Sunday, May 20, 2018

UK: ‘Why I left the law to teach – and became headteacher in just six years’

After landing his dream role as a solicitor, Mouhssin Ismail decided to change tack. Find out how he rose to the top in his teaching career, and why it’s the best thing he’s ever done
As a youngster, Mouhssin Ismail’s one and only career ambition was to become a lawyer. Inspired by TV shows like LA Law and Rumpole of the Bailey – and with strong encouragement from his parents – he completed a law degree before joining leading City law firm Norton Rose Fulbright. But just four years in, he gave up the high-flying world of banking and finance law for a career in teaching.

Explaining his dramatic career change, he says: “I loved everything about being a lawyer but I soon realised, even though my A Levels and degree were strong, there were certain things my schooling hadn’t prepared me for. Born and educated in Newham, I simply didn’t have the social and cultural capital and the connections that the large majority of people in City law firms could boast. [In other words he was of too low a social class for much success in that job. Class matters in Britain.  He was probably hired as an affirmative action appointee]

“It was clear that you were more privileged in that respect if you were born into a particular family – and that stirred something up in me about social justice and social mobility.”

One night in 2007, while Mr Ismail was up working until 2am drafting a £50-million banking document, he also drafted his letter of resignation – which he handed in the next day.

Although he had nothing immediately lined up, Mr Ismail had already given serious thought to teaching. “I asked myself whether I was really making a contribution to society. I decided that teaching was the way to go, if I were to find a career that allowed me to do that.”

Getting down to business

He successfully completed his teacher training before joining Seven Kings High School in London, initially as a business studies teacher. He became head of the economics and business department and eventually director of Key Stage 5.

“I’d left the legal profession with the goal of running a school, so I could provide an education that gave students like me better access to the profession,” he says. “I did everything I could to expedite my teaching career, asking for head of department positions early on and applying for vacancies I spotted – in my view, it was worth my while to travel anywhere in London, and forego a pay rise, if it meant I could get that next step up.”

Just six years after completing his teacher training, Mr Ismail returned to his hometown to become headteacher at Newham Collegiate Sixth Form Centre. Throughout that journey he has credited his professional legal experience for adding real value to his role as a teacher.

“From the start I was organising work placements in the legal sector for students, using my network of contacts, and focusing on the extra skills they needed, such as etiquette, meeting people for the first time, and writing emails.”

That experience also paid dividends as he moved into leadership roles. “Heads and deputy heads all have to deal with employment issues, finance issues and legal issues,” he says. “With the skills and knowledge I developed as a lawyer, this part of the job does not faze me at all.”

His status as a qualified lawyer has also earned him respect from the students. “They also recognise that I genuinely want to make a difference to their lives, and have given up a successful law career to do that!”

Nurturing talent

The most rewarding aspect of his role as headteacher is still the interaction he has with young people. “It is a great feeling to see them succeed and achieve, but equally, during those moments where they are suffering a crisis of confidence, I can be the adult who is instilling a sense of belief in them, telling them that they can do it.”

And they have. Last year, 95 per cent of his students gained a Russell Group university place, and the school saw its first student win a scholarship to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In recognition of these achievements, Mr Ismail has been nominated for the TES Award for FE Leader of the Year, a milestone which he credits to the college’s team of talented staff.

He says: “My dream has come to fruition, and watching these kids do all the things I knew they could – with the right support – has been fantastic. It’s all about believing that your goals are possible.”


Muted Reaction to Student Presenting Thesis in Her Underwear Shows Corruption of Our Colleges

The most remarkable thing about the title of this column [“Cornell Student Presents Thesis in Her Underwear”] is that not one reader will think it’s a joke. That, my friends, is further proof of the low esteem in which most Americans hold our universities.

The left has rendered our universities, in the description of Harvard professor Steven Pinker, laughingstocks.

As reported in The Cornell Daily Sun and then around the world, this is what actually happened last week at Cornell University, one of our “Ivy League” universities: Senior Letitia Chai presented a trial run of her scholar senior thesis wearing a blue button-down shirt and cutoff jean shorts. Her professor, Rebekah Maggor, asked her, “is that really what you would wear?”

The professor went on to say that Chai’s shorts were “too short”—that as a speaker she was making a “statement” with her clothes. As reported in the newspaper, “The class does not have a formalized dress code, but asks students to ‘dress appropriately for the persona [they] will present.'”

Offended and hurt by the professor’s suggestion, Chai decided that she would present her thesis in even less clothing. She appeared before her fellow students in her shirt and shorts and then removed them. As she stripped down to a bra and panties, she explained:

I am more than Asian. I am more than a woman. I am more than Letitia Chai. I am a human being, and I ask you to take this leap of faith, to take this next step—or rather, this next strip—in our movement and to join me in revealing to each other and to seeing each other for who we truly are: members of the human race. … We are so triumphant, but most importantly, we are equals.

Twenty-eight of the 44 audience members followed suit, stripping down.

Chai’s presentation was livestreamed. It can still be seen on Facebook.

Eleven students who were present wrote a long statement defending both the professor—who apologized profusely—and Chai. It read:

As students who firmly believe in the tenants [that Cornell students do not know the word is ‘tenets,’ not ‘tenants,’ is not surprising] of justice and the commitment to fair representation, we feel that it is our duty to make the following statement. We support Letitia’s commitment to the cause of women’s rights. … We strongly support and identify with Letitia’s fight for equality in the treatment of all people, regardless of race, gender, color, creed, sexuality, or appearance. The majority of us are students of color, from multiethnic backgrounds, who very much relate to Letitia’s frustration with systemic oppression that is part of the fabric of this country. … Our recollection of that day is as follows:

Letitia stood up to give her speech. Before she began, our professor asked Letitia if she would wear ‘those shorts’ to her actual presentation on Saturday. Our professor regularly asks all of the students, male and female, such questions to clarify appropriate attire for public speaking. Our professor went on to say that what you wear and how you present yourself make a statement. She noted that if you were to wear jean shorts to your thesis presentation, that is a statement. Her focus on attire was a means of noting the importance of professionalism in certain public speaking situations. … Throughout the semester … We have also had several meaningful dialogues on privilege, discussed how to avoid [white] savior narratives. … Our professor … often illustrates the ways to us in which society can institute a socialized behavior (for females, acting apologetic for opinions) due to systematic oppression.

It’s hard to know which aspect of this story is the most ludicrous and the most disturbing. Is it the students stripping down to their underwear? That delivering a senior thesis in one’s underwear before fellow students, most of whom also stripped down, is acceptable—even honored—at Cornell University tells you just about all you need to know to understand the degraded state of Cornell and most other American universities. And if delivering a senior thesis in one’s underwear is a blow for women’s equality, why wear underwear? Why not deliver the thesis naked?

Is it the pervasive assumption of America’s “systemic oppression” of women and ethnic minorities? If there are luckier young women in the world than those who attend Cornell and other American universities, it is hard to imagine who they might be. Yet they have been so effectively indoctrinated by their left-wing instructors in elementary school, high school, and college they walk around thinking of themselves as victims of “systemic oppression” in what is probably the freest and most opportunity-giving society in human history.

Or is it the apparent absence of any criticism of Chai by even one of the 1,650 faculty members of Cornell University? It is inconceivable that even at Cornell, there is not one faculty member who found this young woman’s behavior an insult to Cornell and the once-exalted field of higher education. Yet they so fear their left-wing colleagues and left-wing students that they have said nothing.

This story reconfirms what I regularly tell parents: Sending your child to college is playing Russian roulette with their values.


Australia's nationwide school tests are much more gain than pain

More than a million Australian students sat NAPLAN tests this week, assessing their standards in reading, writing, language and numeracy.

Despite some hysterical criticisms, the national assessment program remains a vital educational tool and there is no rigorous evidence it has widespread negative effects on students. And in general, parents groups continue to support the tests.

Claims that it harms students are at best superficial, and at worst downright misleading. There have been very few studies to date on the impact on students, and the existing research is mostly based on surveys or samples so small as to be insignificant.

There is a world of difference between serious mental health issues and the low levels of nervousness associated with any school assessment.

The other target of NAPLAN naysayers is the MySchool website, where school results are published and can be compared to other schools and the national average. It is argued MySchool harms schools by making them focus excessively on NAPLAN test results. But again, there is little evidence to support this claim, and ultimately schools focusing more on literacy and numeracy is almost always a good thing.

MySchool is important for parents. Parents choose schools based on multiple factors, including academic achievement. Having access to NAPLAN results allows parents a more informed choice for their children’s education success.

And when we’re constantly told parents should be more engaged in their children’s education, it would be bizarre to tell parents they shouldn’t know how their local school is performing compared to national standards.

NAPLAN helps improve schools and teaching, by identifying problems in the school system over time and enabling potential solutions — from the national level all the way down to individual students. It also provides transparency for school results. And it holds governments and schools accountable for the more than $50 billion of taxpayer money invested in the school system every year.

So what is the future for NAPLAN?

It is reasonable to investigate how NAPLAN data can be used more effectively to help students. A possible review of NAPLAN — which education ministers are currently considering — should focus on such issues, rather than simplistically scrapping the whole program.


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