For Billy: The story of a man that does exist

Billy, I have just sat with you on a town centre square in wintry North England and, over a takeout coffee, you told me your story. How you got to be in this position, travelling from town to town and living from day to day. As we started talking, my legs began aching as I was crouching down, so you offered me the smaller of your two rucksacks to sit on – this was a kind gesture, thank you. I took my place and listened to you.

You told me how, having grown up in a travelling community, you were rejected by them once you fell for a girl outside of this community. You told me how it would be dangerous for you to go back to them, and you would have to literally physically fight your way back in. You said that you recognised that their way of life was not for you and you wanted out. You got out but, with certainty, there is no going back.

But, even though you try, you can’t move on either. You can’t move on because you were never registered anywhere. According to authorities, you don’t exist. You have no birth certificate, no national insurance number and no history of address. You can’t get a job because you have no proof of experience, even though you have done so many different types of work, and you were good at them at well. You can’t keep dry in this weather because there is nowhere to wash and dry your wet clothes that you know of, and you couldn’t afford it anyway. You can’t keep as clean as you would like because when you try to wash in public toilets you get told to get out, and anyway, you feel ashamed to have to be doing that in public.

Tonight you could stay at a fairly cheap room you have found, just so that you can wash and dry your clothes in preparation for another day tomorrow. Your aim for today is to try to get the money together to do that. You told me that you are not interested in drugs and alcohol and that’s not what you spend money on; I guess that is what people usually think that see someone like you, so you felt you had to say it.

To me you do exist though Billy. I saw and heard you this evening quite clearly, and because I did, I will try to do something that might change things for you, even if just by a little bit. Since talking to you, I have contacted and heard back from a local launderette that would be willing to offer a scheme that I proposed to them. People can buy a voucher in that launderette for someone on the streets like you, and you can go there and get your clothes washed and dried. It’s not much, but it’s a start.

Thanks for the hug you gave me when we parted, and thanks for telling me your story; you have given me the resolve to make your voice heard and to remind people that you do exist. Just like me, you are human, and you deserve the chance at some dignity at least. Fingers crossed for the launderette plan.


I care, therefore I am



What motivates us to do the things that we do? Why do I regularly spend my precious Saturday mornings with asylum seekers to help them with their German language? Why do I walk silently hand-in-hand with others on a rainy Sunday afternoon dressed in a life jacket in order to raise awareness of the ongoing situation of migrants trying to reach Europe? Why do I organise a trip to India with students rather than tagging along with another teacher who has already set up their own trip and done all of the work? Why would I add an additional doctoral research project to my already full-time teaching responsibilities? Why am I even a teacher? The reason is, simply, that I care. I care enough about certain things to do something about them. In caring, I am behaving as an ethical being; I am doing the thing that I think is right. As Frankfurt (1988) recognises, it is what we ‘care about’ that influences our actions and our behaviours:

Caring, insofar as it consists in guiding oneself along a distinctive course or in a particular manner, presupposes both agency and self-consciousness. It is a matter of being active in a certain way, and the activity is essentially a reflexive one. This is not exactly because the agent, in guiding his own behaviour, necessarily does something to himself. Rather, it is more nearly because he purposefully does something with himself (p.83)

As Frankfurt says, it is not possible to have agency without caring first, and, when caring, we subsequently think and act. Caring is what makes us humans do the things we do and be the people we are. I care, therefore I am. There are of course some things that move me more than others and this is of course the nature of being human and living in my own private, subjective reality with my own experiences that shape me. I am, however, happy to say that I am not one of those indifferent people, sailing along steadily and leading a quiet, predictable life, being satisfied that nothing disrupts my routine. There is nothing worse than indifference in my view; nobody ever changed anything by being indifferent. So, because I care, I take risks. I allow my life to be disrupted. I am embracing the ‘mess’ (Cook, 2009; Dean, 2017) that is my research, and I welcome the challenge of untangling it all. That is how I ended up here, designing, carrying out and writing my doctoral research project in the way that I have chosen.

Being a teacher, so many of the things that I care about can be brought into my classroom, and I can try to model my ethical behaviour to my students, in the hope that they will also find things that they care about and that they might do something about them. So, being who I am, and with the principle of care underpinning my thoughts and actions, my research came about, has taken shape and is presented through my thesis. The research is a demonstration of how practitioner research (methodology) and pedagogy (teaching and learning) are one in the same thing, how teachers can be learners just as students can be researchers, and how it is possible to develop an ethical pedagogy of care through collaborative inquiry. Do I care too much? Probably. Is it love? Right now, yes. Let’s just wait and see how I feel by the end of it all.


Cook, T. (2009) The purpose of mess in action research: Building rigour through a messy turn. Educational Action Research, 17 (2), 277-291

Dean, J. (2017) Doing reflexivity: An introduction. Bristol: Policy Press

Frankfurt, H.G. (1988) The importance of what we care about: Philosophical essays. New York: Cambridge University Press