Those of you who follow me on Twitter or know me in general will be aware that my loathing for the teaching profession is well-documented. That, of course, didn’t stop me making an ill-advised move back into it after successfully escaping for two years. But I wonder how many of you know why?
Let me tell you.
Teaching sucks. There are many reasons for this – the chief among which is that in many, many schools the possibility of actually undertaking the activity for which the profession is named – you know, “teaching” – is rendered impossible. This happens in lots of ways.
First of all, there is the declining standard of behaviour in the classroom. I have a Year 4 class – 8 and 9 year olds. These kids are already well-versed in backchat to teachers, violence towards each other, swearing, refusing to do work and taking advantage of supposed “special needs” to their own advantage. (This isn’t, of course, to put down those kids that do have genuine difficulties learning things, but rather to put down those kids who use their supposed “condition” as an excuse to behave like a twat.)
When asking for support with children like this from senior staff, the inevitable response to the poor teacher is “you need to develop some strategies”. Well, fine. Give me some. Some that work. Oh, wait, none actually do work? Right. Let’s do some nonsense with traffic lights that they’ll ignore then.
“Keep at it. Be consistent,” they’ll say. And fine, fair enough, you should be consistent in your rewards and punishments. But I am distinctly old-fashioned in the opinion that I feel children should know their place. It is not their place to question their teacher. It is not their place to refuse to do work. It is not their place to get up out of their seat and wander around the classroom. I remember the “naughty children” in my class at primary school well (largely because they were also the ones who would bully the meeker kids such as myself), and while they were silly and could be outright nasty at playtime, in the classroom there was never any wandering around or backchat. Now, it’s not an exaggeration to say it’s a daily occurrence.
Second among the reasons that teaching is impossible is everyone’s favourite friend, bureaucracy. By the end of a single day, my desk will be covered with useless pieces of paper – notes, memos, charts, tables, percentages, requests for information. All of it is meaningless, and I don’t know where it all comes from. Why do we need to know so much information? Why is the school I’m teaching at considered a “failing” school because of some of these figures? Yes, many pupils are making slow progress but that’s because, frankly, many of them came in pretty low, don’t get much support at home and don’t have the slightest clue how to behave in the classroom, even when this is pointed out by their teacher. The fact that these children are learning anything at all should be considered a success.
Another stupid thing: the excessively celebratory nature of most schools these days. It reaches a level where it is utterly meaningless. Celebration of achievement is an important part of motivation, but when children are getting certificates in assembly for “sitting quietly all day” or “always being cheerful”, I think we may be taking things a little far. (That travesty of an “awards” ceremony happens on a weekly basis, by the way.)
The theory runs that children respond better to praise and encouragement than punishments. Well, I am yet to see any evidence of that in the three schools I have taught in, amongst children aged anywhere between 8 and 16. Children respond to things that are “unpleasant” for them. They don’t want to miss out on fun things, and they definitely don’t want to look stupid in front of their friends. So why don’t we have a weekly “anti-celebration assembly” where the naughtiest children of the week are brought up to the front of the school and admonished by the headmaster? Parents could be invited. It’d be fun.
The answer to that is, of course, that it’s not politically correct to be negative. There’s even a “golden ratio”. There should be three times as much praise as there should be punishment. I don’t know who came up with that statistic, but they probably had a clipboard.
Then there’s the Tories’ bright idea to bring in “superteachers”. This is never going to work, because the profession has such a high turnover anyway – mostly for the reasons outlined above along with the stress and the health problems that causes – that limiting access to it smacks of stupidity. In fact, this article from the Daily Mash sums it up beautifully.
Those who find success and fulfilment in the teaching profession are either very brave, very resilient or very stupid. Whatever it is, they have my eternal respect, because I’m not one of them. At the first opportunity to arise, I will be out of that door, never to return.
And this time I mean it!