Reads of the Week #62

This week the divide between my old life and my new work became a little more evident. It’s quieter, nothing will beat the noise of a school though. There are fewer people in my day, and I’ve figured out how to be (somewhat) productive when working from home.

What I read this week was about History first. There are two deeply affecting pieces about the height of the Civil Rights Movement in the US on the one hand and a survivor of the Nagasaki bomb on the other. This contemporary article from Benjamin Fine for the New York Times on the Little Rock Nine, who were just trying to go to school, still has the capacity to shock, 60 years on, to the week. Sumiteru Taniguchi, who survived Nagasaki to become a peace activist, died in the last few days at 88. ‘Every year on the anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing, as well as any time a country conducted a nuclear test, he would attend a sit-in at the Peace Park in that city. According to the Nagasaki Shimbun, he appeared at 396 protests.’ The obit is by Motoko Rich. Both articles are examples of survival, perseverance and a commitment to right.

David Wong Louie wrote Eat, Memory: A life without food in Harper’s Magazine, about how his cancer treatment took away his enjoyment of food. That’s a seriously truncated description of this brutally honest and compelling writing. Again, survival is a theme here.

When we all get to school, the most valuable resource, and it is always in short supply, is time. Kenny Pieper writes in this short but insightful blogpost: imagine what we could achieve if, instead of a cupboard full of resources provided for our National courses, we were provided with the more valuable resource of Time. He’s right (again!), making the time to do the small things: commitment, energy and innovation all need time to grow in schools.

I also found something about the quirks of the German return to school by Rebecca Schuman. Suffice to say there are reasons why they don’t fret, but how also it’s getting a little out of hand!

In Ireland the place Shannon Mattern writes about in  A Stuffed History of Storage Spaces, is called ‘the press’. Her writing struck me first as a hoarder, second as a language student remembering Dr Terry Dolan explaining to us about Hiberno English and where the word press came from, and third she gave me the word wunderkammern to spend two hours reading about during the week!
Podcast of the week is The Invisible College Series from BBC Radio 4, produced and presented by Cathy Fitzgerald. The care and attention, not to mention the amount of archival research done for this series is amazing, and makes it essential for anyone who writes, or needs writers to explain their process (and work in general) to them.

Picture of the week is Una and the Lion by William Bell Scott which we saw in the National Gallery of Scotland last Easter on a lovely grey Edinburgh afternoon. It is a beautiful blend of innocence and power, of danger and coexistence. That’s life, isn’t it?

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Read of the Week #61

This week was about new beginnings, the image says it all: heading along a track knowing not where it is leading.

The reading week was eclectic, stretching from the circus last weekend in Las Vegas, through bereavement and on to the return to school and work for us in education. An allovertheplace week, the reading mirrors that.

 

First, here’s Dave Hannnigan writing about where Conor McGregor, not the the ‘mean streets of Dublin’, but the kind of world McGregor epitomises.

 

I don’t want to say too much about John Tomsett‘s beautiful piece in honour of his sister Beverley, you should just read it. I know where he is, I am there too.

 

Two articles now to get your newly returned teaching brain buzzing. First from George Couros5 Characteristics of a Change Agent. This is what we should be bringing to our classrooms, it won’t happen every day, but it is something to strive towards.

change agents

Secondly, Alex Quigley on painting the big picture for students in our subject area if we want them to develop an expertise. Here’s a paragraph that really struck me:

In education we can too often be beguiled by the notion of the ‘natural’ expert… but we can cultivate expertise in education more commonly by helping students seeing the ‘big picture’ of the subject domain, then breaking it down into a framework that can be learned and understood over time in the classroom.

Podcast of the Week is from 99% Invisible is on the town of Colma, California where the dead outnumber the living by a thousand to one. The Modern Necropolis.

The image of the week is from Kültür Tava, I called it The Road Ahead. Keep your eyes on the horizon.

One step forward, two steps back: The future of the ASTI

future-or-pastThe future, the bright and glorious future we are promised is as uncertain as it has ever been. We are in a process of stripping away all the valuable work we have done on education. Remember this association is a professional representative body as well as a trade union. Time for parrhesia. (In Plato’s Apology Socrates says: the cause of my unpopularity was my parrhesia, my fearless speech, my frank speech, my plain speech, my unintimidated speech.)

It is irresponsible for anyone to hide their view of what has gone wrong and what will happen next because they wanted to be popular. My analysis is motivated by a desire to make a positive contribution to the ASTI, though I expect I’ll be chastised for not pulling in the same direction as the crowd, for saying things that the people you get your information from do not want to hear.  The ASTI cheerleaders now have put on the agenda motivations that have been kept in abeyance for a decade. Back then we were embroiled in a strategy of having no allies and no direction. It took too long time to restore the reputation of the ASTI, if it was ever restored.

I know that by writing this, I will be accused of having other motives. Of late, it has become verboten to express any opinion contrary to the story ASTI members have been told.  In the past, even over the last few weeks, I have been accused of seeking to raise my profile in the ASTI, of trying get revenge for my defeat in internal elections, of using my knowledge of the history, structures and my service to the ASTI as weaponry to down the union, of being an apologist for the government. It is clear that, rather than accepting that there may be people who disagree with decisions made by the ASTI, some reach instead for other motives. (The irony of the way that some of the current leadership has tried to rewrite that same history and spent the last number of years undermining the work done by the ASTI should not be lost on us comrades.) The very fact that I write a blog, which has increasingly become dominated by criticism of this small group of members, some of whom we might expect should know better, has been criticised at executive level of the union. The real reason we (because I am not alone in this view, I’m just the one who ends up writing this stuff down) have become the target is as a a way of avoiding any discussion of ‘inconvenient truths’. But whatever our views, we are expected to button our lips and let the great and good get on with it.

 

lone-tree-landscape-isolation-black-and-white-photography-edward-princeThe ASTI has no friends. Instead there is a vague ‘them’ which opposes us include every education body in the country: the NCCA, Teaching Council, School Principals, education journalists, parents’ bodies, other teacher unions and of course the Department of Education itself. This ‘them’ is plotting against us and focussed on us, and act with calculated spite. In this version of the education debate, the ASTI stands alone against this ‘evil’, that single-handed against an ‘unscrupulous enemy’. It sounds ludicrous because it is ludicrous. Each of the bodies mentioned differ from the ASTI in that they don’t see the ASTI as being the centre of the universe while the ASTI’s current leadership view of itself is vainglorious and self-absorbed. And as a result the ASTI is increasingly less relevant.

In fighting our shapeshifting, ubiquitous enemies we are to be a permanent army of discontent, preparing ourselves for perpetual war which we win without endangering our most vulnerable members. It is to be contemptuous of trade unionism to favour no negotiation, no resolutions, no consequences, and promising whatever you like. We would do well to remember that a perpetually fighting, isolated and destitute union is not the union handed to us by our betters.

What is wrong with engaging with these outside bodies? If the ASTI was inclined to be a cat among those pigeons it could make alliances, put common ground under us, rather than trade in paranoia. The relationship between the ASTI and the media, for example, is fraught: on the one hand we are told they are the devil, that they are unsupportive and in bed with the government, while at the same time giving journalists every opportunity to write about the crazy things we do without giving context to these crazy things. It becomes a truism that the ASTI is resistant to change.

Reflecting on the most recent campaign, if we can call it that, we would have to ask what the media strategy was? The media, the public at large will never be the friend of a union at war by itself. When your spokespeople are overexposed or missing in action you haven’t a chance of shaping the story. Most teachers don’t spend their time discussing the ASTI, most citizens of this Republic don’t care about the politics of trade unions. They might see a headline on facebook, but more likely catch a bit of the nine o’clock news or Morning Ireland in the car. Social media isn’t the beginning or the end of media engagement, but should reinforce the message. Appearing on tv and radio at every possible opportunity requires having a disciplined message underpinning a coherent objective. None of this was in evidence during the campaign.

3b0891d87e35dffec9f7ad17347ce2e6There were always three ASTI camps: one wanted to chance everything to achieve our desired outcomes, one wanted to do nothing, and one wanted to act in a calculated way. It has become clear that the first two are merging into one, making common cause against change (on Junior Cycle for example), they have and will block any advance towards a single pay scale, they make promises they have no intention of honouring. When the tide goes out, these two groups will blame their failures on others.

In the narrative of permanent attack, ideas and rigorous discussion have disappeared. So that teachers can be led in whatever direction the leadership dictate, it is necessary to withhold information, to pretend the ASTI has been weak for a decade. It becomes the truth that being in the trade union movement is worse than being isolated and fighting alone against the ‘bad guys’ mentioned above. The saddest effect of the recent campaign is that teachers whose new engagement might otherwise have been a bonus, has instead been built on a belief that shouting loudest is preferable to negotiating. Those teachers are bound to be become disillusioned with the cheques the leadership write go uncashed, weakening the ASTI when the purported aim was to strengthen it. The ASTI’s place should be in the trade union family, putting the case, built on logic, that teachers have things of value to say.

When people feel threatened they don’t think clearly. In recent times the greatest threats come from within, warning that if you don’t support the strategy you are against us, even when you know the strategy is flawed. The shameful truth is that we listen to the hostile, narcissistic narrative of them versus us and many of us have started to believe it. But, just as teachers can’t do their job without support, teacher unions simply cannot take to the field alone, if we intend to enter the field at all. Without friends, other teacher unions especially, we are diminished.

WB Yeats, when writing about the Irish Free State said a nation reaching intellectual maturity, he said pride replaced vanity, and the proud do not disguise their faults. The ASTI is not there yet, the self-confidence to examine our mistakes is not a feature of the union, it appears to be too much work to learn from errors (the irony of this for people who deal with teenagers all day should not be lost).

So there is a crisis which has not been acknowledged by our leadership. With the majority of members disengaged but still having a residual trust in their leadership, a trust routinely abused by Standing Committee and CEC. The absence of professional negotiators, magnified by their distrust of Head Office officials, has eroded the ASTI’s standing among trade unions. The further acceptance and promulgation of simplistic answers to the complex issues of pay and conditions go unchallenged now. Going back to Yeats and development of self respect: the more members know of the reality of our union’s actions, the more they will realise we lack that self respect.

 

plan-bSo this isn’t just a conflict between the ASTI and government departments, it is also a struggle for the ASTI itself. Only when we take back control of the ASTI will it start to do what it should be doing for all of us. We will have to have a clear programme for all teachers to be more involved in their union. We will have to organise, prepare, things that good teachers do. Unions should do so much more than, as Tony Benn put it, ‘actively favour the conservative policy of acquisitiveness’, this applies to what is wrong with the ASTI, and when he said they ‘have hardly made any serious effort to explain their work to those who are not union members, even to the wives and families of those who are’, he could have been describing the view of the ASTI from the outside. There are structural issues with the union (I dealt with those here) but there is also the problem of the ideas we stand for being unclear, even to members. These ideas should be capable of seeing off the wreckers. But we should not delay in refocusing on education and restructuring the ASTI. We should aid and encourage each other, in every school and branch to lead the ASTI from the bottom up, rather than the top down, to do away with uncertainty and humming and hawing. Anyone who doubts that this is possible should be disabused of their concerns. These are the days of dispute for dispute sake, of backward conservatism and the interests of our most vulnerable comrades are dispensable. We must be firm and decisive when the pieces are to be picked up. We must know what we want and make it clear to our opponents. And we must hurry.

This especially is the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, directly and courageously. We should not be afraid of facing the perilous state of our union now. This union will only endure, recover and thrive if we banish the negative narrative of teacher union weakness. A capable and bold leadership is not in evidence now and supporting the direction we are taking is is plainly difficult for many teachers. The difficulties facing teachers are too numerous to mention (read this post of mine on alienation in the profession), but we should be facing them together. What does getting rid (momentarily) of Croke Park hours, for example, do for new entrants? What does removing access to CIDs do for non-permanent teachers? What does closing off redeployment do? Expectations of what can be achieved are being blown out of all proportion, and lead to inevitable defeat and meaningless posturing. In an atmosphere where our sister unions have decided to put their members first and negotiate on their behalf, our leadership has chosen to sail the ship so close to the rocks as to risk losing everything. Of course, when you can blame the rocks for wrecking your ship, you can sail where you like. The complaint that we have been mistreated as if we never knew what the official side were going to do is nonsense. The official response didn’t emerge from nowhere like some plague of frogs. It would appear that the truth, that it was known all along what would happen if the ASTI repudiated a pay agreement, is still hard for some to admit.

failing-report-cardIt is hard not to think of the ASTI when rereading Gramsci: ‘a crisis in and of itself will not change the position of your opposition, it makes you weaker, or at best (gives) the appearance of weakness’. That is why the campaign of strike action on Junior Cycle was so successful: it was calm, studied, firm resistance, built on the voice of teachers (and Teachers’ Voice). It wasn’t a decision made in crisis and it had the backing of teachers and the public throughout in its execution. What has replaced this guile and ability to get things done? Stubbornness, incompetence, unscrupulous abdication of responsibility and clinging to outworn ideas are born out of fear of change and the desire to preserve ego.

These are dark days, comrades, but it will be worth the darkness if it teaches us our union survives when we are not, as FDR put it ‘ministered unto but minister to ourselves’. Talking about it is not enough. In recreating a  functioning union, we have to do two things: we have to abandon gambling when we have no cards and we have to provide sound, evidence based strategy that can be explained to the public and be clear to teachers.

The ASTI faces an existential crisis. There will be those who prefer to just to say: all the problems that exist are the fault of ‘them’. They also seem to believe making agreements is an act of treason. It is treason though to seek agreements to make teachers working lives worse. It is trade unionism to seek incremental improvements to works pay and conditions.

If the ASTI goes down the road some are proposing, will you just comfort yourself by blaming it on the newspapers and the Minister for Education? Will that get you through the pain of pay disparity and creeping managerialism? These might be uncomfortable questions but the situation is perilous and unless satisfactory answers are offered, we enable the very people who want to protest until death.

 

istock_000015626570smallbowlingRepeatedly when I have asked what we could do to reach the disaffected, uninvolved member, I heard responses that dismissed them as ‘people who use the union as an insurance policy’, or that ‘I never hear from disaffected members’. I have always been convinced that unless we embark on a process which at least turns those members into ASTI-aware teachers, and at best mobilises them in a genuine campaign of action, the ASTI will wither away in failure. I am worried that the lack of desire for problem-solving might be because of the fear of failure on our side. When fear is the leadership’s only bond with the members, paper and map authority is all that exists, like the Ottoman Empire of old. The difference is the authoritarians of the 19th and 20th centuries were generally disciplined and had grandiose plans. The plan in this instance is underdeveloped and opaque, built on a fragile impulse to lash out at anything that threatens a fragile sense of self-esteem. In between those disinterested  and disaffected teachers and those claiming to lead there are the vast bulk of us who don’t care, but enable the leadership. This has caused longterm damage to the union and to teachers themselves. This has allowed an ugliness to surface, online and in person among ASTI members, tainting the union and the many good people who believe in it. We are going to have to get off the fence.

When you leaders are being attacked, then underperforming, then becoming defensive, intolerance towards any criticism results. I’ve spent years trying to present the ASTI positively to teachers and the public, but now I’m a Tory, this blog is an echo chamber (duh!), a suck up to the media, etc etc.

To criticise the leadership is to facilitate the media-government conspiracy that assumes the ASTI is the centre of the national narrative. But those attacks differ from what I’m doing in that they want the ASTI to fail, or at least neutral, I want the exact opposite, I am anything but neutral: I want the ASTI to succeed or the ASTI will crash and burn and an essential support for teachers in distress will be discredited in the eyes of those who most need it.

The residual loyalty ASTI members seem to feel for their leaders is ebbing away. This union is not inclusive, it is not optimistic. When even different views from inside the tent can’t be tolerated, this isn’t likely to change.

A clear manifesto, five or ten priorities would refocus the ASTI as a professional body and as a trade union. Starting a process of finding out what teachers in schools want, might be instructive and might mobilise the activists to reach those who are disengaged. All the failures to communicate clear strategy, failures to inform, and having something we are for, not just things were are against. Leadership from the members.

 

free-thinker-copyThe intellectualism and interest in education that should drive the ASTI needs to be fostered. In fact the very opposite has become the norm: dispensing with research, providing anti-intellectual arguments for decisions, the promotion of reactionary tactics, the failure to get ahead of the opposition, to take decisions when time is right.

Gramsci again: ‘there is no organisation without intellectuals, that is without organisers and leaders… But the process of creating intellectuals is long and difficult, full of contradictions, advances and retreats, dispersal and regrouping, in which the loyalty of the masses is often sorely tried.’

Intellectualism shouldn’t be a dirty word, any organisation that wants to survive has to create its own intellectuals to develop its own identity. They should be fostered, trained and supported by their union, teachers are ideal for this, and the ASTI should be encouraging them in trade union training, rather than accepting those school by political parties outside the trade union movement.

We have to put our own house in order and serve teachers first. We should dedicate the ASTI to a policy of self respect first, from that follows respect for other education bodies, they then will respect their obligations and the agreements we have made. (When we enter the arena, without sacrificing our morals and ideals, we level the playing field)

None of that can happen until there is a rebalancing of the authority of the executive branches of the union and the membership. This will be the hardest task. In the event that members fail to take back control of their union and this crisis continues, beyond the current battle, as it did in the last decade, the ASTI will become a spent force.

Having 18,000 members is a powerful position, holding on to them in the current climate might proved tricky, but I’m more interested in mobilising them over the long term. There are so many things we can’t tackle because of the refusal to resolve the issues put before us in the most recent ballot.

So. Where is the clear vision? What are we in favour of, in simple language what do we want?

 

Two stories to finish.

I remember some years ago meeting the father in law of a friend of mine who asked what I did for a living, when I told him I was a teacher, he responded ‘you aren’t one of those ASTI loopers are you’. I laughed it off, but I didn’t forget it. I don’t like being that guy at a social gathering. I like being a teacher. I’m proud of being a teacher.

When I mentioned to a friend my intention of writing another blogpost about the ASTI, he texted back ‘why bother?’ We teachers are used to managerialism or teaching to the test wearing us down, but when we are being worn down by the professional body to which we should be drawn for comfort and support, a change has to come.

 

This is the final part of a three part analysis of the ASTI.

Part one is here, part two is here

 

Fintan O’Mahony

CEC member 2003-16

Standing Committee 2011-16

ASTI member since 1993

Responses/comments welcome as always

twitter: @levdavidovic

20 Reasons to vote Yes this time (January 2017 Ballot)

  1. This is the final offer. Would these negotiators get anything extra when the offer on the table is exactly what was on offer before the negotiations began? The Lansdowne Road train is about to leave the station with every other union on board. Anything they get, you cannot have until you accept this offer.
  2. The line is being spun by some that the ASTI can ‘join the Lansdowne Road Agreement at any time’. What has this been about then? Why campaign, threaten and ultimately close schools when the plan is to join LRA at some future date anyway?
  3. Running several campaigns at once has been a disaster. Pay equality has, as predicted, disappeared behind the silliness of no-impact action like banning Croke Park hours and a frankly ludicrous plan to stop doing supervision and substitution.
  4. Anyone who opted to do s&s or who was co-opted into doing it, has not been paid to do it since the start of the school year. A pensionable payment for s&s FOR EVERY TEACHER has been passed up. The only way to be paid for s&s completed, or to come, is to be in a pay agreement; asserting, as some do, that we can claim payment for them ‘at a later date’ will entail doing the work for free in the meantime.
  5. Being outside a pay agreement is a nightmare for anyone who is in an over quota school and expecting to be redeployed, anyone expecting a CID next September, anyone expecting a promotion, anyone expecting to retire, and for anyone else who could do with the increment that will disappear. For all these people you need to vote yes.
  6. The campaign to halt Junior Cycle Reform was over in the summer of 2015, but our then leadership couldn’t take the win they had, to their credit, pulled off in cooperation with the TUI against all the predictions. Move on.
  7. It is almost too late for another minority group among our number: English teachers, another example of this union not standing up for its most vulnerable members. English teachers should get training, their students should be marked for all the work they produce, and teachers should be able to shape their practice themselves, like professionals. The ASTI has denied them all this. The best way to change the Junior Cycle now is to engage with it.
  8. If you want to be on strike again in the second half of the school year, knowing how little it achieved before Christmas, then by all means vote no, but be prepared to put our most vulnerable members at risk see above.
  9. If you think a vote to reject this offer will mean never doing Croke Park hours remember this: it this isn’t industrial action, it is just rescheduling parent teacher meetings and staff meetings. The offer includes an increase from 5 to 10 hours of that time to be completed at the teacher’s discretion. Deduct that time from the total and take out parent teacher meetings we are left with two staff days and three one hour staff meetings to complete in a year. That’s what you’re voting to avoid with a no.
  10. So, Croke Park hours are not going away, everyone in the public service is required to complete them, including the other two teacher trade unions. The only way to get rid of them, if that’s the aim, is to negotiate our way out of it, to do that we have to be in a pay agreement.
  11. Saying we have leverage in continuing to resist Junior Cycle reform and Croke Park hours begs the question: why were these issues placed on the table in the negotiation at all? The reality is, and always has been that Pay Equality has never been the priority for the ASTI. The only way to solve the issue to make common cause with our sister teacher unions who have already moved on to the next stage: pushing for the PME allowance and securing increases at low cost through negotiation for their members.
  12. To say that our action caused the changes to newer pay scales that was negotiated by the other unions in insulting to them and frankly to our intelligence. If you really believe an offer that was made and accepted in July was only on the table because we were balloting on strike action in September, when the outcome of the ballot wasn’t even known, there is nothing for it but to lament the path we took: instead of accepting an offer to negotiate, our leadership declined, only to put the same offer to us months later.
  13. To post-2011 teachers: your willingness to fight for equality has shown all of us up. Your  situation has not been taken seriously enough. One of the few positives of this campaign has been your story getting through to the public. Nonetheless, you have been over-promised: you were told it was equality or nothing, but unions don’t work like that. You need to stay involved to keep the pressure on, but there is no pay equality outside and fighting alone.
  14. Don’t believe the hype about the Garda deal ‘outside the trade union family’. If being on the outside is so great, why are the Garda representative bodies so anxious to come into the family? And when someone says the Guards got a great deal, we can get a great deal, remember two things: they have professional negotiators and they didn’t have to take a  single strike day.
  15. The negotiations have been marked by ineptitude. Do you believe that those who came back with nothing more than was on offer before we closed schools will go back and get some undefined extra concession? The unprofessional and ill-disciplined way this whole campaign has been run tell us that whatever cards we held going into the talks are gone.
  16. Fempi, the root of all evil, is only being used against the ASTI because we asked for it. When we voted to withdraw from Croke Park time, the government did what they told us they would do: they withdrew the good stuff about pay agreements: redeployment, the Ward Report covering CIDs, payment for S&S and so on. They told us they would do this in the autumn of 2015 and our leadership chose to ignore the warning. Some people say we have been bullied, it isn’t bullying if you asked for it, it’s masochism.
  17. It isn’t the fault of the newspapers, or the other unions, or any outside body that we find ourselves in this situation, it is our own fault. We listened when they promised all our problems would be solved, that the government would cave, or maybe even fall when we stood up to them, that we could get a separate ‘sectoral deal’ for a single union, even though we had no support, no public backing, all to make the ASTI great again.
  18. The only way to restore the good name of the ASTI is to accept this offer, lick our wounds and within our union, OUR union, call out those responsible for this debacle and insist they take responsibility for the mess. If you vote no, you are handing the responsibility for solving all these problems to people who have singularly failed to get any of what they told you they would get you. Voting no will send the ASTI into a spiral of decline that will mirror and multiply the decline we suffered a decade and a half ago.
  19. There was another way: we could have campaign vigorously for acceptance of the final offer on Junior Cycle Reform (some people did), taking it off the table, we could have engaged alongside our sister unions and achieved gains for teachers who qualified since 2012, we could have avoided the complication of strike and closing schools on succeeding days, we could have moved on, as has the rest of the trade union family to renegotiating LRA to the advantage of all teachers. But not doing Croke Park hours and doing s&s for free were far more important than any of that.
  20. If you want your action to be limited to lunchtime protests and the like to in effect wag your finger at the problem rather than actually do something about it, then vote no, but if our leadership had the courage of their recommendation to vote no, wouldn’t you expect them to also have the courage to close schools and hit exams? Wasn’t this a do or die issue in the autumn? The news that work-to-rule action is the limit of their confidence and planning if the offer is declined says it all: this is over.

 

We might have expected that the trust thus far shown by ASTI members in their leadership might have been reciprocated with an honest acknowledgement of the seriousness of the issue in a recommendation that allows members to chose an exit from this debacle. Furthermore, in most organisations when you dig a hole this deep, you accept responsibility and at least apologise, but this isn’t a functioning organisation. Instead we have the persistent appeasement of a tiny band of extremists who tried to avoid a ballot of members at all and now want to drive our union into the dust.

 

This is over. It is time to move on. Vote Yes. 


Fintan O’Mahony


CEC member 2003-16


Standing Committee 2011-16


ASTI member since 1993


Responses/comments welcome as always


twitter: @levdavidovic
Image 

One of those classes: children on top of my greenhouse

Child on Top of a Greenhouse 

The wind billowing out the seat of my britches,

My feet crackling splinters of glass and dried putty,

The half-grown chrysanthemums staring up like accusers,

 Up through the streaked glass, flashing with sunlight,

A few white clouds all rushing eastward,

A line of elms plunging and tossing like horses, 

 And everyone, everyone pointing up and shouting! 

 Theodore Roethke 

Thursday was one of those days. One of those classes that just clicked and a group of 12 year olds, without knowing it gave their teacher the belief that good things can come from throwing the plan out the window.

We were reading Theodore Roethke‘s Child on Top of a Greenhouse, having spent the whole month on poetry. We started by linking Bruegel’s painting Landscape with the Fall of Icarus with poems by William Carlos Williams and WH Auden about the painting. Looking at paintings is a great way into a poem, the visual, the narrative, the surface and the depth of a painting are great mirrors for how I want them to see a poem: what comes naturally in reading a painting can be taught quickly for a poem. You have to present them with the limitless possibilities in a piece of art: I tell them there are no wrong answers and no judgement but we’ll move ahead when we’re all happy with a suggestion. I like to introduce ‘the maybe’, ‘maybe he’s saying…’ maybe it shows…’

We wrote some poems, haikus about what we saw.

We moved on to First Steps by Van Gogh. I didn’t link this to a poem but used it for a writing exercise for homework and built on the still moment in a painting so we could discuss the stillness in a poem. I didn’t talk about it that way, but talked about a snapshot, or a selfie that captures a fleeting thing forever.

Then we went ‘under the surface’ The Road Not Taken: we discussed the ending first, where is Frost when he tells us the story?, how does he feel about it ?and then the choices he made, the choices we make. All very structured, me taking less of a lead, but still prodding their ideas along, them getting more confident.

Last week we tore into Blackberry Picking by Seamus Heaney to look at the senses and emotions in a seasonal poem that has all the heartbreak of youth, but still an adult’s view, looking back. The haikus they wrote, edited and tweeted in response are here.

So it was all going pretty well before we even got to Roethke. I wanted to do a mirroring exercise: take the poem and rewrite for yourself. That had to wait.

I opened with a joke in the first line, how does the wind billow out the back of your trousers? They smile but set me straight, it’s not flatulence it’s how high up he is! We talk about the onomatopoeic cracks under his feet as he realises how high up he is, we look for other onomatopoeic words. I explain what putty is (the generation gap!) and it’s all going fine. I think it is when we get to chrysanthemums that things take off. I say they are sometimes symbolic of death but I don’t know if that’s what Roethke has in mind. Someone says they’re half grown like the boy. Someone else says he’s going to get killed, not literally but throwing forward to the end, killed ‘like parents do'(!). Then we talk about sunlight and streaked glass, ‘the place the child was in’, ‘he’s up high, he can see stuff he doesn’t see when he’s down low’ and the transition into my favourite part of the poem is ready, so far: 90% their work. Look at those clouds, look at those trees, I say. ‘He can see new things’, ‘maybe he hasn’t noticed this stuff before’, ‘maybe he’s very still, because he doesn’t want to break the glass and everything in the sky is moving’ (no homework for you!), ‘the horses’ manes are like the trees in the wind’  ‘when you said about the chrysanthemums, they were half grown, maybe he isn’t going to be the same after this’, ‘maybe this is when he grows up’ (no homework for anyone!).

‘I think he mightn’t care about the adults pointing up’, ‘they aren’t just adults, it’s everyone’, why does he repeat everyone?, I ask, ‘for emphasis’ (love that), ‘but maybe it was a barbecue and all the neighbours are there, even his grandparents are pointing’ (beautiful). And then this clincher: ‘I don’t think he cares about them being angry.’ I push here, and they divide into two groups, some say ‘he does care, it brings him back down to earth’ (I don’t acknowledged this because I’m floating on air at that stage), some others say ‘maybe he’s a man now, writing this and he knows being up on the greenhouse is the right place to be’.

And I tell my students, twelve year old girls who rode the crest of this poem and didn’t blink an eye, that this has been the best class in my room for years. and as they’re leaving one turns to another and says ‘that was good, wasn’t it?, ‘yeah,’ comes the reply, like they can do this all the time.

And while this doesn’t happen every day, or even week, I’m the better for it, because it makes me reach, and they’re the better for it because it makes them think. I didn’t think once of outcomes, or objectives or process, but I was a teacher in the middle of it all.

 

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Reads of the Week #47

First post in this series for 2016 has a New Year feel: things to read, Christmas memories, reflections on the year gone by, the best photos of 2015 and the start of a new sporting year. 

Here are 50 Great 21st Century Novels For 6th Formers

These are the books James Wood of the New Yorker loved in 2015

Harper Lee’s Christmas in New York

This is Katie Coyle’s year in reading and grief
Two sets of photos: 2015 in photos from the White House, and the New York Times best photos of 2015

And finally two great sporting reads: Paul Rouse on the glorious disease called Hope for GAA players, and PM O’Sullivan’s interview with Shane McGrath is powerful too.

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For teachers. For a change.

A year ago, I asked ASTI members to support me in seeking election to the office of Vice-President. I promised then to reinvigorate the ASTI with ideas, action and solidarity between teachers. I wanted to draw strength from our members and drive the ASTI forward. Since the last election, things have become more fraught for the ASTI: the strong action we took on Junior Cycle reform has faded away, we have voted to reject proposals on pay, the union appears divided and unable to act. These headline concerns have prevented us from dealing with the issues of teacher welfare, of multiple pay scales and of improving the structures and reach of our union. Action is required to tackle these crucial problems and move on to a more secure teaching profession.

In recent ballots on critical issues, up to two thirds of our members did not vote. We should regard this as a warning. There is no doubt that the ASTI still holds the attention of its members, days on the picket line and visiting schools proved that when asked to act members respond. I know the members are looking for honest answers, not easy answers; clear leadership, not false promises and political naivety. But the gap between members and our leaders seems to have grown. How many teachers in schools know the way the ASTI is structured? How many are in touch with the leadership? The ASTI needs visible and dynamic figures to represent the union in public.The confidence that we have always had as a profession shouldn’t be something we celebrate just at Convention every year, but something that guides us in our development as a union every day. Confidence in the ASTI supports everything else: it allows us to progress, to support each other, to give aid to the weakest among us. If teachers are losing that faith as evidence by poor turnouts in ballots, we have to act to change. We know the strength of our numbers. We had the support of the public when we remained strong on Junior Cycle reform. But we should act to regain our unity of purpose. We are the heirs of teachers who survived warnings, threats, and vitriol every bit as difficult as those that challenge us now. Those ASTI members, strong men and women, shaped our union, our education system. It is time we became a generation worthy of taking their union on to the next step, and in that process rebuild the unity and confidence of the ASTI. To restore the faith and confidence of members in the ASTI, I ask members to support me again for Vice President.

If we have faith in our union’s relationship with its members, faith in our unions structures, and faith in the future of the ASTI, nothing needs to change. If we believe work has to be done to be restore that relationship between teachers and the ASTI, that work has to be done to improve our union, or to restore our vision of Irish education, our course is in our hands. Restoring the faith and confidence the ASTI should enjoy is the most important task we face. It is the challenge of this generation of ASTI members. To answer that challenge though action I want To lead the ASTI.

We are at a crossroads. One road ensures self-interest and fragmentation. It promises internal and external conflict, chaos, immobility. Failure. All the work of our predecessors, all the lessons we have learned point us towards the path of common purpose and the restoration of what the ASTI stands for: teachers. I do not promise you that reinvigorating the ASTI will be achieved without great effort, but in doing this work I will tell you the truth, sometimes that will be easy to hear, sometimes it won’t. I do not promise a quick way out of our problems on Junior Cycle or Lansdowne Road, when the truth is that the only way out is an all-out effort. What I do promise you is that I will lead our fight, and I will represent the ASTI with fairness and honesty in whatever direction our struggle brings us. Above all, I will act. I will travel to as many schools as possible, to listen to teachers in their staffrooms. They will help us to develop a new agenda for the ASTI, I will listen to them and I will act. We will act together. I make these promises to you and I intend to keep them. 
Our greatest resources are ASTI teachers, ASTI values, and a restored ASTI confidence. 

I will do my best, but I will not do it alone. Let your voice be heard. Let us commit ourselves together to a renewed ASTI. Acting together, we cannot fail. 
For teachers.

For a change.

About me 

Facebook: Elect Fintan

Twitter: @levdavidovic