Questions Over Lunch

I’ve been trying to articulate my thoughts on the controversy surrounding Michaela Community School.

It’s been hard to separate heart from head.

I wanted, above all, to be even-handed.

Katharine Birbalsingh is categorically not some Dickensian schoolhouse tyrant, as some have claimed, nor is she some kind of mad Tory genius, growing mini-Theresa Mays in her classrooms, the substance of other jibes.To say otherwise would be juvenile ranting. 

Similarly, criticisms of the school’s pedagogical approach have come across as overblown and silly. The knowledge-based curriculum certainly doesn’t stifle ‘creativity’ (a completely subjective concept), nor is their insistence on routine some kind of Orwellian conditioning.

What remains then, is a series of questions, questions that continue to poke at me.

Financially, Michaela seems to be doing very well. It takes in government funding, regularly charges teachers to come watch debates and will shortly be publishing a book about its approach. Why then choose to enact such a draconian and divisive policy regarding payment for lunches?

If the school is not doing well and these funds for lunches are sorely needed, do they need more rigourous financial oversight?

If the school is doing well, is this then an attempt at social conditioning – a move to instill a ‘bootstraps’ mentality in both students and parents?

If the latter is the case, is it an appropriate move for a school? As a school receiving government funding, should that be their job description? If it is, who gets to decide that? Is it solely Birbalsingh’s call? Should the school be funded to do this? Will questions be raised? 

Why, once the story broke, was the response of the school not to issue the boilerplate ‘no comment on specific cases’, but to give details of a child’s time at the school, including behaviour and progress to a media outlet? Details were consequently republished on several blogs, now taken down. 

Surely, considering the power of modern and social media, such actions constitute a massive breach of privacy? What will the consequences be for the SLT of the school and how can they ensure that it won’t happen again?

I remember once being told on social media that Birbalsingh eschewed policies whereeverpossible – was this a consequence? 

The controversy has also shed light on the blogging that many of the teachers partake in, as part of Michaela’s promotional efforts.

One, the blog of the Deputy Head who issued the ‘lunchtime isolation’ letter, stands out. In the blog are statements like this.


As a teacher who lost his job over a blog, I’m very wary to tell others how to express themselves.

However, to many, myself included, this does not seem to be the kind of message that a senior educator should be espousing, not least in a public forum. This goes doubly so when the Deputy Head would have several safeguarding responsibilities. 

Child mental health is an extremely contentious issue, but it is a problem that can’t be ignored, especially in areas with varying socio-economic demographics such as Brent.

At a time when self-harm incidents are soaring amongst British teens, this seems a hugely irresponsible thing to state. 

Who gives such blogs the go-ahead? Is it the head? Is that the best model for disseminating the school’s philosophy? If so, why isn’t there rigorous oversight to protect the school (and students) in the event of damaging or hugely contentious statements? There ix clearly a need for it.

I have no doubt that some excellent teaching goes on at Michaela Community School. I have no doubt that many there care deeply about the outcomes of their students. However, in several major areas, the much-lauded school seems to be making it up as it goes along. Decision-making doesnot seem clear or structuted. As a government-funded entity, that just shouldn’t fly. Any other school courtkng this kind of controversy would have Ofsted knocking.

As I come to the end of my questioning, the same enquiry keeps returning again and again – why all this fuss? Why can’t they just get on with the business of building the best school they can be? 

HELP MIKE GET A GIG!

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Hello,

In late January, after 12 years in the classroom, I hit a wall both physically and mentally. For the next couple of months, my time and energy was devoted to getting better, regaining what I had lost. It was a dark time, but one that has ultimately made me stronger and given me a new perspective on life.

Now, after extensive personal work, I am ready and keen to re-enter the job market. I am looking for a job somewhere in London.

While I have been extensively applying for jobs through the usual channels, I am writing this in the hopes that there might be some positions or work suiting me that hasn’t been advertised. Perhaps you might be in need of someone like me.

While I trained as a teacher and have taught in Australia, Germany and gain  UK, I am looking to move beyond the classroom.

Fortunately, alongside my teaching, I have developed my skillsets in a variety of areas.

I have written school textbooks, worked as a test developer for ACER and an educational resource developer for Education Services Australia. I understand how to simply convey complex ideas to a wide audience.  

I am a widely published writer for such publications as the Sydney Morning Herald, Crikey, ABC The Drum & TES, with extensive media experience. I am confident and comfortable with speaking for and behalf of organisations. 

Since I left teaching, I have voluntarily been developing education programme for a number of London churches. This has involved maintaining social media accounts and developing engaged audiences. I am a skilled and informed user of social media, aware of current trends and best practice. 

While it is my dream to work within the heritage sector, interpreting history for audiences of all ages, I understand that I need to develop my skillset and gain experience. This means that I am open to all kinds of work.

While I cannot take on commission-based roles, I am more than willing to try things that stretch and challenge me. Indeed, I relish positions that have me consistently working in changing environments.

In return for your investment in me, I can promise enthusiasm, a strong work ethic and the benefit of my life experience. I work well both alone and in a team environment and gain enjoyment from improving the daily experience of those around me. I love making people happy.

You can find my CV here. If you think you might have something for me, or know somebody who might, please email michael.stuchbery@gmail.com or 07715 408 661. I am available to speak at any reasonable time.

Thank you for taking the time to read my appeal and if you can assist me, I would be more than grateful!

All the best,

Mike

 

 

GOTTA CATCH THEM ALL!

churchemonTo say that Pokemon Go is a phenomenon seems to sell it short. In just one week, it managed to become the most popular mobile game in US history. It currently has more users than Twitter and there’s speculation that it will soon overtake Snapchat and Facebook.

The reason for its popularity? A remarkably simple conceit – our world is full of Pokemon, Nintendo’s beloved collection of wonderful, tiny creatures. Using a smartphone, players are encouraged to walk about and catch them. Once their collection is large enough, players can battle, trade and show off their collections with others. It’s essentially a collectable card game improved with the application of augmented reality technology. The fact that players move around the real world as part of the game only adds to the exciting, exploratory feel.

There have been many stories in the media discussing the implications of Pokemon Go on modern society. We’ve heard of bodies being discovered by players. There have been earnest discussions of the dangers it poses to certain minority groups. A post by the mother of an autistic child has gone viral, shared thousands of times.

The success of Pokemon Go will change things, in many ways that we can’t possibly comprehend.

Personally, I’m excited by the surge in visitors that museums, galleries, churches and other cultural institutions will experience as a result of the game. Heritage, arts, faith and cultural education now have a powerful new tool and revenue source.

This is due to one of the game’s innovative mechanics – Pokestops and Pokegyms. These are points, accessed in-game, that allow players to collect resources. Players need to be physically present at the location in order to reap the benefits. Using pre-existing maps, the creators of the game have seeded these points at real world locations that people congregate – places like train stations, churches and museums. Churches, especially, seem to have been chosen.

Small businesses that have a Pokestop near them in the US  have already begun to report a massive increase in business from the game. While it is early days, we can expect to see reports that places like churches, galleries and museums here in the UK are seeing a massive upswing in visitors, In fact an American man who converted an old church into a home, chosen as a Pokegym, was surprised to find crowds of players outside his house.

So what to do with this sudden upswing in visitors? To me, it seems clear:

  • If your church, museum or gallery is a Pokestop or Pokegym, acknowledge it and welcome visitors with open arms. Unless it is deeply inappropriate, encourage people to play the game in your space. Put up signing and indicate whether there are any rare or special Pokemon lurking around the premises (if you’re unsure, ask a thirteen year old).
  • Put clear, lively information front of house that explains who you are and what you do. Give this stream of visitors a taster of what can be experienced if people hang around. Junior might have just dragged Mum in to catch a Charizard, but with some clear, lively displays, Mum or Junior might be both drawn to come back.
  • Advertise discounts and other special offers. If you’ve got a cafe, offer cheap coffee. If you charge entry, knock off a small part of the price. If you are feeling confident with the game (and again, if you’re not, ask a thirteen year old), buy some ‘lures’ in-game that attract Pokemon and alert visitors as to when you’ll be doing this.
  • Put your best face forward. With the upswing of visitors will come questions, of the kind that you may not expect. Take the opportunity to improve your visitor service and be ready to answer those odds questions about what you do do. You will be building new relationships that can lead to improved visitor numbers and support.

To be utterly mercenary about it, the opportunity to welcome an increased number of visitors to churches, museums and cultural instutions simply can’t be ignored. At a time of slashing budgets, those in non-profit sectors need all the revenue they can get to support their institutions.

Pokemon Go, unlikely as it seems, is a terrific boon.  It would be foolish to ignore it.

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ON BREXIT & EDUCATION.

There are strong geopolitical arguments for having voted leave in the recent EU referendum. There are, possibly, strong economic arguments, though the volatility of the stock markets since last Thursday puts that in doubt. I may even accept an abstract moral or ethical argument regarding the nation state and the right to self-determination.

I may not agree with you, but I can respect your arguments and the strength of your convictions.

What I won’t countenance is the argument that ‘Brexit’ is somehow good news for the children we teach. Don’t you dare try to sell me on that.

We all come to teaching for different reasons – to share the love of our subject, put of a strong sense of social justice, or simply because we enjoy spending our working life with young people.

One thing I believe we can all agree on is that we encourage as many opportunities to be open to young people as possible – opportunities to gain more knowledge, to learn new skills, to be exposed to different cultures and points of view.

It is why we do what we do.

It cannot be denied, then,  that following the exit of the United Kingdom (or perhaps, eventually just England and Wales) from the EU, many opportunities that at present exist for young people will no longer exist.

Young people will no longer have the right to study for free in several European countries, something made possible by the EU agreements. Studying abroad will become something out of the reach of many.

Young people, outside those already wealthy, will also no longer have the right to freely live abroad, to work and gain valuable skills making them more employable upon their return to the United Kingdom.

Initiatives such as Erasmus+, that actively work to bring young people across Europe together in educational contexts, will no longer be accessible by British schools.

Perhaps, most sadly, the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union will lead to years of turmoil as the nation wrestles with the question of what to do with the hundreds of thousands of EU migrants already in the country.

Hate crime has spiralled in the week since the referendum and racist incidents in schools will almost certainly increase as the seperation becomes protracted, messy and fractious.

In an environment of tension, of high emotion, of uncertainty, precious little learning can occur.

I’ve read some arguments from teachers that the Brexit will somehow restore our kid’s pride in their country, somehow give them confidence in themselves. I’ve read others that it will teach them about loyalty to one’s country, something perilously close to the nationalist sentiments that have wrought havoc abroad.

Neither of these will do anything to improve the lot of the kids in Britain’s most deprived areas, outside of giving them a false sense of national pride. This false confidence, this temporary pride won’t make them stand out in job interviews. It won’t help them communicate in an increasingly multilingual world.

It will, instead, make them more isolated, less connected and less engaged with a world that will desperately need their input, their hard work.

You can keep telling me Brexit was a good idea, or will prove to be a good idea. I will listen.

I can respect the fact that 52 percent of the nation decided that it was time to leave. I will learn to live with it.

However, I will never see Brexit as either a good thing for British schools, or the students we teach. In fact, if teaching is what you live and breathe, I can’t believe you could have ever voted for it.

 

NO MORE REGRETS.

Two young men from my high school class killed themselves. One leapt from a prominent Melbourne landmark.

I had a friend who was sexually assaulted waiting for a train. He regularly relived the experience, unaware that he was safe in a classroom. He screamed and flailed at those who tried to help. We became real good at spotting the signs he was about to go under.

Not only was I aware of self-harm, I witnessed it. Some drug-induced, other times brought upon by family dysfunction or depression.

Eating disorders, drug addiction and sexual abuse were all experienced amongst the hundred or so of my graduating class, who walked across the school hall stage in November 1997.

I didn;t have a deprived or rough upbringing. Quite the contrary.

I attended a private boy’s school in Melbourne’s east, the sort that costs half a million or so for six years’ education. It wasn’t the tough, macho environment of rugby and cold showers that suggests. Rather, it was a fairly gentle place with stellar arts and drama departments.

Our school was well equipped to deal with issues of student mental health. It had a number of staff counsellors and great links to mental health professionals. The needs of every student were well documented and tracked over time.

Yet for all the hard work, some students did fall through the cracks. Some fell spectacularly, violently.

I couldn’t help but recall those experiences as I taught at a coastal English school, seventeen years later.

I was presented with a Year 7 class, deemed ‘unteachable’ only four months into their secondary education.

On top of the usual hotpot of SEN requirements, it was a group of kids from one of the poorest council wards in England. They experienced, daily, an unbearable amount of deprivation, neglect and dysfunction.

I don’t joke when I say that five minutes in their presence would regularly lead to an hour or more documenting issues of concern.

Hours were spent separating children who were hellbent on injuring their classmates for a percieved slight, coaxing others out of a hiding place as they hysterically wept. Years after my own experiences, I again saw the tell-tale marks of self-harm and had to step in to prevent it on several occasions. A good day, I’d confiscate a cigarette lighter. A bad day, I’d take a condom or something sharp, meant to cut and harm. Several students disappeared for long stretches, too afraid to come to school. Others had the pale, haunting look of hunger and neglect.

Help for these kids was spotty at best. Occasionally someone would come in to usher one of the children away, only to have them burst back into the classroom minutes later, yelling ‘I’m not fucking going with them!’.

Sometimes I would get an email – from someone different each time – giving vague instructions as to how to approach a certain child. Behind the words were intimations of the horrific stuff that had been happening at home.

The day I left the school, this class was one of the final ones. I explained why I was leaving – this was a temporary cover position – and wished them well.

I will never forget the response – tears, pleas to stay, some hysterical. Other students actied out violently, kicking furniture and doors. I remember talking a particularly fractious child out of ‘banging out’ one of the SLT.

I didn’t take any of this response as a reflection on my teaching abilities. This wasn’t my ‘Dead Poet’s Society’ moment. ‘Rather, I understood that this was just another plank of stability being taken away from underneath a very vulnerable group of children.

I still think of this group often. I ache to know how they turned out. They still occupy a place in my heart.

Despite the tears, the fury and pain, they were only children, with a thousand endearing quirks that shone through. One student was an amazing artist, another had incredibly sharp wit far beyond his years. I regularly witnessed acts of incredible kindness from several of them.

I came to love them.

The main reason I still carry this class around with me is this: for all the differences in our nationality, our social class, our environment, I felt a connection with many of the serious issues these kids were facing. I recognized them from my own school days. I understood them, I had lived them.

To see the contrast between how my peers and I were supported and these kids was heartbreaking.

I was reminded of this class yesterday, when I saw the responses to an article by Natasha Devon, the government’s recently-axed expert on children’s mental health. She had stated that teachers often need to be therapist one minute, social worker the next.

Much to my surprise and dismay, much of the response from my teacher peers was negative.

Some only read the headline and railed against what they saw as wanting teachers to take on yet another role, that of counsellor. Others perversely claimed some teachers wilfully practiced a dangerous form of amateur psychotherapy.

Most disappointingly, still more tossed it around as part of the ‘trad’ vs ‘prog’ debate.

What was clear that few had actually read the article – Ms Devon didn’t want teachers providing mental healthcare. Rather, she was making a case for more funding to schools.

Devon was calling for funds to employ professionals to better treat young people in the environment they spent most of their time away from home, at school.

As education-related opinions go, it was far from radical.

What irked me the most was an abrogation of responsibility from the responses.

There was a general sentiment that we, as teachers, should in no way be expected to assist students suffering a mental illness.

On one hand, I can understand this. Working closely with a vulnerable student leaves us wide open to all sorts of claims and damaging allegations.

‘Best leave it to the professionals’ is a safe view. It protects.

However, it is one that smacks of moral cowardice.

It ignores that students suffering mental illness will feature in every single one of our classes. Some will come to us with a diagnosis, others will develop them over time.

It asks us to turn a blind eye to the severe, pressing and damaging issues that students face as they work towards the qualifications.

More importantly, it asks us to forget that sometimes, we, as classroom teachers are the only champions that some kids have. They can’t or won’t connect with parents, social workers or medical professionals, but instead attach themselves to us.

A teacher should never offer counselling. A teacher is not a psychotherapist or mental health worker. There are safeguarding measures and processes for reporting concerns in every school. They must be followed.

This is all obvious.

However, why not make another choice?

Instead of turning a blind eye, would it not be courageous to join the fight for more funding for mental health workers in schools? To write letters, to protest, to campaign alongside parents and community groups?

Instead of using it as some sort of ideological football, wouldn’t it be braver to make the issue of student mental health needs one that the government could not ignore?

Instead of derisory or cynical tweets, wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing to press and press until the help students in English schools so desperately need was available to them?

We come in to teaching to impart knowledge, curiousity and the skills needed to function in the adult world. We cannot do any of that if our students are prevented from learning due to mental illness, neglect or the dysfunction around them.

We must make it part of our job description to advocate for our charges and ensure that they are receiving the help they need. To do otherwise ignores not only the reality of the life in schools, but shirks our moral obligation.

There’s nothing I can do for that Year 7 class of mine. Given my time again, I would have made more noise, demanded more assistance for them. It is something that I regret, terribly.

I wonder how often that sentiment is felt by teachers across the country? How many students do we wish we’d fought harder for?

Let’s not let it continue to happen.

 

 

 

 

 

LOST & FOUND.

When I was signed off sick in January with depression and anxiety, I assumed it would be a temporary thing. Sooner or later, the clouds would lift and after a phased return, I would be back teaching at a Luton secondary.

What I never imagined was how, over the next few months, my mind would completely turn against me, that I would find myself have to relearn much of what I took for granted only months before. I was robbed of much of who I felt I was.

One of the worst parts of struggling with mental illness is the sensation of being a backseat passenger, as your mind veers and swerves, dodging imaginary obstacles. My illness first really exhibited when I found it painful to venture outside my home. Trips around my neighbourhood and particularly to the local supermarket became a sort of fairground horror house ride. I would find myself assaulted by bright light and shrieking noise. I would wildly search for students or teachers from my school, great waves of nauseating shame washing over me. I would make my way home, the shopping half-done, to fierce, unrelenting tears.

I have always prided myself on being somewhat quick-witted and as things progressed, I despaired at what seemed a decline in my cognitive abilities. I found it difficult to hold a discussion or to complete a relatively simple task, such as washing the dishes, without having to take a break or refocus myself. I felt myself drifting away and developed a twitch, there to ‘jolt’ me back to earth. While objectively understanding that depression can lead to a certain degree of muddled thoughts, I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something medically wrong with me, that I was suffering some sort of neurological injury.

As the months progressed, the clouds over me thickened. The illness would come in bouts, a couple of days spaced a few weeks apart. I would despair as I lay on the floor, muscles clenched, teeth grinding. Horrible, dark thoughts intruded again and again. Suicide, self-harm, had a seductive call. There were a number of times that my wife was on the verge of having me hospitalized, but for my stubborn, resolute refusal to go. After each black bout, I would sleep for hours, waking to only a half-formed idea of what I’d just been through.

In between these bouts, I would push myself to move, a sort of frenetic haze. I pursued my interest in history, in old churches to such an extent that it felt almost all-consuming – anything to take my mind off the black pits of despair and what I felt they had cost me, my freedom and my confidence. I had to keep moving and I did, to the point that it would exhaust me. That would lead me back into the black depths.

Last week, I found myself at a meeting at school, where the amount of time I had off essentially necessitated me leaving my position. As the effect of my absence on the school was detailed, I sat, struggling to hold back months of shame and guilt. I returned home to sit in a silent house, pondering what had happened.

Somewhere deep inside me, something sparked. I resolved to survive. Not only that, I promised myself to get back all that I lost.

I am still fighting. I am determined to recover.

I have examined my daily routines and have redoubled my efforts to sleep more (8 hours a night) and eat better (lots of low GI foods). I have purposefully made myself slow down, take my time with things. Most of all, I make a huge effort not to judge myself if I fail at something.

‘The unexamined life’, Socrates said, ‘is not worth living’. He could have been talking about my experience.

I am still awaiting a psychiatrist’s consultation regarding my illness. I am still awaiting a diagnosis . I’m not going to jump the gun in pondering what it may be, rather, I’ll leave that to the professionals. In the meantime, however, I can do all I can to live well and in a way that allows me to heal and gain confidence.

What keeps me going, mostly, is the knowledge that what I going through is nothing but an illness and that is a great anchor when I feel the unwelcome stirrings pf a depressive bout.

An illness. Not a curse, a flaw or a failing. It’s not a demon, a spirit, a malign influence. Illness.

I encourage anybody who identifies with anything that I have written here, or might see it in somebody they know or love, to seek treatment with their GP.

Depression and anxiety can rob of you much, this is true, but they can be treated. You can make your way back to where you were.

Just watch me.

 

 

 

 

THE BARTHOLOMEW DECLARATION.

Last year, I walked into the Church of Saint Bartholomew the Great in London as a tourist. I must have spent three hours there, overwhelmed with not only the sheer beauty of this medieval building, but its incredible story over nine centuries.

Leaving the church, a seed was planted. As a history teacher, experiencing such a location set my head ablaze with ideas. This place needed to be shared with the young, interpreted in such a way to show exactly how important it was!

As I explored churches over the next year, this was a thought that kept resurfacing often. Time and time again, when I inquired as to whether a church invited in youth or school groups, I was met with a shrug or a shake of the head. This was shocking stuff, considering the historic importance of some of these places.

Over time, I guess what you’d call a manifesto began to form. I hope that it articulates exactly why churches are an incredibly powerful learning tool and why it is absolutely essential why more of them open their doors to young people in an education context. I encourage you to share it, and if you agree with it, let me add your name to it. 

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HISTORY? TAKE IT TO CHURCH!

If you have followed me for any length of time on social media you will know that I love parish churches. I’m obsessed with them. Not in the ‘feverishly-murmuring-prayers-prostrate-on-the-floor’ sense, but rather as treasure houses of British history.  I spend much of my free time seeking them out. Heck, I even have a blog devoted to my visits.

What I don’t really talk about much, as I coo over spectacular wallpaintings or medieval graffiti,, is the value that churches have as a teaching resource for history in schools.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a few points to get you thinking.

  • The typical British parish church is somewhere between 150 to 800 years old.
  • They are usually placed at the centre of their communities and are easily accessible.
  • Each parish church is required to have documented the births, deaths and marriages of their generations of parishioners since the 16th century – thanks Liz I!
  • The extant art found in churches directly reflects the conventions of the time period they were created.

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In short, by their very nature, parish churches are museums of their local communities. Over the centuries, through the very process of maintaining a church building, generations of Britons have left their mark in word, art and stone. Through the love and devotion of their parish, those buildings are open to us.

Perhaps the most compelling aspect of churches as teaching resources is that they’re free to visit – outside of a small, token donation, should you feel so inspired.

‘Mike’, you might say, ‘That’s great, but what about the pedagogy?’.

I’m glad you asked. A visit to a church, in itself, isn’t necessarily a great use of time, pretty though they might be.

What is marvellous about parish churches are both the primary sources they present to us and fertile ground for in-depth study.

Here’s a few examples.

  • Students could access pre-formatted parish records to investigate population growth and chance over time, interpreting their findings both as a report or visualized data.
  • The text of monuments or memorial could form the basis for a piece of writing outlining changing beliefs over time – a considerable number of churches have monuments from several centuries to offer a handy, scaffolded, visual comparison.
  • Statuary, brasses or wallpaintings reflect changing dress and fashion, acting as a prompt for writing or artwork from younger students.

Those are just three examples. I’m sure that given a few hours, I could give several more.

Using a church to teach history may require some additional legwork on behalf of the class teacher, but on the whole, I have found that parish councils are only too happy to reach out and carry some of the load. For most of them, engaging the public is an important part of ensuring their survival.

Too often we overlook the grey or brown buildings at the heart of our communities, when in reality they offer a huge opportunity for our students to connect with the very origins of their community. Why not take that opportunity today?

(BTW, the Churches Conservation Trust are an excellent resource for churches that can offer learning experiences for students. You can learn more about what they do here.)

WANTED: A JOB

_79306779_stuchberyI’m looking for a new job.

After twelve years bouncing in and out of the classroom, it’s time that I paused for a moment to find a gig that is the right fit for me, instead of grasping at whatever might be out there.

It’s time for me to find an environment where I can truly put down some roots and do some real good for a community, where that be a group of students, a local community or nation-wide.

I am looking for the sort of place that I can grow and develop over time. A role, a position that I can be proud of.

I’m looking for a workplace that embraces my particular strengths while allowing me time to develop those areas that need work. Somewhere that realises I haven’t got it all together, but that I’ll work damn hard to grow.

It can’t be a traditional institution.

I value people over titles, over data. I value working smart over using the same old traditional channels to get things done.

Perhaps most importantly, I don’t take myself too seriously. If I’m going to be happy at a job, neither can my new workplace.

My new workplace may be a school, but it doesn’t have to be.

In return, whoever I work for gets a range of skills and talents.

Of course, I can teach.

I’ve taught in Australia, Germany and the UK. My subject areas are History, Geography, English and Theory of Knowledge., in addition to the Australian Curriculum, I have experience with the International Baccalaureate and English KS3-KS4/GCSE curriculum.

I do interesting stuff in the classroom. In 2010, during Australia’s federal election, I ran the ‘Aussie Democrazy’ program, where students took on the role of reporters, interviewing politicians. This gained a deal of media attention and I was named one of Melbourne’s 100 Most Influential People.

Yes, I am the ‘banter guy‘, but don’t hold that against me, alright?

Alongside my work in the classroom, I have also worked as a journalist. For three years, between 2009 and 2011 I wrote for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on education, youth, mental health and popular history. I have also written for The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald. Since landing in the UK, I have regularly written for the TES.

I’m also driven. When I get a project between my teeth, I find it hard to let go.

In mid-2015 I visited the church of St Bartholomew the Great in London. Ever since then I have been working on a voluntary basis to develop school programs for the church, developing close relationships with heritage organizations and local institutions.

I know my history and my current affairs – I’ve won thousands of dollars doing so on the Australian game show ‘Temptation’. I have also brought my historical knowledge to bear writing columns for the website, Crikey.

It’s pretty safe to say that I know my subject matter and what I don’t know, I have the skills to find out.

In short, I believe myself to be a skilled teacher and communicator, talented at getting messages across and skilled at building relationships.

I am based in Luton and can commute to London. For the right gig, however, I would consider relocation.

If you want a more complete breakdown of my work history, click here to be taken to my CV.

If you like what you see, I’d love to hear from you. You can reach me at michael.stuchbery@gmail.com or on my mobile at 07715 408 661 and we can start a conversation.

If you don’t have anything going, but know somebody who might, please, pass this along.

Thank you for your time.

 

 

 

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UP.

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About six hundred metres up the side of the Brunnsteinspitze, near Mittenwald in Bavaria, Germany, lies a series of huts.

This is the Brunnsteinhutte, a sort of base camp for hikers to stay on their way to summit the mountain. A family operation, it’s a place that prides itself on offering hot grub and a warm bed after a day ascending (or descending) the mountain.

Two years ago I had a job teaching at the International School of Stuttgart. Each year, the Year 7 cohort would be taken to stay near Garmisch-Partenkirchen for a week. For two of those days, they would be taken on an overnight hike to the Brunnsteinhutte.

I can still vividly remember the trepidation I felt the first time I took a group up the mountain.

I could, charitably, be described as ‘stocky’. I’m also notoriously clumsy – I have trouble walking in a straight line! I’m also deathly afraid of heights. It has to be said, I’m not the ideal candidate to help lead forty or so students up a forty five degree incline, for over three hours.

A gig, however, is a gig. I was being paid for this. I duly pulled on multiple pairs of socks, packed and repacked my bag. The day of the hike dawned and, with nary a goodbye, our minibus dropped us off at the trail head.

We soon set off, our guide fairly loping up the trail, followed by a gaggle of young, fit twelve year olds.  I made my way to the back of the group and grabbed a solid-looking stick to assist in navigating the trail, which was slick with recent rain, moss and riven with tree roots.

The first half an hour was okay – a winding trail up and over a few low ridges. If I maintained a steady pace, I could avoid being winded and out of breath. My feet felt fine and I didn’t stumble once.

‘This is okay!’, I thought, ‘This Alpine hiking is a bloody breeze!’.

Then we got to the bridge spanning the Suzleklamm*

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Now, that might not look like any kind of challenge to you, but it was to me. Upon catching sight of the bridge, my insides violently attempted to vacate my skin by any route possible. I gulped in lungfuls of the chilly morning air, nigh on hyperventilating.

Demonstrating any kind of fear in front of my charges being not one of my options, I smiled weakly at the guide motioning at me to come and started my way across.

It shook.

Somewhere in the animal hindquarters of my brain, something squeaked. I let forth a low moan and gripped the metal cables until my knuckles blanched. Still not wanting to show any fear, I kept moving forward, my weight causing the bridge to wobble with every step.

After what seemed twenty minutes, but was probably more like a minute and a half, I made my way to the other side and collapsed against the muddy embankment, almost weeping with relief.

I wasn’t allowed to continue celebrating my continued survival, however. Without so much as a ‘Well Done!’, we were pressed onwards, dark mutterings of ‘storm’ and ‘rain’ forcing us to pick up the pace.

This is when I really started to hurt.

Given a wide enough trail and the ability to pace my steps, I’m fine. Take that away from me and I start to stumble, stubbing my toes and winding myself against rocks. Have the trail ascend at a remarkable incline and I’m in trouble.

Everything hurt. My knees ached. My feet felt like pounded hamburger. My lungs burned. I felt near tears. Somehow, however, I managed to keep going. I was even able to hook the (rather small) backpacks of some of the more struggling kids atop mine and carry on.

By the end of three hours, I was using my staff to stay upright. Ahead of me, the first kids had arrived at the Brunnsteinhutte. The last couple of hundred metres were torture – I was slogging through knee-deep snow. There were a few times I almost sank to my knees. I prayed, and at this point that really wasn’t something I did.

I made it, though.

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To this day, I consider the Brunnsteinhutte my ‘happy place’. It is that location I travel to in my mind’s eye whenever things get too much. It is my solace from depression, anxiety and mental illness.

While the world around me may be dark and gloomy, I allow myself to stand in light and sunshine. When I feel suffocated and trapped, this little trick allows me to feel free.

I think the Brunnsteinhutte has taken on that role for me as my journey to get there, in many ways, echoes my struggle with mental illness.

I have days where I feel like I did on that bridge, gasping for breath, clasping for anything – anything – I can. My veins feel injected with liquid fire, my eyes burn, I am awash in adrenalin.

Other days, I feel like I did during the body of the hike, stumbling, dragging myself along. I am wracked with pain. I can’t see an end to the torment.

Most of the time, I feel as if I am trudging through knee-deep snow, unable to keep pace with everybody else. The rest of the word is a group of stick-figures in the far distance, hooting and hollering.

Like the trail, sometimes I am able to maintain a steady pace and feel like I am making ground. Other days I am faced with a sudden ascent and I am absolutely convinced that I can’t scale it. There are those times when the path takes me downwards and downwards and downwards, away from my goal.

As the water bottle and trail mix in my backpack keep me going and give me energy for the ascent, so does the love of my wife and family help me journey towards health and happiness. As my stick helps me climb over tree roots and around boulders, so do the techniques that I have been taught help me discern the obstacles and barriers that my mind puts in place.

The thing is, if you continue walking up the side of the mountain, eventually you are going to reach the summit.

What a beautiful thing that is.

If you are struggling, if you are in the midst of a black depression, or feel a prisoner to anxiety, I can’t recommend enough seeking out a similar place for yourself as part of your practice at recovery. Recall that place that you went on holiday a few years ago and surprised yourself at your adventures.Think about that time you proved yourself stronger than you ever possibly thought you could be.

Give yourself a safe place to remember who you are, where you want to go.

Allow yourself to feel strong, proud of yourself, free.

It’s a small step, but a step forward, a step UP.

* – German, I assume, for ‘Death Chasm’.

Thing is, if I’m going to have to deal with depression and anxiety, I might as well make it pay for someone. Below is a button for Mind, the mental health charity. Click it and you’ll be taken to their website where you can donate a couple of pounds. That money will go to their helplines, legal aid services and work in reducing the stigma of mental illness.

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If you like what I do, you can also tip me. No pressure though. Pretty bloody cheeky of me, I know.