As I mentioned on Monday, today’s post is a guest post by my teacher friend, imaginatively called Mr X, and his take on being a teacher in today’s world. As always, add your thoughts in the comments below, and I’ll be back Friday!
I suppose the first reason I don’t always bring it up in conversation is that I got
tired of the ‘start at 9, finish at half past three and get 14 weeks holiday a year’
brigade after about the first four, maybe four and a half, seconds. Teaching was,
is, and remains, the best job in the world. Apart from supermodel oiler. I think I
could rock that.
The problem was, I got really fed up of people telling me how easy my life was.
This isn’t meant to be a self serving piece about how much I should be pitied.
I shouldn’t. I love my job and I admit, I do have a decent salary, and a decent
pension (more of that later) and a job that I thoroughly enjoy. It’s challenging
though. The hours are long and the job has a lot of rough edges, but the rewards
are, quite simply, huge. Giving someone knowledge, a different perspective, a
new way of thinking about something they used to think was obvious, or too
difficult for them, well, that just never, ever gets old.
Now, I’m doing something I never thought I would. I’m giving serious thought to
leaving teaching. At least, leaving teaching as it is now. It means leaving behind
the financial security. It means leaving behind students in the middle of their
courses. It means leaving behind a community that I’ve invested 17 years of my
life in. It means guilt.
Why? Because teaching, as it exists now, is not the gig I signed up for. There is,
more than ever before, an emphasis on data and targets. Don’t misunderstand.
I’m not saying that schools should be a free for all, with everybody doing their
own thing and it all being a lovely hippy commune of exploratory learning and
self discovery. Students should be encouraged to do their best. I am saying
though that trying to fit every student into a ‘flightpath’ of their progress, based
on the average progress of other ‘similar’ students and then adding challenge, so
it isn’t average progress any more, so wanting everyone to make above average
progress (yes really, maths fans) then expecting the group next year to do the
same thing, based on unrealistic expectations of the last cohort, so giving them
ever less scope to actually do something realistic is, unsurprisingly, nuts.
Add to that the increasing pressure on every teacher to be able to demonstrate
progress of every student in every lesson every twenty minutes, or have their
teaching labeled as inadequate, and you have a recipe for disaster. This is in the
face of budget cuts, so staffing levels drop. If you are to have any hope at all of
getting near to such an unrealistic goal, you need a whole lot of other people in
your corner. With decreased funding for Special Schools, students who really
struggle in mainstream classes are forced to do the best they can in, often, the
worst of circumstances, to the detriment of everybody involved. Having had
the joy of visiting these splendid places of caring and learning in my career, to
paraphrase someone else, they’re called Special Schools because they’re full of
special kids and special staff. In mainstream schools, they have staff who don’t
have the specialist skills they need and they are trying to keep up with a fast
paced curriculum that is forced in to less and less class time as more and more
subjects vie for attention in the curriculum.
The people who can make this possible are the Teaching Assistants. Their
intricate knowledge of the students they work with makes it do-able, just about,
to have students in mainstream schools where they can make progress, with the
support they need. The TA, however, is a critically endangered species. They are
often the first on the list when redundancy is being discussed. They’re lowest
on the staff totem pole when it comes to pretty much about anything, but a good
TA is priceless. Team them up with a willing teacher and they can, together,
transform a class into something that works.
Then, once that hasn’t quite met the needs of the ever shrinking budgets, more
experienced members of staff, who are more expensive members of staff, are
often next on the hit list. The problem is, that along with their bigger salaries,
they tend to have a hell of a lot of experience and quite a skill set. They also tend
to be the ones who have a nasty habit of saying what they think, doing what
works and being less than welcoming to the latest, greatest, ides in educational
theory. Look up Brain Gym. You’ll see what I mean. It’s a crock. Again, I happily
admit that there are people in teaching who should have found something else
to do. They aren’t very good at it and they do very little for the children in their
care. Not because they don’t do crowd control, as that’s a whole skill in and of
itself, but actual teaching. Anyway, they are still the minority. They exist in every
profession. They’re there because they have bills to pay and it does the trick.
It’s regrettable, but I’m sure NASA has a few free loaders too. The American
government even had one in charge for a while, so it isn’t any barrier to career
The result is that you have a young group of staff, cheaper, younger, more
malleable and more likely to subscribe to the latest fashionable trends in
education. The old adage is that ideas in teaching become fashionable again
every ten or fifteen years. I know I’ve certainly seen a few come and go, and
come round again. That isn’t to denigrate any one these dedicated young
professionals. They’re as devoted as any of the rest of us.
So, I’m working out how best to say goodbye to the endless lesson planning, the
interminable marking, the mind numbing levels of paperwork, all just to make
sure that the thing is seen to be done, rather than just getting on with actually
doing the bloody thing. I’ll have fewer holidays if I get a job in the real world,
as many would have it. Then again, I won’t spend all of the Easter or Christmas
break doing yet more paperwork. I know I’m leaving behind my secure pension,
and a predictable salary, but, given the stress that has resulted from trying to do
what works in an environment of compliance, the depression (clinical, not just
fashionable) that resulted, it’s time to do what I’ve helped so many young people
do over almost two decades. It’s time to cut the umbilical and make my way in
the big bad world.
Wish me luck.