Diary of an NQT
Don’t stop believing...
OUR DEPARTMENT’S ominous appraisal cast its long shadow over this week and I began it with much trepidation. But the rewards have made the ardour worthwhile and I finish it with the satisfaction of having twice been graded “good”, once with outstanding features – and that shocked me into realising that I have made steady development already this year. The week began at 8.30am on
Monday morning with my form assembly. Year 7 entered to my form’s dancing stickmen on screen, gyrating to the chorus of Journey’s Don’t
stop believing, a comical
prologue! The little dears were visibly
nervous, but got through their presentation on positive thinking and it stuck at the forefront of my mind all through a trying week. The short piece of drama they produced was met by applause and laughter, one girl putting in a stirring performance as a demon headteacher! Running straight to period one
and my first observation, I had little time to catch my breath, or indeed stop humming Journey. My year 10s were their usual optimistic selves and were dragged by an over-enthused me through a reasonable lesson for them. Perhaps they should’ve attended the assembly for some inspiration themselves! Some made very good progress and
were helpfully playing along to my exuberant questioning, to which I was thoroughly pleased. Despite a lesson preaching to the heathens my feedback went reasonably well and I was happy my big test for the week was over early. Amid long after-school sessions planning and
marking, I found time for a bout of year 9 parents’ evening. My boys’ class is typically rowdy, but on the whole quite decent and so it made the
The power to make a difference
THE GENERAL election may not be happening for another few months, but political campaigning has certainly become all pervasive. Education is, of course, a key battleground and politicians seem to like nothing better than visiting schools and colleges and showing how well (or otherwise) they are able to communicate with young people. Many of us who work in education would prefer
that education was not such a “political football”, but interference has definitely been increasing during my time as a teacher, rather than diminishing. I was therefore rather surprised by
the presentations made at a conference for the independent education sector which I recently attended. Each of the three main parties had sent their would- be minister for schools to take part in a panel session. There was an amazing amount of
agreement between them. All agreed that we had suffered from a surfeit of regulations and too much “top-down” interference. To hear a current Labour minister state
that we had had far too many regulatory requirements imposed on schools and that these would now be rationalised and reduced was frankly astounding, albeit excellent news! We have had 10 major Education Acts during Labour’s 13 years in power and new ones have been introduced while the ink was barely dry on the old, without waiting to consider their impact. As teachers and heads, our mantra is
the circular one of “plan, monitor, evaluate, review” – I have seen little evidence of such reflective practice from the politicians in charge of education in my many years of teaching. All three party representatives agreed that we
now needed less regulation and fewer initiatives. There was also general consensus about reducing the burden of inspection. The Liberal Democrat spokesman bemoaned the
“factory farming” approach to 14 to 19 education, which had been exacerbated by the modularisation of examinations. All agreed that we had developed an irrational focus on the C/D borderline at GCSE, caused by the five A* to C targets, and that this had led to neglect of the most able and those who were
struggling at the lower levels.However, none wished to end league tables! The issue of safeguarding was also discussed.
As we are all too aware, safeguarding children is now at the heart of all school inspection and much government policy. If elected, the Conservatives plan to abolish ContactPoint and review the new Independent Safeguarding Authority, declaring that recording every child’s details on a national computerised database and collecting opinions, as well as facts, about the conduct of 11 million adults who may have some contact with other people’s children will do little to improve the lot of the most vulnerable children in our society. The final speaker was Camila Batmanghelidjh, the founder of Kids Company, who works directly with thousands of the most vulnerable
children in very challenging areas of London. She spoke brilliantly, movingly
and from the heart. Her message was that we have created a massive system which does not serve the vast majority of our vulnerable children and that when this system fails to be effective we transfer the problem onto the children, labelling them “hard to
reach”. Her descriptions of the psychological
state of the very damaged children who self-refer to her centres were shocking, but illuminating. The audience began to realise why we have such a problem with disaffection and violence from certain groups of young people
and how they need to be helped in a very different way. The contrast between someone who has spent
many years working first-hand with young people and endeavouring to understand and help them and the politicians was stark. Yet it is only really the latter who have the power to make things change. At the moment all political parties seem keen to listen and to please – will it last?
• Marion Gibbs is headmistress of the independent James Allen’s Girls’ School in London.
conversations quite easy really. I tend to enjoy these consultations, even if they are exhausting. Keeping to my positive theme for the
week, I tried to motivate and concentrate on achievements, rather than flag up typical adolescent boy traits. It was interesting to meet the mothers they all go on about so profusely! The week has drawn to a close with
final observations and positioned at the other end of the spectrum was my year 7 class. It was almost harder to
plan for this, as they are so eager they would probably do just about anything. I tried to make the lesson fun and their drawings of minotaurs certainly were interesting! Throwing in as many techniques from last year that I could muster, I raced through
an action-packed lesson and to be fair they went with me. Knowing I had already shot myself
in the foot by forgetting to take their books in last lesson for marking, I approached my feedback cautiously. I thought I had done okay but that certain aspects were a bit naïve and would have benefited from me taking a more considered approach (or just being
a bit less forgetful!). To my delight and surprise, the
feedback was incredible. Some of the boys made comments about me that were truly wonderful (with no cash bribes needed) and I was told that my “outstanding” teaching was only let down by my forgetfulness in accurate
feedback and marking. I finish my week raising an exhausted, triumphant fist to the air, like some victorious boxer after several fateful (and occasionally lucky) rounds with Tyson. A win on points is still a victory.
• Matt Connett is a newly qualified teacher of English at Shenfield High, a training school in Brentwood in Essex. He returns after Easter.
Dr Stephanie Thornton
discusses the challenges of managing feelings of gender confusion, Gender Identity Disorder, and even sex-change in adolescents
ENDER IDENTITY Disorder – or GID – is nothing new. The sensation of having been born in the wrong body, of being a boy trapped in a girl’s body or a woman trapped in a man’s seems to be as old as history.
What is new, however, is professional and public
acceptance of the reality of trans-sexuality, and the availability of medical and surgical processes to help the individual make the transition to what they regard as their natural gender. And in particular, what is new is the willingness of professionals to help even pre- pubescent children to start along this route.
The media reacted with their usual emotion to the revelation of a 12-year-old who left primary school as a boy and began secondary school as a girl last year. The reaction was still more extreme in reporting
a nine-year-old boy who switched to dressing and identifying herself as a girl. Parents of other children, both in the schools concerned and nationally, also seem to have been disturbed by these events – and one may speculate that many teachers, too, may be bemused. What is going on here? Can it be right for such
young individuals to embark on a path so radical and so difficult and challenging? We do not entirely understand what causes GID.
The more we understand about neurology, the more we have realised that there are differences between male and female brains; differences that affect behaviour, attitudes, sexual orientation, and our sense of who we are.
The more we understand about development in
the womb, the more we have realised that genes only set the scene for development into one gender or the other: the real driving force of such development is hormonal. Since different parts of the embryo develop at
different times, it is entirely possible for genital gender to be the opposite of brain gender. And yet, it seems unlikely that the explanation of GID is purely physiological: there may be other, experiential factors which build on these beginnings, taking the child’s experience in one direction or another. Research shows that the sense of being in the wrong
gender body begins very young. For example, one of the most prominent of early trans-sexuals, Jan Morris, describes sitting under a piano at about five years of age utterly convinced that his male body was all wrong, that he should be female. Such experiences are fairly typical. And the pain of such a feeling is real, and severe:
something around 50 per cent of individuals who feel that they are in the wrong body try to suicide. Many more are intensely unhappy. And most identify the experience of having to go through puberty in the wrong gender as the most acute period of misery and despair. Trans-sexuals who have made the transition in adult
life typically say that life would have been so much better if they had been able to change before puberty. And all of this has driven the current thinking that GID should be taken seriously in childhood, and that children in this position should get professional help. It is worth noting that GID in childhood is very
much more than a passing desire to be the opposite gender or to have the privileges of that other gender. The diagnostic criteria stipulate that the child must show four or more of the following, to be identified as GID: • Persistent insistence that he or she is the other sex. • Persistent “cross-dressing”. • Persistent cross-gender roles in make-believe play. • Intense desire to play the stereotypical games of the opposite sex.
• Strong preference for playmates of the opposite sex.
All of these things are in stark contrast to the child
happy in his or her birth gender: children are notoriously slavish in dressing to mark their gender, playing gender- typical roles and games, and segregating themselves in same-gender groups. The GID child is markedly out of step with his or
her peers – and this adds to the misery of their situation, and adds conviction to the power of their commitment to a cross-gender identity. Of course, there are many who are anxious about
the wisdom of allowing a child to take steps to change something so basic to identity as gender, still less helping the process along. After all, research shows that 80 per cent of pre-
adolescents who express such a desire do not follow through with in later life: rather, they find another solution, often becoming either homosexual or bisexual. By contrast, 80 per cent of adolescents who believe
they were born in the wrong gender do follow through, going on to have gender reassignment surgery. We cannot yet predict which children with GID will
grow out of it and which will persist in a cross-gender identity. The dilemma for the professional is how to support children with GID without doing anything irrevocable too soon and so precluding the possibility of a change of mind.
A model of “best practice” comes from a team in the Netherlands, who offer hormonal treatments that suppress puberty until the child reaches adolescence and can make a more mature decision. If at that stage the individual accepts his or her birth
gender, this treatment stops, the child’s hormones kick in, and puberty proceeds as normal. But if the adolescent remains committed to a cross-gender identity, he or she would be offered cross-sex hormones at 16, and gender reassignment surgery after age 18. This model for early intervention is showing good results, and is gradually being adopted in other countries. TheUK centre for gender identity issues in children
and adolescents, the Tavistock Centre in London, offers a very similar programme. The expansion of early interventions in GID is likely to mean that many more
SecEd • March 25 2010
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