The Tes reports that it’s a Friday and Jessica has a meeting with a member of the senior leadership team to discuss this week’s whole school book review.
Up to this moment, Jessica had thought she had successfully negotiated the week. She’d taught 20 lessons, she’d run detentions, she’d managed arguments between children in her form, she’d had nightmares about her upcoming Year 9 lesson and then she’d managed that 60-minute lesson, last lesson on a Friday. In between, she’d cooked dinner a couple of times for her partner, despite feeling as though her face would splat in the soup. So yes, she’d done pretty well, all things considered.
But now, when she least needed it, she was about to be made to doubt herself: the very person supposed to make her feel more secure, the same person who had only a comically cliched idea of what she’d actually done that day or that week, is about to pick up on something that will break her already brittle confidence.
“Why are there gaps in this child’s book?” asks the senior leader.
“I think that girl was off school there,” Jessica stuttered back.
“So why haven’t they caught up?”
“I’m not sure, I think I told them to catch up on any missed work,” she replied.
“So did you check the following week that this student had done what you’d told them to?”
“I think so, er” Jessica hesitates. “I can’t remember.”
“OK,” says her boss.
Jessica forlornly accepts she should have followed up with the absent student.
But she really shouldn’t. In fact, it was the child’s responsibility to catch up on that work. Even if it wasn’t, Jessica teaches 400 students and the desire to “catch her out” seems to have overridden any desire for common sense or fairness.
When driving home, she burst into tears. She just couldn’t have given any more this week.
Jessica quits teaching and goes on to become one of the most successful civil servants in the country. In future, she will be judged on parameters she can control, her ethical code will be a shining light for others. Oh, and thousands of children who could have been taught by Jessica will never see her smiling face in the classroom. Instead, they will be treated as if they are on a conveyer belt of Jessica’s, being plonked in front of a variety of teachers – some as talented as her, but many not – who will flitter in and out of their lives like paper in the wind. But those senior leaders who pressurised Jessica, made her feel worthless through ignorance or intention, will probably survive, purely because no one can hang those same results they destroyed Jessica’s confidence with, around their own necks.
This all could have been so different.
If only one of her senior colleagues had sought her out and told her that there is no evidence that currently exists that can link her performance with the attainment and progress of her students. Told her, as an esteemed and more experienced colleague, that she is doing a fantastic job. Told her you will be checking in on her to reassure. Told her that not all schools will devalue her in this way, and before she considers turning her back on teaching per se, she should consider another school first. Perhaps that would have saved Jessica.
Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin
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