So are you gay then?


Talking about my masters in challenging homophobia in schools in the pub the other night I was confronted with the question:

“So are you gay then?”

This person assumed I must be as she could not comprehend why someone who is straight would be bothered about discrimination of a group that they did not belong to.

With students I usually reply to that question (with a gentle reminder about ground rules and no personal questions!)with:

“would it matter if I were?”

and we start to unpick why this stuff should be important to us all, and how ones sexual orientation does not affect their ability to be a good teacher, a good friend etc.

In the classroom it is an interesting one- if you are a Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual teacher, do you really want to come out to the students in your school? You could be an amazing role model but likewise in a non-supportive school you could be opening up a can of prejudicial worms. Likewise a straight teacher doing this work maybe worried people will assume they are Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual and treat them differently as a result, and this may serve as a barrier to this work. Also they may feel they don’t know enough about the issues to address it properly (to that I must point out white male teachers can teach about racism or sexism just fine- this is no different). (Oh and N.B Straight Teachers answering that question with an emphatic “No!” as if its a bad thing, only serves to reinforce the pervading culture of heteronormativity. Sigh.)

To the woman in the pub I didn’t ask her “would it matter if I were?” but said loftily

To me this is an equalities issue and it’s something we should all be bothered about whatever our sexual orientation or gender identity.

(and then carried on ranting about my research to the poor woman- sorry!)

Whilst doing this work I have always been aware of having heterosexual privilege. Being a married (to a man) mother of two working in this field, means that it brings this issue into the mainstream. I’m not someone from a so-called “sexual minority” (I hate that term- very “othering”) on a soapbox but someone who never experiences homophobia but is actively engaged in challenging prejudice and discrimination particularly related to sexual orientation and gender identity. In my experience this has possibly added a level of engagement to the work from straight colleagues, that might not be present if I was a gay, lesbian or bisexual teacher?

I’m not saying all teachers need to be as engaged on these issues as rantypants me, but I am saying all teachers can and should challenge LGBT prejudice as much as possible regardless of their own identity. It’s a human rights issue, it’s an equalities issue and even just taking the time to consider how you might answer the question from a student

So are you gay then?

in a way that addresses sexualities equality in some way is a step in the right direction.

Anyhow Macklemore, Ryan Lewis &Mary Lewis say it better than me afterall its “Same Love.”

QTS Maths- How exactly does requiring teachers to be “fast” at maths help our profession?


Before you read this post in its entirety I want you to set a countdown timer to 18 seconds and listen to this maths question. You may listen to it twice but at the start of the second listening you must start the timer. Once the 18 seconds is up you MUST STOP. If you have not written down the right answer in that time you have FAILED that question*

Did you get the right answer in the time allowed? Would you continue to get the right answer for each of the next twelve mental arithmetic questions in 18 seconds each bearing in mind you can only hear the question and not see it? Then also go onto do 16 more maths questions over the next 40 minutes. You need to get 18 marks in order to pass the QTS maths test. You can try the QTS maths test here if you want.

Now imagine you are someone who has just spent four years of their life doing a BEd in Primary Education. For the first three years of your course you knew you could do the QTS tests at any point and have as many goes as you wanted, but in your final year you were informed this had now changed and you now only have three goes at it plus the pass mark had been increased to 63% (although 18/28 is actually a 64.3% pass mark).

The goalposts have suddenly changed. Now each time you do the test you are under considerable pressure. You pass the literacy test first time, but sadly you fail the maths test, first time on the mental arithmetic section by four marks. Deep breath and you try it again…………. again you fail on the mental arithmetic section by 4 marks, you can get the right answer but just not quite quick enough. Several times you are just about to put the right answer in but the box disappears as the 18 seconds are up and you have missed it by a second.

You take time before you take your third and final test, you spend weeks and weeks revising and preparing for your final chance at this test. Four years of your life are riding on this. You have just been given your dream job at a lovely yet challenging school. The head and governors are really excited about having you start and you are due to start within weeks.

The pressure this time for your last chance at this test is now insane. Again you sadly fail the mental arithmetic test BY FOUR MARKS. Because you are just not quite quick enough to answer mental arithmetic quite fast enough for the arbitrary speeds set by the government. Because the pressure of answering each question in only 18 seconds is already too much and added to that the pressure of how much you have riding on this means that you are flustered and frantic, desperate to get it right but also aware 18 seconds just isn’t quite enough time for you to process the auditory info, do the calculations and get the right answer in everytime. If you had just a few more seconds per question or could read instead of hear the question in all likelihood you would have passed the QTS Maths test and been able to become the teacher you always wanted to be.

FOUR MARKS OFF THE MATHS QTS PASS MARK & NOW FOUR YEARS OF YOUR LIFE ARE NOW POTENTIALLY WASTED.

You are not permitted to retake the tests for another 2 years, the dream job offer you had now has to be rescinded. The head and interview panel are devastated they can’t employ you. You are devastated you cannot be employed as a teacher in this school where you could have made a real difference. The real kicker is if your dream school was an academy this wouldn’t have mattered and you could have started your dream job.

But you can’t just because of FOUR marks in an auditory mental arithmetic test.

The thing is you are passionate about teaching and absolutely brilliant with kids. You already have a C in your GCSE maths, showing you have a good enough grounding in maths, and although maths isn’t a strong point you have really worked hard at it and all your observations for maths teaching at primary level have been absolutely fine, because you have worked hard to understand and overcome barriers in maths and so can really help children with those same issues. But just because you are not quite fast enough at maths, because for 4 questions you didn’t manage to get them done in 18 seconds then you are prevented from becoming a teacher for the next 2 years.

How do you feel?

This just happened to a friend of mine. I’m so angry about it. She is exactly the sort of primary teacher I want for my kids. In fact my kids absolutely adore her and she is brilliant with them. She just knows how to get onto their level and inspire them to inquire about the world. But simply because she can’t do maths “FAST” enough. She has just lost out on a job where she would have been awesome and the school and kids are losing out.

Seriously is the benchmark of a good teacher being able to do “fast maths”? Really? How utterly bonkers?! I couldn’t give a stuff how fast you can work out the proportion of money going to a charity, I care that you can teach my kids well and inspire them to learn.

I suspect I might now fail QTS maths if I had to resit and so would many of my colleagues. I can’t do maths under pressure. Never have been able to. I also can’t work as well if hearing a question and not seeing it in front of me. Should we be barred from teaching as a result? If this test was applied across the profession I suspect many incredible teachers would lose their QTS. Just because we some of us are fast enough at maths or not as good at auditory mathematical processing than visual mathematical processing. I understand and respect the need for teachers to be literate and numerate but emphasising speed over accuracy in maths is just plain wrong (also I wonder if “Troops to teachers” will be expected to do the QTS maths tests?)

It’s a joke it really is. Except an unfunny joke that has put my friends life on hold for the next two years. I don’t know if she will become a teacher now and if she doesn’t that will be a significant loss to a profession that would have really benefited from having her.

Shame on you DfE, Shame on you. Yet another way you are currently destroying the teaching workforce.

* The question from the recording was this:

Six hundred and thirty pupils paid fifty pence each on a charity day. The money collected was divided equally between three local charities.

How much did each of the charities receive?

Remember you are not allowed to see the question only hear it and you have 18 seconds from the start of the second reading of the question. Could you do it in time?

Feedback from young people involved in SO What


Previously I ran a blog called So What Squad alongside this one, but time constraints meant I needed to fine tune my social media presence, so I am moving all the posts over to this blog. This is the sixth of six posts.

Students shared with me their thoughts about being part of SoWhat (Spellings are theirs!).

“When I first joined the SO What Squad in our school it was barely a group at all. It didn’t have a name, the school didn’t know we existed, and most of the students didn’t know what we were trying to achieve. Or even some of the teachers, for that matter. But that is exactly for me why it seemed so important to start up.

In many ways, homophobic bullying can seem a silent form of bullying. People use derogatory phrases all the time that would never be picked up on – ‘that’s so gay’, for instance – unless it was something that personally upset you, as it does for many young, LGBT students. Not only that, but it surprises a lot of people to hear the range of homophobic bullying, that many heterosexual students have experienced it too.

As part of the group, we went to an anti-bullying conference in our local area where it discussed a range of different techniques to ensure that schools and colleges have as little an amount of bullying as possible. One really interesting seminar discussed how homophobia is tackled in primary schools, not by looking out for aggressive behaviour or derogatory language as we had focused on, but by broadcasting acceptance, and teaching children that people with difference backgrounds, families, people from different races and religions, people of different sexual orientations were all ordinary people, just like everyone else. The leader of the seminar, a teacher who identified as LGBT, was able to discuss the fact that he was gay with his older students, and told us how on seeing a figure of authority, a person that they liked, as gay, the students easily accepted it, and as far as he was aware there was no homophobic bullying within that group.

I think if we were to go back and change the way we established SO What at our school, it would be less focused on the bullying, and more focused on the need for acceptance and appreciation of different people, spreading the message that diversity may seem strange and unfamiliar, but it is good. I feel we needed to spread campaigns such as ‘It Gets Better’, which has a hopeful message for victims who may feel upset or dejected. The younger that people learn that LGBT is no more a label than heterosexuality is, the quicker we can hope that in schools in the future it will be better.

Lucy, Former SoWhatSquad member.

I am a former member of the SoWhatSquad and i am proud to say that the logo design was my idea, my most creative piece yet.
Seeing homophobic bullying was very common before the group started up. The term “Gay” was used in everyones regular vocabulary. A person didnt need to actually be or identify themselves as part of LGBT to get called names and be taunted, if they showed stereotypical attirbutes of a LGBT person, they would be targeted.
The group for some was a place to retreat and feel welcome. It didnt matter if you were part of LGBT Group or just had views on the matter, everyone was treated equally. The logo which was displayed around school was a sign that our school was not going to tolerate any discrimination.

It is a shame however that the group, as former students left, is no longer as prominent in the school community, although i have noticed more students in the school which would identify themselves under the LGBT group and could be in need of a SoWhat Squad.

If i had the chance to relay or help build such groups in other schools, i think it would benefit a huge amount of people, to be themselves, to feel comfortable and to be happy in their school years.

K- Former SoWhat Member

“The so what squad helped a few people i knew come out as well as myself. Ii only had one friend who knew that i was a lesbian but apart from that my life involved a hell of a lot of lying! I didn’t know many gay people at the time and whenever i heard a conversation about homosexuals it was negative. By the time i had joined the so what club i had already come out to a lot of people and most was good and well except i had not told my family yet. The so what squad helped me tell my mum etc by providing me with a safe postive environment where i felt normal an could talk about my fears with people who were in the same position as me. The so what squad was really helpful and what have been an even greater help if i knew about it when i was figuring out i was gay i know it helped a lot of people and schools should definatlly have some sort of group to support other children.”

J- Former SoWhat Member

Another Student who went to set up So What in their college wrote this about their school experience:

As a young gay person growing up in a school with no openly gay students and staff, and an under current of homophobia amongst my peers, I felt incredibly isolated. The homophobia in the school was systemic; it was a very hostile environment and homophobia was routinely unchallenged. As a result I did not feel it was a safe space to come out in. I censor my feeling and behaviours, and became incredibly self loathing. As a result I acted out and began to perform the homophobic actions and behaviours I saw. It was only after leaving the school and that I was able to become the real me. I came out and my confidence grew: my grades improved significantly and I was able to shake off the feeling I was lying to people.

Letter of recommendation for posterity


I’m having a sort out and I found this in my “Record of Achievement” folder (you know the burgundy folder you got at school for your exam certificates and Duke of Edinburgh Award and suchlike!).

It made me smile to reread it but since I cannot use it for in my current job seeking (educational employers if you are reading this- hire me, my maternity leave ends soon!), then I thought I would record it here for posterity.

Wonder what Mr Mashaba might say if he could see how far I had come 7 years later! In fact I will have to write to the school and see how they are doing, and maybe one day book flights for a visit, it really was the most brilliant inspirational school to work in.

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Me with some kids at playtime. Hola 7!

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Older boys SRE group. It was a primary school but you got held back if you failed your exams or if your parents couldn’t afford to pay one year meaning class 7 (equiv class6- UK) had 10-17year olds in. It could be difficult to teach sex education age appropriately. So we ran a special 14+ group for the sex education they needed but wouldn’t get with their much younger classmates.

 

 

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One of my classes- Class 5 I think.

International Woman’s Day- Teaching about Consent.


Happy International Women’s Day!

“Today Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg shows his support for The Home Office’s Teenage Rape Prevention campaignlaunched on 5 March. He warns that rape is not just about violent attacks by strangers but also includes non-consensual sex within a relationship and highlights the need to get young people talking about the importance of consent.”

Taken from my Sex Education Forum Bulletin I just received via email- you can get it too by signing up here.

Consent can be a tricky thing to teach.  As well as covering the legal aspects of consent it is important to discuss notions of active consent and what abuse and coercion can look like. I really really love the way Scarleteen do this here (About navigating consent) and here (about body boundaries).

An interesting way to explore consent with young people is to discuss different scenarios with them with giving them traffic light cards (a red, amber, green card) and reading out a lengthy scenario and asking them to hold up the card as to whether the point in the story is Consenting (Green- good to go), Consensual grey area/ unsure (Amber) or Non-Consenting (Red -Stop).

The main scenario types you should explore are:

a) “Consent” under the influence of drink or drugs.

b) “Consent” under the influence of one partner’s coercion.

c) “Consent” due to previous sexual activities being consented to.

It can be very interesting to do this with the young people closing their eyes to remove peer pressured responses, and to compare the responses from the different genders. It can be tricky sometimes to come to a “consensus on consent” so allow plenty of time for discussion.

Also very interesting to use the Haven’s Where is your line? Campaign Video using the traffic light cards. (bewarned it is a hard hitting video so view it first to assess suitability for your class).

These are just some of the ways I like to explore consent with young people. I have many more ideas but I am supposed to be on maternity leave and no time to blog them all!!

If you have any more ideas for exploring consent with young people please do share them.

Happy Educating.

Using Music in SRE lessons


Following on from a twitter discussion about the powerful effect of music and how this could be harnessed in health education,  the awesome and lovely @DrSchroe was kind enough to email me a list of suggestions around using music in SRE lessons.  I was so inspired by this I wanted to adapt it into a blogpost for you  (but Elizabeth deserves most of the credit for this post- all her fab suggestions are in italics! Thankyou so much!)

1.  Having music playing when students come in.  “Sounds so basic, but I’ve used music anywhere from just setting a welcoming environment, to having a song that’s a preview for the topic we’ll be discussing that day.  For example, I might have “She bop” by Cyndi Lauper or “I Touch Myself” by the Divynls playing if the topic is masturbation.  I do this with video clips, too.  Also, for students with the musical learning intelligence, it helps to focus them — we so overlook this intelligence when we educate, no matter what topic area it is!”.  

Music can be so effective as a mood setter. If I need the mood to be sombre and serious particularly if I am doing visualisations with the group around what it feels like to be LGBT or having a positive pregnancy or STI test then I might play something by Ludovico Einuadi- which is all instrumental. I especially like this one. Yann Tiersen is also good for these types of activities.  Remember though at the end of the activity it is important to also break a sombre mood created with a very upbeat song such as this or this.  I love the idea of using the song “I touch myself” to introduce the topic of masturbation with certain groups  and I might have to include that next time I teach it if appropriate for that group!  Other sex ed related songs you could think about using/discussing might be “every sperm is sacred”, or “let’s talk about sex”– do you any other suitable suggestions?  One I suggest you DEFINITELY DON’T USE use with young people (well unless you have a career ending death wish 😉 is Consolidated (featuring the Yeastie girls): You suck!

2.  Analyze the music, lyrics and video.  “One of the things I’ve noticed is that a lot of the times what is communicated through the video for a song is not what’s in the song itself.  The examples I’ll give you are outdated ones, but I’ll share them for context:  Madonna’s Express Yourself is a song about empowerment and strength, but the video is all about being trapped, chained, etc.  Another is “The Reason” by Hoobastank — it’s a beautiful song about someone trying to be a better person for his partner — yet the video image is about a jewelry heist.  Talking about what the visual and music communicate then leads into discussions about relationships, communication or whatever the topic is that you’ll be discussing.

One thing I caution people about, though, is to not set up the students by showing them an image or listening to a song and labeling what they’ve seen or heard as negative.  This is really hard for me, especially when I use rap lyrics.  Every part of me wants to say, “Isn’t this SO misogynistic?” but that would shut them down.  So I ask them questions about how they feel about/react to it, which they gets us into our lesson on gender roles, norms, etc.”

Again I love this idea (any other video suggestions dear readers?) and think certain current artists- (eg. Rihanna) have a lot of video content that is definitely worth exploring and discussing with young people, to try and help them gain skills in critically analyse some of the explicit messages in the videos.

3.  Require them to integrate music into projects. ” A lot of times, this is a given — but if they are using technology anyway, or making a voiceover, or a video or a blog, etc., ask them to integrate music.  Sometimes, this can be connected to the topic — such as, “find me a song that communicates to me what you think a healthy relationship is” — or, it can be, “If you were mapping the path of an egg going down a fallopian tube, what kind of theme music would we hear?”  Makes it more fun and engaging — and is surprisingly revealing on how they think/feel about a particular topic.”

One thing we’ve done successfully on a vulnerable girls project I support is ask the girls to bring a piece of music that really speaks to them and do a short presentation about what the music is and why it means so much.  This really increased the girls confidence in sharing stuff as a group. A strong team bond was built from this and the deeper work around sex and relationships was much more effective as a result.

Developing educational materials using music “creating raps, songs, asking the room to write a song, create rhythms, etc.  It’s so creative, and again, gets them to think about the often overlooked musical intelligence.”

I think teachers often shy away from using music in lessons but getting students to create their own stuff is brilliant, for world AIDS day one year we had some really impressive poems, songs and raps written about how what the students had learned and how they felt about the pandemic.  Really impressive.

All in all I hope that provides you with some ideas about how to incorporate music into your SRE lessons. If you have other ideas please do share them, we’d love to hear them!