‘Teaching is breaking. Is anyone out there listening?’

Three years ago, I sat down to start writing a book about surviving and thriving in teaching. I was, and continue to be, a practising teacher and middle leader, and continue to consider myself, as I did then, a dedicated and proud member of the profession. An author and secondary teacher writes in Tes.

At the time, I had a huge debate with myself over the use of the word “crisis” in the context of UK teaching. I really didn’t want to use it – I felt it was unhelpful, slightly hysterical and self-perpetuating. But the 3,000 voices of the teachers who were sharing their stories with me forced me to realise that there was no other word for it. Whilst I ensured I focused on the positives and on suggesting ways forward, to ignore the mental health crisis, the recruitment and retention crisis, the staggering workload and teachers’ pernicious sense of being “inherently in need of fixing” would have been naïve and damaging.

When I wrote the book, I was possibly in a bit of a cocoon, but the financial crisis hadn’t really bitten yet for the teachers I spoke to. Add to the issues above the vulnerability of “expensive” established staff and the terminal shortage of basic resources, from paper to textbooks and, if anything, the increased accountability measures, and I have to admit it; much as I had to admit to “crisis” being the right word. I’m worried. I’m really worried for the profession I love. Below, I give three reasons why.

Teaching ‘in crisis’

1. “I could walk into your classroom and find evidence that you are the best teacher in the country or evidence that you are the worst,” said a head of history once to the deputy who’d just observed him, and found his lesson wanting.

We are – and should be – accountable: our job is arguably the most important job there is; we nurture the engineers and doctors and electricians of the future. “If it’s not good enough for my child, it’s simply not good enough” is a mantra I carry around.

But how can we tell whether teachers are doing a good job? Does a scrutiny of exercise books do it? Or a colour-coded development plan? How about alearning walk, behind the scenes of which SLT discuss what “grade” each teacher would have got in “old money”?

I welcome Ofsted’s focus on tackling excessive workload, particularly linked to monitoring visits. But who decides what’s excessive? The reality is that, on the ground, teachers continue to drown under the stress of regular monitoring exercises. They continue to rally and rage against being judged against a two-minute exercise book flick or a seven-minute drop in.

My suggestion for this is to ask the students. Trust me. If I’m not giving them regular feedback, they’ll tell you. If I’m out of thwack because I’m being observed, they’ll ask me what’s wrong… in front of you!

2. “Help! I need to find another school. I’ve been left alone with two Year 11 classes, I’ve never received any feedback and my mentor is off long-term sick.”

The way forward? Not an easy one, as those training teachers face staggering cuts of their own, but let’s properly vet the schools volunteering to take trainees to ensure that they have the capacity to offer the guidance new teachers are entitled to and so desperately need.

Read the full article ‘Teaching is breaking. Is anyone out there listening?’

Breaking or broken? Can it be fixed? Recycled? Or binned? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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