I don’t often blog on here about teaching, but I just wanted to share a few thoughts on the problem the profession is facing at the moment.
On the one hand is the reality of many teachers’ lives – hours of prep, teaching, marking, parents evenings and extra-curricular activities; stunning levels of stress and depression across the sector; never ending paperwork; focus on exams and statistics. As a profession, though, you won’t find many who don’t work their hardest to help their pupils achieve their potential. Hours of extra revision sessions, one-to-one coaching, marking and simple encouragement is the norm, not the exception.
Ok, that’s the deal, I get it. We have a reasonably good package in terms of salary, benefits and pension scheme in comparison to many others. We have great holidays (which don’t quite stack up as people think). So hard work during term time is to be expected.
There are signals that there are some problems in education. Commentators (few who are actually educators, or at least front-line educators) talk about curriculum and behaviour issues in particular.
I’m privileged to be at a school where everything seems to run smoothly with few discipline issues (if any). Our results mean that we don’t necessarily get the level of OFSTED scrutiny that other schools do. We do have some pupils who cause problems, but they’re managed well. I’d argue that most schools are more like us than like those nightmare schools you see in terrible TV dramas. The reality is that all professions that work with people – especially every young person in society – will have notable exceptions to the rule. You just deal with it when it arises and try your best to help modify behaviour as well as punish that which isn’t appropriate.
There are, of course, frustrations with the limitations of what we have to teach and why we have to teach it. You often find that time constraints allied with what exam boards ask of us mean that you can only scrape the surface of fascinating subjects. Everyone has an opinion on what we should teach and why – and that’s just in school. To suggest, however, that the curriculum ignores basic knowledge in subject areas like history, or doesn’t teach grammar (as I heard in a laughable interview last week) is ridiculous. We can only teach a certain amount in the time and with the resources we have. If people want to explore these areas in greater depth they can do at college or university. The point of secondary education, surely is that it gives a good comprehensive education – not specialist.
On the subject of history – I’m a bit of the history geek, but there are areas of history where my knowledge is, well, shaky. Ask me about history from about 1700 onwards and I’m fairly confident. Anything before that I’d have to go away and find out about it. That’s the point, though, isn’t it? I was taught at school how to find the information, not all of it! Of course, ‘experts’ outside education can talk about what we don’t teach (19th century British politicians, or ‘classic’ British authors) – whilst what we do achieve is give our pupils a sense of what it is to be a British citizen in an increasingly diverse society, as part of a global community. Learning about white male heroes winning battles doesn’t achieve anything. I love my military history – but I recognise that what is much more important is what prepares us for the future, not the past. Skills are the key tool, not the ability to hoover up parcels of information. Having said that, the acquisition of skills can sit comfortably alongside the gaining of knowledge – that’s clear in any classroom.
This post is an attempt to lay out some of the issues we face in school, acknowledge some of the challenges we are given from outside the sector and accept that there may be room for improvement. I think education is up for debate because everyone has experience of it. We’ve all been there…and dare I say it…we all think that we’re experts because of our experience.
We need a new social contract between educators, decision makers (government and academics) and society at large. We need to stop swinging punches at each other. We need to treat those who work in school with respect. We need to treat ministers with respect who have the hard job of pleasing the electorate and their power base – chanting “Gove must go” makes us look silly, really. We want parents, carers and the general public to have a deep interest in the future of our children, but more importantly we need them to actually take their time to listen to what is happening in schools, not just what they’re fed by a media that doesn’t have anything helpful to add to the debate.
We also need an Education Secretary and Chief Inspector who believe in dialogue and working with professionals, rather than against us. We’re not interested in protecting the status quo – we’re developing new ways of doing things all the time whilst working with the most unpredictable and fascinating people in the world. We’ll embrace ideas that take us forward, not backwards to a time when privilege decided who got the furthest in society. We want an education system that gives everyone the chance to succeed, not just the few who go to a select group of fee-paying school or gilded universities.
Stop using examples that are simply inaccurate (all teachers leave school at 3pm) or verge on untruthful (claiming that schools use Mr Men to teach about Hitler…). They make you look silly and people ‘out there’ think teachers are useless. Maybe that’s your aim. That would be very sad, though, wouldn’t it?
Give us a chance. Work with us. Listen to our ideas and let us contribute to this new curriculum. We want to help. Just give us that chance.