Thursday, 20 March 2014

I'd rather be a teacher than hate myself.

I have sat through an increasing number of briefings and meetings and strategy groups and focus units and coffee mornings and informal chats and other such bollocks over the past few weeks that have started to show a dangerous trend in my school. This horrifying trend is that of the bureaucracy of teaching's upper-middle-management. These (and I hesitate here to use the word) teachers are part of the increasingly middle-heavy structure that needs to constantly affirm its own existence by the use of sophistry-laden presentations dripping with data and spreadsheets and 'visual strategy' and online resources that do absolutely nothing for teaching apart from making things that teachers already do needlessly convoluted, all wrapped up with the insistent deployment of the word 'tracking'.

There is no denying that education is a business. I have spoken about this before and it was, I hope, abundantly clear that my feelings upon this are not wholly positive. I do, however, understand that it would be naive to think that people do not want to have careers in education. For many achievement is rooted in the belief that they must aspire and perspire their way through strings and strings of data in order to progress through the mess of payscales and that by progressing through this they are instantly a success. The aspiration culture of twenty-first century western society is one which is inherently selfish. It is obsessed with numbers on e-pay slips and epithets of rank; head of, director for, specialist in. I don't really care that people want to earn more. I think we'd all like to earn more. It is the effect on the quality of education that is to my chagrin. What I am seeing is that the press of careerism is actually making teaching worse. It is making the lives of teachers harder and, what is worse, it is putting into higher positions those who manipulate others to compensate for their own lack of talent and passion.

My problem is with the obsession with the whole school project. This seems to be as popular with aspirational leadership candidates as class-A drugs are with hookers. And is equally as destructive. Suddenly, without any training or knowledge or, really, interest, Maths teachers are leading literacy, Linguists are developing Art for All and God knows who is leading SMSC. But surely, I hear from your hoary throats, any work on these key areas of development are valuable. Surely even the focus on them is as good as anything. Well. Sorry (I'm not sorry.) it's not. It is tokenism based purely on an aspiration that ignores the point of a whole school project. A whole school project should lead and develop. If this is so then why are there five different whole school literacy directives going on in my school? And, more importantly, why do none of them work together? It is less a case of the left hand not knowing what the right is doing and more of the right hand writing down nonsense while the left hand erases what has just been written.

It is at the very core of being a teacher that you should be interested in your subject, but most of the people running these programmes are not interested in anything beyond their own paychecks. The whole-school project is needless sophistry run on false enthusiasm. This week a teacher started a debating club and called it the first debating club the school has ever had, despite the literacy club that has run for the last eighteen months and has run debates as part of it, or the debating club that ran years before but died due, partly, to a lack of leadership support. And why does this teacher not realise that they are not the first? Because they don't give a shit about debating. They are more than happy to ignore the work done by a normal teacher in order to further themselves. They have the gift of the upper pay scale and its inherent access to resources, people, publicity and the ability to wonder around school promoting while most other teachers are taking registers or, Gove forbid, teaching.

Teaching doesn't want the Dead Poets Society style of teacher. (in terms of teen suicide rate, that is probably a good thing though.) It doesn't want the exciting, interesting and knowledgeable teacher who loves their subject and loves teaching it and shows signs of a number of mild mental disorders. Teaching wants the grinder. It wants the worksheet-laden, numbers in boxes teacher who has career ambitions and uses the lexicon of the middle-manager. I don't get it. I would rather teach, would rather try my hardest to impart a love of my subject through my passion. I would rather be paid an average wage and be honest than do something I don't care about and manipulate students and other staff to make myself appear better.

I will leave you with a pipe dream as hopeless as my script for Mighty Ducks 4 (Duck University) ever making it to production:

I want to work in a school where every teacher has time allocated with which they have to pursue a project of their own. The caveat: that this project should be in subject (at least vaguely) and of their own interest. An art teacher could produce a sculpture for instance; a Geography teacher, a study of erosion or oxbow lakes (or any other available stereotype); An English teacher a study of literature or a piece of creative writing. Every year the school would publish a yearbook of these projects. Can you imagine a school screaming with pursuit of knowledge? Students would be encouraged to join in themselves if they wanted to, but the profound idea underpinning this is that the school would be alive with modeled learning and development of what teaching is.

I don't know. Maybe I don't really get teaching after all. Maybe I was sold a profession that doesn't exist. Maybe I'm just a bit rubbish really.

1 comment:

  1. This sounds frighteningly familiar. I was beset by a department head who wanted a "grade 1 department" which they saw as being totally dependent on unfeasibly high results as a stepping stone to promotion.