Swimming Against the Tide

Labelling theorists claim that by labelling certain people astimthumb-310x436 deviant or criminal, society, unsurprisingly, encourages them to become the label given to them. The teaching profession faces a critical five years and I believe should not allow itself to be stigmatised or labelled as anything less than an extra ordinary successful profession. Recent paper headlines given not from the “Daily Moan,” but from the May edition of the teacher paper, “The Times Educational Supplement is that:

  • “Priority no 1: action on “coasting” schools.”
  • “Testing isn’t just a box ticking exercise.”
  • “The battle to stop effing and blinding.”
  • “Rapid decline in staff well- being poll.”

This is hardly an inspirational, relaxing Sunday read, conducive to keeping those in the teaching profession energised enthused and it is not likely to encourage prospective graduates to apply to join this fantastic profession. The job is hard, ever changing, at times (such as the exam season) extremely stressful and not overly rewarded by pay or external praise. However, if we allow ourselves to be incorrectly labelled as “coasting” or simply administrators who manage unacceptable behaviour, teachers’ morale will continue to plummet. I would argue that even the supportive media have, through negative headlines portrayed the profession as stressed, pressurised and therefore kept us in a bunker mentality, where we are not planning for success but awaiting nervously the next political announcement.

I adore and overuse Einstein’s oft used quotation:

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend a whole life thinking it’s stupid.”

I would suggest that the teaching profession is allowing itself to become Einstein’s fish, pigeon- holed for society’s issues, dealing with a variety of care concerns such as, the local medical requirements, support of food bank, requirements to report and support daily domestic abuse, coping with those suffering through mental -health and the crisis of a support service at breaking point. These laudable areas that schools are drawn into are not what we are trained or paid for; are often determined by out of school hour behaviour and then by their very nature doomed to failure as there are not the resources available to succeed.  Schools and the profession have to, and do passionately care, but we are at our best when teaching; developing the personal qualities and skills for our young people to try to become great citizens is areas of the citizenship curriculum we should develop, however just because we care we should not be duped into trying to solve, back fill the staffing crisis that currently exists in children services.

I would argue that the teaching profession needs to focus on the many daily positives that occur in our schools. Schools as depicted in some recent programmes such as “Educating Yorkshire” are a great place to work full of humour, compassion and remarkable achievement. The teaching profession needs to develop a positive mind-set that will see all flourish, even if paper sales take a dip.

These are just three of my favourite aspects of my fabulous job leading Christopher Whitehead, a remarkable, larger -than average secondary school in Worcester. Aspects of my daily life that often go unreported and under- appreciated.

  1. Students are infectious:

The young people are wonderful, intelligent and invariably optimistic. They need to be given more of a voice, not only in schools, but in society. In the recent election, the five prospective “Worcester MPs “pitched” to our passionate Year 10 group (all 224 of them, worryingly their largest audience, despite five weeks of campaigning) I was immensely proud, though not surprised, by the first three unplanned questions:

  • “What is your stance on immigration?”
  • “Why has the law on hunting with dogs not been upheld?”
  • “Give the reasons for being in or out of Europe.”

The pollsters could have saved time and surprise as our whole school election mirrored the country’s eventual result; however with a 93% turnout and no apathy on show, the students made a compelling argument for lowering the voting age!

2 Teaching is fun (generally)

Every day is different; I love the variety and the challenge of being a teacher. As well as waddling around the PE lessons three times a week (thank you Year 7 for putting up with me) I have had the opportunity to:

  • Go to the House of Commons with fifty spirited Year 10 students( there’s that political interest again)
  • Support music/drama/ dance/ carol concerts including standing in the wonderful Worcester cathedral to give the Christmas address.
  • Support our various sport teams- their enthusiasm endeavour and no little skill was a pleasure to observe.
  • Try out new subjects such as RE/ History and Art whilst covering colleagues.
  • Sadly, assist my remarkable Director of Studies Becky Woods in leading the school in grief and remembrance for the unexpected loss of a Year 10 girl.

How many jobs offer such annual variety, experiences and places that I would pay to visit, generally with people who are keen to learn?

3 Teachers are great- I know that is not a “cool” soundbite, or likely to become a newspaper headline, but having done various other jobs, these work colleagues are lovely (even my NAS UWT rep.)

Generally I like my colleagues. All the staff undoubtedly care and want to do a good job.  I have worked for 28 years in 7 schools and can count on one hand what my Mum would call, “bad uns.” Those working in schools are making a massive difference to the young people who attend. There is a danger that with external judgements being considered to primarily be exam success we can forget that “everybody is a genius” and try to incorrectly pigeon hole students onto courses that meet our data progress targets, but do not meet the needs of our students. Yet daily I see remarkable young people who are overcoming major difficulties: the student who arrives from Europe speaking no English and who 6 weeks later is coping with our curriculum and playing centre forward for the team; or the children who cope with bereavement or cancer; or those vulnerable souls who view school as a sanctuary, a haven from abuse. All are known to school staff; all receive individualised remarkable support.

I therefore find it repugnant to label any school as “coasting” and think it is time for a positive reappraisal of what really occurs in schools and what vibrant remarkable places they are, different from the Waterloo Road simplistic depiction that too easily hits our TV screens.



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