Joe Bispham: ‘You need a safe place to be able to say that was a shit lesson’

Writing in the Guardian, Educating the East End’s Joe Bispham talks about finding solace in talking to colleagues and how the show has highlighted teacher workloads. Here are a few of the points he makes…

Educating the East End shows teaching isn’t easy. It shows the difficulties that teachers face on a daily basis. There is a real belief that education is changing with academies and free schools, but community education still has an important place in our society. Look at a kid like Christopher [an autistic student who appeared in the final episode of the show]. He has been at our school for five years, that’s half of an entire generation of local people who know about him. If he is having a hard time they can be there to help him out. Those values – local schools for local people – are vital…

The show has started conversations about how hard teachers work. Generally I judged teaching based on my own school experience but the number of parents who came up to me after seeing the show and said, “I couldn’t believe how hard you work – you made me consider how I approach parents’ evening.” I think we need society to have a shift in attitude in how they see the profession, but that will only come if our top politicians stop slagging off teachers the whole time.

I said on the show “I feel like I have no life” and in low moments I still feel like this, for example, when marking is piling up and I have lesson observations. But it’s a slight overreaction. The holidays are teachers’ rewards in many ways; they are not necessarily worth it all the time but without the holidays teachers would need to get paid vastly more.

I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t considered leaving teaching. There are points you reach when you have classes not doing what you want and pupils that cannot see you are trying to help. They are teenagers after all, and I am not blaming them. While Frederick Bremer school is very supportive, the workload and the isolation you can feel as a teacher – you are the one in front of the class, and as supportive as a school can be it’s your responsibility and it doesn’t always feel like things are working – there is a lot of pressure.

Difficult times are always matched by moments where you are in front of a class and you have inspired someone. They might come up to you and tell a joke based on something they learned two weeks ago. That’s a great feeling and it’s moments like that when I cannot see myself doing anything else.

You need a safe space to be able to turn around and say “that was a shit lesson”. I’ve come out of classes and had colleagues say, “You’ll never guess how shit my lesson was – this happened” and they will laugh and you will tell a funny story and then they will turn around and say, “well what did you do?” and you’ll talk about it. That gives you a safe place to make mistakes. You have to learn and if you’re supported like that then your class will make progress even if you are a new teacher…

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Categories: Teaching.


  1. AnnieBlack01

    MaryMyatt SchoolsImprove sadly, PRP means competition between teachers and less chance of honesty and openness. U0001f61f

  2. Janet2

    Unfortunately, admitting to have taught a shit lesson means you won’t get your performance-related pay.  Neither will you be able to let off steam or get support.

  3. MarkPTrotter

    SchoolsImprove no you need to move on quickly as complaining about your own perception of a lesson just says it didn’t work for me

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