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John Simkin

Success and Happiness

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“Your successes and happiness are forgiven you only if you generously consent to share them.” Albert Camus

On a similar theme, one of my favourite Camus quotes is:

"True genorosity towards the future consists of giving everything to the present"

I love this, I just felt I wanted to share it. Sorry if this isn't the place!

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And as another aside, can I recommend Alain de Botton's recent book: Anxiety Status. Has some marvellous quotes from various philosophers and has helped me make sense of certain people I am dealing with at the moment. Very interesting that the reasons for our insatiable need for status have changed so dramatically over time. Anyone else read it?

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“Your successes and happiness are forgiven you only if you generously consent to share them.” Albert Camus

On a similar theme, one of my favourite Camus quotes is:

"True genorosity towards the future consists of giving everything to the present"

I love this, I just felt I wanted to share it. Sorry if this isn't the place!

Yes, this is definitely the right place. So also is the classroom. Schools give very little thought about helping students to become happy people. In fact, it does a great deal to ensure that people spend their life dissatisfied, disillusioned and unhappy. The main reason it does this is by emphasising the importance of competitive success. This of course does little for the self esteem and well being of those who are not at the top of the ranking system. However, even those get very little pleasure out of being at the top. They find the hostility aimed at them from below when they are successful very painful. Other than their parents and subject teachers, who are really pleased when they get good grades in public examinations? This becomes a painful experience and highlights their isolation.

Yet recent governments constantly stress the need for teachers, schools and students to compete with each other. Statistics are collected and published to show how each one is doing relative to others. The government believes that this competition will force everyone to do better. After all that is how they became successful. If it worked for them, surely it will work for others? Their psychological need to become first becomes imposed on everyone else. How different our educational system would look if it was governed, by say, charity workers.

In these two quotes Albert Camus illustrates a truth that is rarely recognized in our competitive society. The real pleasures in life come from collaboration and not competition. It is when we use our skills for the benefit of the group that true happiness in achieved. This is a basic need that has not been destroyed by capitalist society.

I heard a doctor once say that the best cure for depression is to do charity work. The reason is that depressed people are usually selfish people. They spend too much time thinking about themselves. The way out of their situation is to start thinking about the well being of others.

The most important character trait needed to be a successful teacher is generosity. As Albert Camus said: "True genorosity towards the future consists of giving everything to the present" That seems a good statement to have written over your classroom door.

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The quote I'd like to contribute is from 'Working Class Hero' (John Lennon, for the youngsters). You could include the entire song (lyrics via: http://www.lyricsdepot.com/john-lennon/wor...class-hero.html, but the lines I keep remembering are:

As soon as you're born they make you feel small

By giving you no time instead of it all

The reason this is so pertinent for me is that we had a little girl just two months ago! OK, there's a lot of 3 am wake-up calls right now, but there's also the magic of seeing a little person opening up to the world and starting responding. Right now she's just learning who mum, dad and big sister are, and discovering all sorts of things about sunlight, softness, voices … You can see that what she needs most is … well, us. To be noticed, to be included, to be talked to - you could just dismiss these as mere survival tactics by a hungry organism, but I think that's missing the whole point of what it means to be alive!

Big sister's 12 now, but she still needs inclusion, affirmation, sharing … She's doing well at school right now, but we know that it's a day-by-day, moment-by-moment process, which balances between success and failure all the time. It also isn't a purely personal matter - in fact, as a dad, I often feel that my contribution is almost irrelevant at the moment. It's what her friends and peers think that makes all the difference. Of course, I know (somewhere) that this isn't true … but this brings me on to my other quote:

There is no such thing as society. There are only individuals and their families. (Margaret Thatcher, of course - used to be Prime Minister of the UK, kids)

How utterly wrong can you be! Unless we're part of a society, we can't even be individuals - we're just organisms struggling to survive.

So what should schools do? Help kids to become strong, independent members of a society? Or force them to struggle just to survive?

Edited by David Richardson

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David writes:

The reason this is so pertinent for me is that we had a little girl just two months ago!

Congratulations! I became a grandfather just three weeks ago - same joy but no 3am wake-up calls: that's the parents' job! <_<

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Having recently gone through the trials of the PGCE year I would suggest that the teachers currently entering the workforce often make the situation worse and not better. It may appear worse than it is bearing in mind that I did my PGCE at Oxford but the general feeling I got was that the trainee teachers believed that what worked for them would work for everyone and that means competition!

Sadly what they fail to add to the equation is that many of them went to single sex grammer schools or private schools and thus their educational environment was distinctly different to that of a comprehensive.

I myself was comprehensive educated and spent the entire time being thoroughly embarressed when i succeeded at anything as I knew I'd pay for it later. Its so awful when other class members try their hardest as achieve C grades and you make as little effort as possible and come out with an A. Of course they hate you when that grade and not their effort and not their enjoyment, is the goal!

I then attended a grammer school for 6th form and for the first time in my life felt comfortable achieving. This lead me to believe that grammer schools are good things as they provide a safe haven for geeks such as myself....but that does nothing to hone our social skills or indeed to make us anything but exam passing machines.

And so I am now involved in a project which aims to determine what exactly is important about eduction and what a good education should provide. The ability to pass exams or the ability to get on with others and work as a team? The ability to get things right first time every time or to be able to show compassion and understanding to others?

Some might argue that children gain their social skills outside of the classroom but for many children school is the only real social life they have and life long habits and mindsets are developed there. It is very important that schools get it right and value the individual and not only the grades.

Rowena

Edited by rownb

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Congratulations David!

It's wonderful to become a father - a situation I liked so much I tried it five times (four sons and then a little daughter who turns 13 in a few days...). Having children is sure success and happiness!!!

Now to school - I work in two systems at the same school. I'm a History teacher in the highly rigid competative IB system as well as I teach History in the Swedish School System. The Swedish School System is also competative, but in a different way - we basically don't have a national curriculum and we don't have any exams, just a grade for a finished course which is given by the teacher in the topic - without any interference.

I have been a teacher for quite a few years now (I started as a substitute in 1976...) and I very much see the problems John stated -

Schools give very little thought about helping students to become happy people. In fact, it does a great deal to ensure that people spend their life dissatisfied, disillusioned and unhappy. The main reason it does this is by emphasising the importance of competitive success. This of course does little for the self esteem and well being of those who are not at the top of the ranking system. However, even those get very little pleasure out of being at the top. They find the hostility aimed at them from below when they are successful very painful. Other than their parents and subject teachers, who are really pleased when they get good grades in public examinations? This becomes a painful experience and highlights their isolation.

Yet recent governments constantly stress the need for teachers, schools and students to compete with each other. Statistics are collected and published to show how each one is doing relative to others. The government believes that this competition will force everyone to do better. After all that is how they became successful. If it worked for them, surely it will work for others?

Let me give you the background of how Swedish Schools compete - the politicians in Sweden gather statistics. They compare the amount of different grades given at different schools. These are published - both in paper form and at their official net-pages. They also conduct investigations on the "satisfaction rate" of the students. This is done by fairly simple inquiries. All schools in the local district (Gothenburg region) present these inquiries for the students who answers and then send them in to the local school administration... A lot could be said about this way of investigating "satisfaction" - but shortly, if they had one professional historian this investigation would never had been done this way (sorry about the little side-track here but this inquiry is so completely un-professional )!

Well - the statistics are published and then some gifted school politician :idea makes a statement about how he will personally work for the amount top grades to increase - without making any changes of the school system (no extra money, no cutting big classes, no increase in the amount of hours tought - rather the opposite; an increasing amount of teaching hours for the individual teacher together with more administrative duties, less money for material and further education and bigger classes)...

This leaves us with frustrated teachers striving to fullfill unrealistic goals which is based on the grade achieved in a highly competative environment. Our top students will achieve their goals no matter the system but they will not discover the fascination of our topic. The average and weaker students will fail in both ways. They will dislike the topic and they will not get the grade they need to continue to remain competative. This situation is the same in both systems. So what can we do to not become frustrated and disillusioned?

First of all - screw this system! Our duty as teachers is to try to create a continuation of our natural curiousity, a willingness to learn and sound critical thinking. I think we have different strategies but in my teaching I have always relied on my own enthusiasm, being able to try out "new ways" and last but not the least the willingness to listen to the students (even when they think you are boring!!!).

Enthusiasm - My enthusiasm is based on my fascination with my topic - history. I'm very fortunate to work with one of my great passions. I try to let the students know how fascinating I think it is and it works with some classes... They will be pulled along with this kind of a "nut behaviour" (at times it make me feel like the "Crocodile Hunter" in the class rome).

New ways - this is not completely true - It's more a development of ways of teaching that I find work for me and adjust these to new impulses and ideas. I also take up and try out some methods and ideas which I find interesting. Teaching is such a creative work and it's important to both keep and forward this joy of creativity. When I was fairly fresh my teaching changed radically from one year to another (which must have been a nightmare for the students that went along with me several semesters). Now it's a bit more stable development but with some new impulses. The ability to use computers in teaching have been an important ingridient in my own personal development as a teacher these last years. As I get a bit more experienced I get less afraid of trying something new. I have already failed utterly with most things so the experience of failing will not kill me.:tomatoes Instead it encourage new attempts - and different attempts which can stimulate the interest of the student. Every class - and every individual student - is an interesting challenge.

Dialogue - the willingness to listen to the students. This is a part that took me some years and work to achieve and I still have some way to go. Students are professional - in being students. They know what appeals to them and what they don't enjoy. I still haven't met a class which was not willing to put some effort into learning as long as they found their way of learning (and the topic interesting enough - I have met individuals that absolutely did not want to learn - anything... they often did not want to be in school at all). I usually start my courses by presenting the intentions of the school politicians, the school board and the teacher (me!). Important is also to find out previous knowledge so we can start at a level which fit the individual class. We set up some targets and then we go into a "trial and error" period where I show different ways of learning - lecturing, working in smaller groups, individual work - sometimes with a short oral presentation, group discussion etc... this part takes 5-6 weeks but it gives a good background for a necessary pedagogic discussion. Now the class is ready for making decissions about the rest of the course - the area we should cover remains the same but there are so many different ways of learning. When the class has made their decissions (which should include a few different methods) we come to the discussion on how and why we should try to get their time in class to become a positive experience of knowledge instead of a grade focused packing of facts.

This last part is hard in the kind of school I teach at. The students that we receive are, in general, high achievers. They have one main purpose for being there - to get the grades necessary for higher education. Fascination with any topic is just a bonus - not always necessary. Due to their focus on the grade they often want the teacher to teach in the most efficient way for them to fullfill their goal! That's why it's so important to present different ways of learning before you take a discussion about teaching methods - otherwise you will end up lecturing all the time (I don't dislike lecturing - it's an important method which most students will be exposed to very much in higher education, but it's not very efficient and it easy gets boring).

After each major part of the course it's important to evaluate. I let one or two designated students take care of this evaluation. I leave an inquiry (which has been presented to the class so they can add or take away questions/parts) and the designated students carries it out (I of course leave the class room). The designated students take the forms home and then mail me the results plus comments a few days later. This minimize my influence of the result. It's not perfect but it's good enough. I later present the result in the class and we discuss weknessess and strengths. From this we make new decissions about the course. This trains the students in a form of democracy as well as a bit of insight in teaching methods. Who said it was easy to be a teacher? :cheers

Now I shared part of my happinesses, some successes (and some "failures") - do I get an A? :blink:

Edited by Anders

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It's wonderful to become a father - a situation I liked so much I tried it five times (four sons and then a little daughter who turns 13 in a few days...). Having children is sure success and happiness!!!

I have two daughters, who are now well into adulthood, successful in their careers and now starting their own families. They have certainly brought me a great deal of happiness and are continuing to do so. But I recall a few years of tension, frustration, frayed tempers and anxiety (I'm talking about myself and my wife, not my daughters!) when they were around 13-16 years of age - it's usually a bit later with boys, I think. But by the age of 18 they had turned into pleasant, mature people.

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But I recall a few years of tension, frustration, frayed tempers and anxiety (I'm talking about myself and my wife, not my daughters!) when they were around 13-16 years of age - it's usually a bit later with boys, I think. But by the age of 18 they had turned into pleasant, mature people.

Graham - do I sense a warning about what to expect?...

My experience of teenage sons has been a pleasant one compared with all the warnings we got from friends, relatives, etc... It was interesting to follow their way of growing into young adults which had (of course) a period when we as parents had to play a minor role. All though I would say our mistkaes when they were younger as well as our willingness to repeat them (and maybe point out the fact that we did repeat them) I think helped the boys. They realized very early that their parents were not "perfect"... :o

Right now we are going through the process of always being a big family to become a more average sized one - that process is harder for us as parents. We have enjoyed having all the children around us very much - but suddenly it's just two living at home instead of five. Fortunately we see and talk to each other often, but I do miss having the chaos that all these people can create together (and all the good meals together). It's true that I only experienced boys going through their teens (the last one is still in the midst of it) so maybe this will be a different experience??? ;)

Still as I wrote before

Having children is sure success and happiness!!!
- nothing can beat that!!! :up

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This has turned into a fascinating discussion. It is difficult to know what thread to develop. I will therefore reply to several points made by posters.

The reason this is so pertinent for me is that we had a little girl just two months ago! OK, there's a lot of 3 am wake-up calls right now, but there's also the magic of seeing a little person opening up to the world and starting responding. Right now she's just learning who mum, dad and big sister are, and discovering all sorts of things about sunlight, softness, voices … You can see that what she needs most is … well, us. To be noticed, to be included, to be talked to - you could just dismiss these as mere survival tactics by a hungry organism, but I think that's missing the whole point of what it means to be alive!

Big sister's 12 now, but she still needs inclusion, affirmation, sharing … She's doing well at school right now, but we know that it's a day-by-day, moment-by-moment process, which balances between success and failure all the time. It also isn't a purely personal matter - in fact, as a dad, I often feel that my contribution is almost irrelevant at the moment. It's what her friends and peers think that makes all the difference. Of course, I know (somewhere) that this isn't true. (David Richardson)

Is what we do in the classroom so different from what we try to do in the home? Our main task in both cases is to help produce happy learners. Logic would suggest that we would have more success with our own children than with those that we only borrow. However, this is not always the case. As a teacher I have seen the consequences of parents making their children compete with each other. This creates psychological scars that are almost impossible to heal.

One of the best things my mother taught me was to see the family as a collaborative unit. That our success was as a group rather than as an individual. She never forced as to compete for her love and approval. (Aged 89 and 51 weeks, she still doesn’t).

There has never been pressure on me from my mother to succeed. That desire came from within. I was able to develop my own ideas about what I considered to be successful. This of course, was closely linked to my concept of happiness. However, she did make it clear (mainly by example) what kind of behaviour was acceptable. Her views on this still shape the decisions I make today. I have tried to educate my daughter (and now my grandson) in the same way that I was educated by my mother.

I attempted to take this education with me into the classroom. However, what I could achieve was severely undermined by the school system that I was forced to work within.

I myself was comprehensive educated and spent the entire time being thoroughly embarrassed when I succeeded at anything as I knew I'd pay for it later. Its so awful when other class members try their hardest as achieve C grades and you make as little effort as possible and come out with an A. Of course they hate you when that grade and not their effort and not their enjoyment, is the goal!

I then attended a grammar school for 6th form and for the first time in my life felt comfortable achieving. This lead me to believe that grammar schools are good things as they provide a safe haven for geeks such as myself.... but that does nothing to hone our social skills or indeed to make us anything but exam passing machines. (Rowena Hopkins)

I accept that the comprehensive education system creates problems for the bright student. This is mainly caused by the ethos and culture of the school. Good schools communicate that education is exciting and that one should not be ashamed of working hard at your studies. This of course was more of a problem at a secondary modern than a grammar school. It is also a problem at university. I remember as a 29 year old student doing my PGCE being requested by fellow students not to ask too many questions in seminars (apparently, it was cutting down drinking time in the bar).

However, as someone who was educated (contained) in a secondary modern (although it was not very modern) school, I would argue that the previous system created more problems than it solved.

There were several studies carried out in the 1950s and 1960s that illustrated the damage that the grammar/secondary modern system created. As Brian Jackson pointed out in his study of Huddersfield, some of the worst victims were working class children who passed their 11+. I can assure you that whatever happiness we achieved at school, it had nothing to do with the educational system we were having to endure. In fact most of our happiness came from making our teachers look as silly as possible.

First of all - screw this system! Our duty as teachers is to try to create a continuation of our natural curiosity, a willingness to learn and sound critical thinking. I think we have different strategies but in my teaching I have always relied on my own enthusiasm, being able to try out "new ways" and last but not the least the willingness to listen to the students (even when they think you are boring!!!). (Anders)

As with most things, I agree with you. As you say, our objective should be “to create a continuation of our natural curiosity”. You are also right to suggest the best way to do this is through our own enthusiasm.

I have found that the first stage of this process of helping to produce happy learners is to convince them that you have their best interests at heart. My first lesson with any group was always about what my main objectives would be during the year. This included my desire to turn them into independent, life long learners. I also told them I would do all I could to make learning exciting and enjoyable. I also encouraged them to suggest ways this could be done.

I also told them that I would do all I could to help them to reach their full potential. However, I always pointed out, that if they ended up with an “A” grade at GCSE/A level, but did not have a desire to continue to study history (in or outside the classroom), I would consider myself to have failed.

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Guest Andrew Moore

I see hope for the English system - the proposed changes to 14-19 education have the potential to remove many of the sources of unhappiness.

The National Curriculum and the culture of testing are a part of the problem. So is the oppressive intense lifestyle of the average secondary school in England.

I have come to like special schools very much - the teachers work hard, but are quite ready to ignore or subvert the official directives. For example, in one local school, the children may never progress beyond a level of awareness they reach at the age of three or four. Indeed, many of them do not live much beyond this. So the teachers work to give them a good, rich and happy life.

I'm in agreement with many comments, including John's, about the way the system creates the problems. That's true for pupils and teachers. For years I was frustrated by the tedium of using only a fraction of what I thought were my abilities - and by the school's failure to exploit them. I turned to new technology seriously, in the hope that it could enable me to change - it did so far beyond my expectations. And now I work in an almost ridiculously humane and supportive culture - my boss (an ex head teacher) is forever reminding his team of the work-life balance, and takes our welfare seriously. There is scope to develop new ideas, and a collective sense of adventure, as we begin to build our Digital School.

I'm probably working longer hours, but they are less stressful, and more fulfilling.

The English state education system has become more regimented. That could not happen without the compliance or connivance of many teachers. But that readiness to obey orders carries its own punishment, as they build up the system that oppresses them.

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John says:

.... recent governments constantly stress the need for teachers, schools and students to compete with each other. Statistics are collected and published to show how each one is doing relative to others. The government believes that this competition will force everyone to do better.

It has certainly caused us all to focus rather intensively on the (public) 'exam results' - the tension starts to build up as the Spring term reveals the 'mock' results and worried staff discuss and plan how much more they can manage to do to ensure that the school refuser comes in to more lessons, or how the disruptive child, on yet another period of exclusion, can be persuaded to complete those three pieces of coursework still outstanding. The list of such efforts is almost endless and contribute to the increasing levels of exhaustion and stress we are seeing in staffrooms. Yet are these efforts really for the benefit of the students or simply the response to the demands for the A*-C percentage requirements? Are the statistics really showing that we are all 'doing better'? Doing better at what exactly?

A colleague and I (along with the rest of the school!) have spent the last three working days with a mixed ability group of 30 Year 7 and 8 students. We have been in the same two rooms, taking breaks at the usual times, although there have been several occasions when students have not wanted to leave and have to continued working on their projects. There has been an atmosphere quite unlike that of the normal school day. No rushing around, no arguments, no major 'controlling' needed by the adults present. Instead there has been focussed, self direction by each student, and use of the adults as sources of assistance, information and ideas. We have enjoyed listening to a variety of quiet music and there have been quiet conversations between students and between adults and students. Sometimes there has been no conversation at all as everyone was so engrossed in their chosen activities. Some of these students I have taught for the whole of this year, but I know them far better after these few days than I did after a year's worth of lessons!

So, what have we been doing?? We have been involved in our annual 'Arts Week'. Our group learnt how to decoratively paint china, glass, terracotta, wood and fabric. They learnt to make lace, braiding, simple jewellery, small puppets and peg dolls. Not academic? Not demanding? In some senses, maybe, but consider these facts: Every student in the group has completed a number of practical projects at their own level of ability(differentiation). Each one has researched for their projects and designs in books and on the internet (use of ICT, literacy and research skills). Each student has discussed their ideas with one another and with their teachers (oracy, citizenship and social skills). Each student has learnt new practical techniques, improving these noticeably over the three days so that their finished projects look increasingly professional (design and technology, & vocational education). Each student will be able to take these skills and apply them to new situations in the future, such that they may be able to utilise them in a future career, business or hobby(careers, life skills).

Isn't this the kind of thing that education should be more about? Not easy on the staff though....I have to say that the preparations for it all was just as exhausting as any thorough lesson preparation! ;)

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Maggie

What you describe is very much what we are doing here with our new curriculum, The Essential Learnings - no curriculum at all actually, but the freedom to do these sort of activities and be accredited for the outcomes set by the teacher. I like that part of it - it's just getting the balance of basic skills/content teaching and this sort of activity right. We have no exams until Yr 12 but our students still do very well in international comparisons, so I think you're right when you say "What kind of learning is going on?"

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