When I sat down to listen to Carol Dweck at this year’s Scottish Learning Festival, I was neither familiar with her work, nor her style of speaking. She began speakingunclesam in that slow, patronising American style often used by those of the old colony when speaking to lesser mortals, such as children, animals, idiots or congregations. All around, hackles were rising.

As she continued with her presentation, the mood began to change. Ears pricked, heads tilted and the silence of thrall fell upon us as her message was revealed to us.

On Monday, I had an interview at a Private School in Crieff for a Physics teaching post. I didn’t get the job, I am sure, not just because of my evident ambivalence, but also because I made a right pig’s ear of it. Not for the first time in my life, I swanned in expecting my inherent intelligence, charm and super-powers to win the day. Certainly, I did some preparatory work – I looked up the arrangements document for the lesson I had to prepare and deliver, I checked out the state of the school’s finances, its inspection reports, the available online profiles of the people I was to meet on the day, and even made a video tutorial to back up the observed lesson. I just didn’t teach well nor interview well.

Why? A look at the video tutorial will give you a clue. The Physics isn’t wrong – but it isn’t complete. From my assessment of the pupils, their understanding isn’t what I am used to. For example, they could tell me the wave formula and a laymen’s interpretation of refraction but not what refraction is. They had all the facts: they no doubt could answer questions related to the exam and will no doubt achieve healthy grades from their having internalised all of the techniques, methods and procedures needed to do so. My lesson on ray tracing, as a stand-alone delivery of some of these methods for this narrow aspect of the course, failed to do this. It required much greater independence of thought, more maturity and better confidence in articulation than these young people could muster.

I am in danger of justifying the outcome here – in her book, “Mindset – the new psychology of success“, Carol Dweck quotes John Wooden:

“you aren’t a failure until you start to blame”

… so let me make it clear (as much to myself as anyone) that the responsibility for this failure is entirely mine. I went in arrogantly expecting that my teaching style is enough for anyone – it isn’t – and that my inherent skills are evident to all but my enemies – they are neither inherent, nor evident. The biggest mistake was going for an interview which I did not want to succeed in.

beattieWhat now? Learn, that’s what. In Dweck’s talk at the SLF, as expanded in simple language in her book, I began to see that I have often exhibited “fixed mindset” characteristics. My 30-year membership of Mensa is testament to this: I feign false modesty when it comes out in conversation and people seem impressed, in the same way that Beattie Belman is impressed by her grandson’s ology. I imagine that if I were to take the Mensa entrance exam again today, the outcome might be different. I would certainly hope so.

In all of this lies a defect in my character: it’s referred to in my recent assessment of the reasons I was considering pursuing a doctorate. Needless to say, I have written to the good people at Edinburgh University and said that for the time being, this course is not best suited to my needs and aspirations. Call me “Mr. Hood”.


Research proposal draft

15 August 2009

One or two people have been asking for some detail about the proposed research. With all the caveats (it’s a draft, subject to change, I was exceedingly drunk at the time, etc., etc.) I’ve posted it here for your interest.

I am grateful to the good people who have shown such kindness in this process.

A Stop! Check! moment

14 August 2009

Stop! Check! on TwitpicI took time out this week to sit back and take a long, hard look at myself and my motivations for embarking on a five- or six-year long doctoral study with Edinburgh University.

Much of my best thinking is done in trendy coffee bars in retail therapy centres. This time, I was in Waterstone’s in Livingstone. You can see my notes in the picture, but the essentials are this: a year ago, I submitted a draft proposal which was quite well received by Professor Lindsay Paterson but had to stop for lack of funding. Over the summer this year, several things happened to re-awaken the prosepct of doing the project. Firstly, I had phoned Professor Paterson just to congratulate him on an article he had written in the TESS. He was quick to remind me of the proposal and ask when I would be resuming the process.

McEwan Hall Graduation on TwitpicThen, I attended a graduation ceremony and had the opportunity to congratulate a former tutor of mine, Dr. Brian Cosford, on gaining his own Ed. D. and of course, he was very encouraging about my doing one of my own.  Thirdly, family resources were made available to allow me to pick up the project again. All of this happening in a fairly short space of time allowed me to take the idea seriously and to redraft the proposal following the suggestions it got last year. Very kindly, a pal from twitterland and the teachmeet community, David Noble (himself an Ed. D student) read through and commented on the revision, as well as Bob Kibble and the new Academic Co-ordinator, Dr. Charles Anderson. All have been very kind in giving their time, encouragement and constructive comments on what I have produced.

So. I set out a number of responses to the rhetorical question of, “why are you proposing an Ed. D.?”. These were:

  1. Vanity: so I can say, “it’s OK, I’m a Doctor”. Really. I have that vanity in me.
  2. To find the answers to some really important question. I laughed out loud when I wrote this down. Although there is a question emerging in the drafting and re-drafting of the research proposal, it clearly isn’t what set me off on this. The honest truth is that I have observed some real differences between teachers of Mathematics (of which I am one) and teachers of Physics (and so am I). It sometimes irritates me that I have to take my time in the classroom re-teaching Mathematics so I can then get on with teaching Physics. This is the spark of the idea. However, it isn’t a research question: I’m not actually sure I care what other people think is the answer because it’s a personal view from a highly personal perspective. Importantly, I am realising that research doesn’t change anything of itself. It adds to the “body of knowledge” but there is a lot of knowledge being quietly stacked on shelves, each new volume landing on the previous with the “foom!” of dust and a tacit, “So What?” from the shelves. Knowledge: academic knowledge, of itself is utterly without conclusion or influence.
  3. It’s exciting being a student. I love learning. I love being guided and supported, like Feynman was by his genius father, encouraged and amazed in the discovery of new things.
  4. I have to be better than my competition. I have experienced career failure and the consequential financial failure in my life. Twice. I am still, literally, paying for these. The last one nearly bankrupted me. I have had to fight really hard to recover – and I will, Insh’Allah, recover. I am sufficiently self-confident that when I look at people around me, then myself, I would rather employ me than them. Not everyone else agrees. I need evidence that supports my case and a Doctorate beats the diddly out of SQH. Imho.
  5. I like writing.
  6. It’s a big project.

Then I sat and thought about each of these reasons, this time not through the rosy spectacles of some imaginary future, but from where I am right now:

  1. Doctor? I’ve had Doctors of this and that working for me much of my industrial life. I remember they needed help getting dressed properly to meet clients, and to be told that the Company was not going to pay an expense claim for a haircut just because we’re in a foreign country. Some I have met recently showed me that it isn’t healthy to be so focused on one narrow area. Also, I am already well-qualified. For a kid from a “working-class” (no, never!) background, who is not well-read, I ain’t doing so bad. I seem to be respected for what I am already.
  2. I am more influential as a commentator.
  3. I am fickle. Much of my recent thinking has been developed by my recent reading, not least is Taleb’s Black Swan. I want to continue to develop my thinking unconstrained by a narrow scope.
  4. I just can’t help feeling that there’s another phase of my ecletic career to go through yet, after that of being a teacher of Physics. I can’t tell when that might present itself, it might be in the next year for all I know. My contract ends on April the first (yes, really) and I have been told that my job will not exist at my current school after that.
  5. So: write. Blogs, articles, letters, short stories, books. Sufficient variety for …
  6. … to be in there: the novel that’s been nascent for the past three years, for example.

This process leads to several possible actions. Firstly, I could either rewrite the proposal or not. Proceeding with the Ed.D. leads to several possible outcomes: failure, dropping out for other reasons, completing the Ed.D., bailing out part-way with a Master’s being some of them. This has occupied much of my thoughts in the last few days.

Or, I could realise that this was just a lovely pipe dream: if this is the case, I need to get busy doing something constructive. I’ve got some time to decide but time leads to procrastination. Procrastination is the path to the dark side. Procrastination leads to frustration. Frustration leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering…

I’d appreciate your thoughts.

Hello, world.

13 May 2007

This is a new blog which is going to be my personal rant space. Not in education, I’ve got one of those. This is a place for personal stuff, if I feel the need. I might not use it at all, so I wouldn’t bother subscribing.