The education world, which effects everyone – as the children in front of me every day are the future care home managers, neurologists, pizza servers, coffee producers and let’s hope, inventors of all the ideas urgently needed to save the planet – is completely upside down.
John Hattie said something along the lines of ‘the good news is, teachers make a difference; the bad news is, teachers make a difference’. But we can’t have it both ways. If teachers are to be held up as possible saviours of society, if we genuinely believe that education is a good thing, that it can improve society by creating social mobility, giving chances to those who would not otherwise have it, then we need to do everything in our power to support the very people who have the most power to create this change – teachers. Even if you don’t believe in social mobility, either because it’s too utopian or you don’t believe that everyone deserves an equal chance at having the life they choose, those pupils in front of me every day are still the ones who will be looking after you when you are too infirm and your sugar loaded diet has caused your brain to decline to have any control over your life, who will be serving you coffee with or without a smile every day until then and who will be responsible for possibly, and hopefully, inventing the things we need to get us out of the mess we’ve made of the planet – so educating them well, matters.
I want to go into work every day feeling inspired, healthy and energised. I want to feel fully supported in my mission to teach Maths so well that the young people in my classes become confident and happy learners of Maths, and also healthy well balanced, future doctors, entrepreneurs and ice-cream makers. I would like the structures and resources to be in place to fully support this. I want to make a difference and I often do, but this comes at a huge personal cost because the system is broken. The endless stories of teachers breaking under pressure are tiresome. Enough is enough. Let’s turn the world the other way up.
Education is an investment not a drain on precious resources. We have the money and power to have an education system that works, really works. Instead we mass educate on the cheap and then publically humiliate the very people who we want to use to change our world. The message is clear: you want me to teach every lesson with passion, enthusiasm and excellence. Me too! But what those teacher training adverts so inadvertently hide is that you want me to also sacrifice my life, relationships, health and sanity.
It’s time to remove the kryptonite. If education was a business we would have gone bankrupt years ago. We spend very little of our day focused on our core business – teaching and learning; we do not teach in Shanghai or Singapore where teachers use well- researched resources, teach well- motivated students who arrive from primary with their number facts solid; we do not become experts at year 8 Maths, teach one lesson twice and then have time for collaboration and further improvement of our expertise. Instead we teach back to back lessons, spreading ourselves thinly in our expertise across 7 year groups, dealing with lack of motivation, outright hostility, huge social issues, poor resources, huge admin and accountability pressures etc etc etc – all under a negative and constant stream of hostility from government, and sadly society in general. I am not a social worker or counsellor nor do I have the emotional reserves to replace all the neglectful and inadequate parenting. And yet as budgets for health and social services are cut I am increasingly expected to be all this and more, without expertise or supervision – all whilst feeling the increasing accountability of being compared to the teachers in Shanghai and Singapore. No wonder so many of us have trouble sleeping during term time.
You can’t have it both ways. Teachers make a difference. Tired, uninspired, ill, overloaded teachers still make a difference. Just not the difference we need or want. You want me to make a huge inspiring change in the lives of all those I am privileged to teach? Then cherish me, support me, inspire me! Remove my kryptonite. Turn the world upside down. Teachers are the most important resource in education and therefore in building a better future. Our job is to be of service to our pupils and to society. A pupil’s job is to learn and the give back to society. Everything should be done to make this as easy and as brilliant as possible. Government’s job is to serve society, therefore the Department of Education’s job is to serve school leaders in supporting them in making their schools the happiest most excellent places to work and learn. Ofsted should see itself as of service in helping them achieve this. A Head Teacher’s job is to be of service to help their senior managment team support middle management in being highly organised and excellent managers of teachers. Heads of departments and Heads of Year should see themselves as being of service to support teachers in being the best teachers and change agents they can be so that our pupils of today become well balanced, healthy, intelligent, thoughtful, resourceful, inspirational coffee servers, care home mangers, neuroscientists, farmers, teachers, inventors and leaders of our future.
P.S. This blog post has been in my head for over a year and I am very hopeful that the excellent new workload reports will start to remove some of the kryptonite and start transforming schools and the education system into organisations that revolve around creating the conditions for optimal learning and the development of happy, healthy excellent humans. Right now teachers are modelling the opposite.