Secret Teacher: we’re all under pressure but don’t take it out on the pupils
Everyone wants to see students do well, but this obsession with grades and targets is no good for our pupils’ wellbeing
The Secret Teacher says pupils are suffering because schools and teachers are under pressure to perform well and meet standards and targets. Photograph: http://www.alamy.com
“Education is not the filling of a vessel but the kindling of a flame.” Socrates
When the school year commences in September, I always start my lessons by asking my new students to write down three expectations that they have of me as their teacher. Their responses are very similar; for me to treat them fairly, to encourage and support them to be their best and to show them respect. One response was for me to give a good education.
This really made me think. What does it actually mean to give a student a good education? I became a teacher to motivate and inspire my students, to bring out the best in them. I believe that the role of every teacher is to be a guide and a role model to the next generation.
However, when I see a teacher shouting at a year 7 student half their size or members of the SLT implementing policies that do not consider the welfare of students, I do question the motivation of these individuals to enter the profession and the impact that their decisions and actions have on students.
With the new Ofsted framework and the emphasis on data and targets, I fully understand the pressure schools are under. However, this should not mean that a student’s worth is purely based on the level or grade they achieve.
When students enter my classroom I want them to feel that they can achieve their potential if they work hard, but some of the targets are so unrealistic that students feel like failures if they don’t achieve the grade. Many students may leave school feeling demoralised as they are pushed so hard to the point where their self-esteem and confidence is affected. Education policies should focus on the emotional wellbeing of students as well as their academic achievements. Education should provide students the skills they need to be happy adults.
I believe that all schools should follow in the footsteps of Anthony Seldon who has established his own curriculum which includes lessons in happiness. Students are who are put under a great amount of pressure and are told that they are not good enough are left feeling anxious and pessimistic about their future. I have taught many students who may never achieve a grade A, but they have shown kindness to other students, they have raised money for charity and they have tried their best. All students should be valued and all their achievements academic or not should be recognised.
Sir Richard Layard launched a mass movement Action for Happiness that focuses on the idea that those who do things to make others happy become happier themselves. It saddens me to see teachers screaming at a student who may go home to a parent who interacts with them in exactly the same way. As teachers it is our duty to show students the correct manner to conduct themselves, through our interactions with them. We teach students that bullying is unacceptable yet there are teachers who embarrass students in front of their class. I always hear that student progress is a top priority. Student welfare should also be a top priority.
Teachers should encourage students to be themselves and instil in them the confidence to make their own choices. There are, of course, many teachers who do care about student welfare and want to do more but this is difficult when school policies are heavily data driven, implemented in some cases by adults who just want to see results and are not concerned at the way in which they are reached.
A good education should be one in which a student is able to flourish both academically and emotionally. A student may leave school with grade As but if their self-esteem has been affected because they were belittled by a teacher in the job for the wrong reasons, in my opinion, that student has not been given a good education.
I have met and been taught by great teachers who lead by example and believe in their students. There are two kinds of teachers I value, the ones who were kind, eccentric and inspirational and the teachers that made me feel valued and were great leaders. And then there were teachers who would put you down in front of a class and make you feel worthless. I know what kind of teacher I want to be.
Today’s Secret Teacher works at secondary school in the north of England.