without imaging that a bunch of five-year olds were sitting beside my seat – here it goes:

Many of us stared. We realised there was no prince-charming. We put our hand up.#

The teacher (very friendly) told us to keep persevering through the rubber hail and rain.

We succeeded in writing down an answer.

 

And that’s the ending for you.

The latter may be more like reality, if we are setting the picture straight and not at an 89 degrees angle! At first, many of us in the lecture room were not at all sure about how to attempt the problem-solving question. Deliberately, purposefully and cleverly was the question slide jammed packed with information – and the only picture remained to be a table of consecutive numbers in blue and white. For me, lots of writing was the ‘tying the shoes tight enough’ hurdle. But, for others… the fear of making a mistake prevented them from taking the leap of faith. What reminisced with me was the impact sides, pictures, diagrams (and all the visual jazz) can have on a student’s learning. During my first year placement, my teacher advised me to keep it simple! Yes.. nothing like the Mona Lisa or a Magic Eye picture… from Miss Smith. And almost a year later, the same point was made again. Kids prefer simplicity when learning (although I personally believe that the occasional rainbow cannot go a miss). That pot of gold still does exist… Somewhere Over the Rainbow! Jokes aside, it’s easy enough to alter the layout of questions for our students however… calming a raging maths anxiety monster in them may take more than a few kind words (or a ROY G. BIV smiley – acronym lovers… you’ll know what I mean!)

The past few lessons, lecturers (or whatever name they should be termed) have taught me something more than ‘cut away’ all that text. As a future educator, I really do hope that my pupils will be like mathematical bees. Buzz, buzz, buzz… isn’t that algorithm so full of pollen? Understandably, some children will have a dislike for certain areas of maths (like me and symmetry and learning R and L) but overall, the wonder of maths must be ignited in them. A fire (with infinite logs) for problem solving does not always come from the pupil. Nope. Instead, as Ofsted writes, it is about the maths spirit adopted in the classroom:

“[Teachers] made conscious efforts to FOSTER A SPIRIT OF ENQUIRY [deliberate capitalization from your blog-post author], developing pupils’ reasoning skills through approaches that saw problem-solving and investigation as integral to learning mathematics. They checked that everyone was challenged to think hard and they adapted how they were teaching to achieve this. As a result, their classrooms were vibrant places of learning.” (Ofsted, 2008, p.12).

Spirit of enquiry. That is it. How do we develop that? Well, there would be many theories including Askew et al 1997’s research which deems that teachers tend to lean towards a particular set of believes (either connectionist, discovery or transmission). Most effective practice flourishes from the first mentioned belief-set, in which the most effective teaching happens when students can appreciate that all areas in maths are, in some way, related to each other. For instance: fraction word-problems are sometimes better solved by involving decimal conversion. It’s that simple thing like… why buy fresh bread when you already have some in the freezer? Enabling students to use the skills they already have is also of priority in the teaching of maths. Connectionist-orientated teachers set aside time (maybe in a circular fashion if Early Years students melt their hearts) to talk. Just openly talk.

#Why do we solve it this way? Is there another mathematical route that we can take to reach our destination? What about a storyboard?

That leads me on another path to bringing up storyboards but before… I’ll let you know that I want to be a connectionist teacher. That’s a seed already sown – thanks Dundee University. (That phrase was most certainly not sarcastic bee the way).

Storyboards (in the past – okay!) reminded me of ‘how to stretch’ and satisfy the students whose brains make them wish to reach for the nearest paint pot and brush. They were a time-waster. Just show some grit and keep moving forward with the sum. Write the working out, Claire. (That what previously motivated me in maths). But, well, you live’n’learn and realise that 1 + 1 doesn’t always make a two. Sometimes, a window is the result!!! After hearing about the various strategies and understanding the purpose of drawing out the number sentences, storyboards are on my Pinterest. (Sorry, I’m one of THOSE teachers.) Uh-huh, daydreaming about my classroom (maths) displays can occasionally happen with moi. Back to the point now, it is important not to overlook resources that you didn’t enjoy as a child yourself. There’s no excuse for not using something in your classroom because it was futile to you as a learner. Open-mind please. Keep considering all the options, Miss Smith.

Maths, I’m admitting, has a soft-spot in my heart. Whenever I was stressed out about an essay, me would run to do maths. Yes, on occasions, scuttering down the stairs to the kitchen for my textbook… but well I loved when you just got the answer after trying hard. There was a tick or cross – and you knew the result. Maybe it was a sense of control in the subject? After all, sciences were my thing until long reports became involved. I have always been torn between the arts and maths, yet teachers need to be enthusiastic for them all. There is something good, something interesting, something positive in every subject: my own maths students who enter with a dislike for maths need to feel that way. Mathinking… thinking abstractly… can be done by everyone – not just males too. Hemree (1990) found that maths anxiety stems from previous failure in maths examinations and is more common among female students than male students. The gender gap in STEM subject is already evident and it is common knowledge that our generation is trying to remove the female electric fence that surrounds females in careers such as engineering. A survey (conducted for the United Kingdom WISE Campaign) highlighted that 89% of engineers were male in the workplace – and so carrying out a subtraction leaves us realising that only 11% were female. Only 11. As I see it, that is a gap that an elephant would struggle to sort out. It really is.

To finish off, it is clear that the style of teaching is all-important. As mentioned above, discussions are vital to student’s success in maths. However, we ought to consider our own underlying nervous system when we approach numbers? Do we shake? Our hands: do they turn red when seen by a thermal camera? Are we still (like I was) centred on achieving those ticks? Or… the process… do we strive when something makes us want to scribble or shred the paper into as many miniscule pieces as possible. According to Finlayson (2014) our own experiences can make us teach with a straight ‘yes’ or ‘no’ style or be flexible. Bee like a ballerina who is trying to bee a flower. Don’t get me wrong… I’ve failed many times in maths (and still use the trick to remember my left and rights)… but well it’s amusing to buzz around afterwards. That’s what I want my students to do so I ought to love a struggle myself. That’s what teaching is really: setting a true example. But, someone please, is there a faster way to stop mixing up left and rights? Maybe my students could teach me that. I’m up for a role reversal every so often!

References:

Finlayson, M. (2014) ‘Addressing math anxiety in the classroom’, Improving Schools, 17(1), pp. 99-115. Available at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1365480214521457(Accessed: 18 February 2019).

Hemree, R. (1990) ‘The Nature, Effects, and Relief of Mathematics Anxiety’, Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 22(1), pp.33-46.

Nielson, J. (2013) ‘An Evaluation of the Left-Brain vs. Right-Brain Hypothesis with Resting State Functional Connectivity Magnetic Resonance Imaging’, PLoS ONE, 8(8). Available at: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0071275

Rudolph, I’ve got a letter for you (and Santa too, of course)!

Before you immerse yourself in these words for a few minutes, you will be all the wiser from knowing that this blog post is my Christmas Eve letter to Santa (and Rudolph). Don’t worry, I’m old enough to realise that Santa is a fictional character, but the magic can still exist- right?! Merry Christmas for 2018! Have a lovely time (and be sure to save some mince pies for our jolly old fellow, Mr. Claus.)


Dear Rudolph,

Even though your nose resembles blinding scarlet laser pens, my heart still bursts with love for you. Love is a thrown-away word nowadays but Rudolph, I am not prancing around here. Your co-worker, Cupid, would forecast that we’re never been destined for a relationship- and I presume the stars shine in that direction too. However, my dear friend, my attraction to you continues to live on, unlike romantic relationships which are as delicate as the intricacy of snowflakes. Your festive vibes encapsulate me from some of humanity’s ill spirits. It is your story, the true lived tale of bullying, that puts you on the highest pedestal for me – me, and the teaching community at large.

Vital information has just whizzed around the circuits of my brain… these words… must be of very little value to you. That’s unless I’m mistaken, and reindeers secretly have a Google Translate to decipher our human-talk by. Santa may be able to lend you a hand with that one afterwards but I’m afraid the rest of this letter will be addressed to your friendly, red-hat, long-bearded master. Don’t stomp your hooves until the snow flings in every direction with fury; blame my people’s government for their failure in bringing up a multi (animal) lingual nation. Now then, pass this letter over to Mr. Claus if you may. (Your Tesco’s Finest carrot is already at my fire-place- as ever, royalty deserves nothing less.)

Ho, ho, ho, Santa: sorry to eat into your precious time although this letter will cheer you up just as a bucket-load of mince pies do. It is with ounces of delight that I can assist you with your naughty and nice lists this year: Rudolph, your ‘best-man,’ deserves a permanent (not fixed or temporary) post in your good books. The upmarket, front-row position on your sleigh may comfort his ego, but remember it is imperative that we tingle your companion’s heart strings. Put an end to your omniscient persona, Santa, and give my fellow the right recognition. Undoubtedly, you treat every single one of your reindeers the same – it’s standard practice – yet your heart must ache ever so more upon musing of the troubles of his past. Must I (painfully) recall those ‘oh so fun’ games when your (now) sleigh captain was belittled like six-foot ‘monsters’ boss around three- feet elves? No, I guessed not. Rant over: it’s time to harmoniously sing his praises – call for the choir… that’s if the eminent Michael Bublé is on strike.

Hold on a second- apologies are well and truly due. Now my fast and furious (seventy-mile per hour) hurricane attitude has settled to a breezy blizzard, I can write with sense – and not blanket everything in lethal, icy remarks. My thoughts led to me to a slippery slope when I addressed you quite forcefully in the previous paragraph, however I now am admitting to my wrongdoings. It’s just thinking of such an empathetic person like you – who is most comparable to the Christmas Big Friendly Giant – raises the hairs on my goose bumps to the point you’d think they meticulously practised yoga every day of their life. That’s not an understatement, believe me. Whilst on the topic of forgiveness, it’s fitting to mention that I’m partaking in the joys of greeting children queuing to meet you. You may not have hired me in Lapland (Claire calls for a man-size box of tissues) but Aberdeen needs me. ‘Elfing’ is truly a privilege that you have endowed me with; I can only but seize the chance to share my adoration for Rudolph and… take an #elfie.

Hurry on the days when society deems it acceptable, presentable and respectable to attire joker hats with jingle bells and slipper-soft shoes!

I’ve deviated off on a tangent again, Santa. Let’s toast our glasses to the fact I’m not your GPS navigation… swiftly back on track, if we may. Please do me of the honour of allowing myself to properly explain my feelings towards your wingman. Rudolph, he’s a strong piece of meat: I’m not a vegetarian, but equally I’d never even consume a slither of reindeer-meat. That’s a high-court crime, especially for someone who is meant to be Rudolph’s guardian! With hefty muscles- peaked to perfection for his annual present-delivery endurance marathon- comes determination, and that is what we need to install in our children. Instant gratification is as common as plastic money notes. Should we ever wonder why our kids are ‘besties’ with sheets of illuminated-glass? In with the old Tamagotchi; out with the new Siri. (Oh, that’s a deliberate ‘mistake’ in my phrasing.)

Mental stamina is not developed enough amongst the majority of our young people these modern days. Sir, with your magical work, we could help share the story of Rudolph’s battles and give our students a lecture about the grit that they all so need to carry with them throughout their lives. Wish lists of happiness feeders are driving you out of pocket – and the elves…well, their array of talents are spectacularly wasted with the infinitely increasing output of gadgets ongoing. As a student teacher – and part-time Lapland aspiring elf- I’d hope it wouldn’t be deemed ‘immature’ and too out of place for me to remark that parents must continue bringing up their children with time-limits on their gadget usage. Despite Rudolph being in a turmoil of teasing from his red nose, he danced and pranced through the traditional party games – and won over every cell beating in your unmeasurable heart. Our cherished fluffy Christmas ‘horse’ flies around with the magic of (almost) everlasting happiness, all whilst demonstrating to our young ones that being unique is as special and worthy as the rare pennies living on the ground. He’s a man…with just a slightly alternative twig-like hairstyle. A man needs no gadgets; the classic board games are the ultimate deal (if you’re also not forgetting about the gel for anything like antler-hair of course!)

Dear me… my inner-elf has outshone itself again. These festive characters really like to bounce around to the sound of their jingle bells (and blether away until their cheeks inflate like mini red-balloons). Aren’t elves just secretly human versions of Rudolph? Seriously speaking, that’s my Christmas wish for you, Santa. Give me the chance to be an elf from Monday to Sunday. (Yes, I’m enrolling for the atypical seven-day job- uh huh, not the nine-to-five Monday to Friday.) If I’m blessed with my elf-tunic and plane tickets to Lapland, I’ll know my teaching will improve vastly. My students will learn the key to healthy happiness- and maybe the odd few will become your minions too (or as English-lovers joke, your subordinate-clauses). It’s a wicked myth that people fall to the trick of believing that you are born as an elf: W.Huittt and J.Hummell (1999) are behaviour theorists who would one-hundred percent support elf-school as they define learning as “the relatively permanent change in behaviour brought about as a result of experience or practice.” We can all be elves, can’t we?

I guess you’ll reveal the truth tomorrow, Santa.

That’s me for Christmas 2017,

Lots of love from Claire Xx (The 18-year old girl who should really be an elf, especially since she has left out your all-time favourite of a beer and a mince pie!)


This PowerPoint (which is available online) was of assistance to me in the writing of this blog post. The quote by W.Huitt and J.Hummel (1999) is found on the second slide.

 

Ciao, adios, we’re done.

(Before reading, please be aware that this post strongly discusses my views on western feminism. All views are my own- I completely appreciate if you don’t support them.)

Boys,I could tell you that I love being a female. I could boast day and night to the apparently ‘strong’ species that you are, exclaiming that being part of the girls’ club is the best decision of my life. I could shout, using the loudest of all (near) deafening megaphones, that “nothing else is -or will ever be- comparable to our flower-power, pink-loving gang.” Yet, I won’t. I pinkie-promise on that. Sorry radical feminists… I feel it’s time to initiate some practice of self-control. For the first time in forever, my willpower is required for something other than resisting a beloved Frozen movie night; it’s control myself maturely time! Resorting to the simple wonders of scribbling words on a page is all that’s needed to push forward my argument surrounding patriarchy. Even though I could be such a forceful feminist right now, my wisdom has concluded that it’s best to stay far clear of the police and their ASBOs for noise disruption. Instead, I’ll make my own jam on feminism and gender right here. Listen up, friends: we’re in for a discordant ‘tune’ of pinks and blues.

You’ve heard it everywhere: boys are better than girls. It’s surreptitiously implied wherever you go. I’m often left wondering if there’s a little gender ghost constantly chasing after us girls; we can never quite shake off the feeling of inferiority in this male-dominated society. From tops to toys, our retail markets are despairingly flooded by patriarchal merchandise. E-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g on the shelf is designed with slogans set to boost the male’s (already) sky-high ego: “She can soak in the beauty of planet Earth; he can bask in the glory of conquering it.” How ridiculous! Come on- let’s call a boycott on all this tragic use of English! Our Sir William Shakespeare would be absolutely mortified of our word-choice. I’m putting BOTH feet (and hands) down on this one –  not only for his sake. These female-pitying phrases no longer penetrate right through to my core. I’m a solid, lava rock. That said, my humanly instincts still crave to protect every other human from this futile battle (regardless of gender).

British girls and boys, don’t you realise how time-zapping, energy-depleting this gender war is? Gender is only a socially-constructed concept (that’s biological sex minus the scientific evidence.) So… please, please, please halt with this nonsense: once our nation frees itself of these masculine and feminine stereotypes, we can work on the actual mess. Welcome to the mess abroad in which girls endure bloodshed whilst fighting for their basic UN rights- and it’s all because of men. Some of us are so mollycoddled that the word ‘gratitude’ lives in our thesaurus rather than remaining in our everyday vocabulary. (I’m addressing my girls here.)  We are extremely privileged to have an entirely free education – free of expense, free of judgement, free of violence. You name it: it’s all free.  Still, my whining British girls have the nerve to send snapchats in precious class-time. Western feminists, we have to put on our big boots and drastically change our outlook: here’s why.

Look, just look at Malala Yousafzai’s work. A girl, shot for learning her ABCs, is currently the leading figure in the global campaign that battles for girls to have a safe, liberal education- all whilst pursuing further education herself. Inspiring, Malala is. Honest, she is. A strong girl, she is.  She doesn’t contradict herself; she is deserving feminist. Remember the days when you had two gold stars and that so magical (but dreaded) wish in primary school- well those days still exist. Indeed, they do. Can I wish for every single girl in my country to seriously appreciate their education? Can my wish be taken with a whole pinch of chilli powder- and not the simple, old salt? I want a girl-gang of ‘Malalas’ (just if clones were legally allowed…!)

Guess what? My mind already knows the next question that you are desperately wanting to throw at me. (Please note though that I’m a student-teacher, not a psychic.) “Are you really a feminist Claire, and what does gender mean in your world?” curiously considers many of my readers. That’s the million-pound question. This is the billion-pound answer: I’m the feminist, that despites acknowledging British gender-discrimination, feels a stronger pull to support feminist-movements overseas. Girls there need me… not for a pay rise, but for life rights. Moving rather swiftly on to gender (to avoid further distressing some readers) I believe that we should still have the ‘framework’ of gender in our society. However, a framework doesn’t give rise to any sort of (organised) discrimination by any means. A girl should be nurtured as boy is nourished …and vice-versa. We are all free to have a religion, so why can’t we choose our gender without it being forced upon us?

You’ll thankfully find that my next statement provides a concise summary of my thoughts. Concepts like gender-neutral classrooms are our exit out of this vicious circle. I’m not trying to be sarcastic, but honestly these ideas are worth it. They would teach society’s future girls that they don’t have to dress up as hulk and boys, you can be pretty (or handsome!) in pink. Any transphobic creature could pin me to a post in disagreement – and I’d still stay firm on my stance. Gender must not be such a rigid, controlling term: if we all loosened up and disregarded masculine and feminine stereotypes, there would be no need for feminism. Consequently, we wouldn’t give any regard to the multitude of preconceived gender attributes which lead to many issues today. What’s the action plan then? I’ll tell you, tell you outright. Move out of your comfort zone, broaden your horizons and extend your view. Our world is a gargantuan (but also small) place and we cannot, must not AND will not create any more barriers. I’m up for truly uniting girls and boys; we are all one happy family…I hope.

The time has come. I’ve had it with this British feminism. I’ve handed in my notice to the girls’ club. We are too Eurocentric for my liking. Neither am I joining the boys although. I’ll ride it solo: solo until you decide to join me too. Goodbye girls, it’s been an interesting ride.

Ciao, adios, we’re done.


If you are dying to know, the text-colours were deliberately changed- boys being pink and girls with the blue. What was your initial reaction upon seeing this? I believe it’s so easy to think of ourselves as being open-minded. From personal experience, I can tell you how quickly I used to make assumptions based on biological sex. If you automatically questioned the colour difference, I can understand why. It’s maybe a sign that you are more judgemental than you consider yourself to be. Don’t panic if that’s the case… it’s best that we find out this information sooner than later!


Due acknowledgments for this blog post:

  • The University of Dundee for their lectures on the topics of gender, feminism and patriarchy;
  • Malala Yousafzai’s documentary on her experiences;
  • Anne-Marie’s song (inspiration taken from the title/main lyrics).