Schoolzone blog: A Watched Pot Never Boils

A watched pot never boils
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23 March 2015

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By Ed, a teacher in the South West

Photo: The Guardian

Writing in Friday’s TES [20/03/15], David Cameron said words we’ve longed to hear, as if he were a newly appointed saviour come to make all things right:

Bit by bit, our education system is changing for the better. This is down to the hard work of teachers – and I would argue that it is also down to a new approach to teaching.

“It used to be that teachers were micromanaged and monitored, hemmed in by a system that treated them as operators, not professionals. It left teachers feeling demoralised, over-worked, cogs in a machine. But that’s not why people came into the teaching profession. They didn’t sign up to fill in forms or act as administrators. Teachers want to teach and inspire. Our whole approach is about trusting them to do so.” David Cameron

Radio 4’s ‘File on 4’ report on stress in teaching, ‘Sick of school’ begins by quoting Nicky Morgan’s first party conference speech in which she says:

“… when I hear of teachers working late into the night marking books, planning lessons, preparing for inspections that may or may not come, I do two things: I marvel at their dedication. But I also think, there must be a better way.

“I don’t want my child to be taught by someone too tired, too stressed and too anxious to do the job well.” Nicky Morgan

If you haven’t yet listened to the programme, do: It gives us real-life examples of teachers left “ feeling demoralised, over-worked, cogs in a machine”, people “too tired, too stressed and too anxious to do the job” they are supposedly being trusted to do. Overwhelmingly, a culture of fear is revealed at all levels of the profession. ‘Disappearances’ and gagging orders should never be part of our profession and a thousand times never in our country… how have we let this happen? And how is this ‘trust’?

In the discussion with ‘Tom’, who was dismissed for supposedly being an inadequate teacher, it was suggested that parents may well say, ‘If you’re a good teacher you’ve got nothing to fear in observations…’ and Tom admits ‘…if I wasn’t a teacher I’d probably think exactly the same thing’, before going on to talk about how observations used to be about helping you improve, whereas now they are punitive. It isn’t what you do, but what else you could have done that trips you up.

Invariably, when you read about a stressed teacher being ‘picked off’, they’ve been judged as ‘needing improvement’. It is all too easy then to think their complaints are ‘sour grapes’ and write them off as dead wood that needs pruning from the profession. But we overlook the real reason why the wise and dedicated generations who cast a sceptical eye on the latest fad while placing educating the whole child at the heart of their lessons are being shed like smelly socks – they cost too much. Getting rid of them – us, I should say – in a kinder way would carry a price tag: easier to claim they’re past it. It’s a set-up! Strange this happens just as the pension age goes up…

In a staff meeting today we older teachers were encouraged to consider going part time or take early retirement, jocularly couched in terms that would satisfy a lawyer. Our honest Head also told us to ignore the sweet things politicians were promising: the pay rise comes with no increase in funding. We’ll still be “ micromanaged and monitored” for our own good, because Ofsted is still hunting schools to turn into academies with castigatory zeal. What a shame!

This nation was built on creative imagination and daring, none of which shows ‘steady improvement’ or survives incessant scrutiny.

So David, so Nicky – it’s easier than you think: teachers are longing to be allowed to be the professionals that they are. If you mean what you say, all you have to do is call off the bullies and let us do what we trained to do.

If you can bring yourselves to do that, we might start believing what you say.




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