Secret Teacher: We’re all getting bogged down in directives, jargon and reforms
Imagine if we could all stop stressing about how to filter down nonsensical jargon from above and get back to enjoying great teaching
Prioritising and filtering communication is becoming the norm. Secret Teacher wants to see leaders and managers striking more of a balance. Photograph: http://www.alamy.com
This week I decided to disentangle the agglomeration of emails that landed in my inbox since the start of term. I had, of course, touched on them on arrival but found their content so utterly depressing and pointless I opted to brush up on a text I was planning to teach instead; I couldn’t go any further. One such email (out of the 300 received) was from the deputy head teacher and included 16 attachments. Eight of them focused on the Ofsted inspection due this year. I spent considerable time trawling through them. I read about the key features of an outstanding French lesson (a subject I don’t teach) and I learnt that all lessons must be engaging, challenging and active. Plenaries (a consolidating activity at the end of a lesson, not an expensive eau d’oeuvre) must show ‘deep learning’. I was asked to incorporate literacy into each of my lessons and be prepared for no warning inspections. Had I considered how transgendered children will be catered for within each lesson and will students entering my class at different levels of attainment now progress (as if by magic) at the same rate?
The teacher standards were also attached, as set by our government highlighting the importance of being tolerant towards all students and their cultural values, a questionable standard in regards to some values I’ve witnessed. Should we tolerate cultural practices that we consider to be misogynistic, for example? The jargon was nauseating and on the whole utterly meaningless; it revealed the grim use of language within our education system.
I read the whole lot and, with my optimism gauge turned right up, agreed with the majority of the content, in the same way I agree too much cheese is bad for you and having a cat ties you down. The point I’m trying to make is that so much of the ‘literature’ we receive in education is full of meaningless jargon that is both boring and uninspiring. Teachers are becoming weary of the very profession that ought to facilitate inspiration. Despite all the glossy brochures on ‘active learning’ and ‘assessment for learning’ designed to make teachers feel like utter fools, very little training is being delivered on the sharing of actual teaching ideas and subject knowledge. For example, in the four schools I have worked in, I have never had the opportunity to discuss an actual text for any decent amount of time. I usually do this in the evenings when I’m knackered, before school or perhaps during a forced half hour slot on an inset day (when we’re also meant to be focusing on an entire new GCSE). Planning and marking is never prioritised during the working day. Similarly, very little time is spared for sharing actual teaching ideas within departments, work that most teachers find incredibly interesting and always enriches their teaching.
The problem is threefold. Firstly, changes in government tend to result in short-term thinking that seeks to criticise whatever has gone before generating new versions of the old principles. Secondly, management teams are under so much pressure to disseminate this information from above that simple changes are often presented as mammoth projects producing vast amounts of stress and extra work. Added to this is the fact that there is rarely a quiet work area to consider/discuss these changes so everything takes much longer than it should – I actually have a whole other rant on the inefficiency of schools but I shall spare you that for the moment.
I don’t know. Perhaps I’m picking holes, complaining, presenting yet another picture of pessimism. But I know this: great teachers who inspired me to join the profession and mentored me during my first years, as well as those I trained with 10 years ago, are fed up. They want out and it’s not just the jargon. It’s the jargon on top of the pressure to be consistently outstanding, lack of administrative support for teachers, frequent changes to curriculums and a culture that blames teachers for low achievement. I loved teaching, but I’m tired of reading abstract jargon that makes me feel like an idiot. I want to be an expert in my subject and I know that the only cliche worth reading is this: enthusiasm is infectious.
So please, can we strike more of a balance. Yes, we should recognise new research on pedagogy and permit changes to our curriculum from time-to-time but management (at all levels) must ensure that we prioritise our subject knowledge, teaching ideas and marking. No child can resist an enthusiastic teacher who writes encouraging comments on their work. That way senior management can get back to the corridors instead of gazing at their laptops and we can all stop stressing about how to filter down nonsensical jargon from above and enjoy great teaching.
Today’s Secret Teacher comes from the south east of England and has been teaching for 10 years.
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