Speaking In Tongues

Way back when, I would use estate agents’ copy to teach my students about euphemism. They’d laugh, with mild shock, at language so elastic that ‘bijou’ denoted a space big enough for your nose hairs to tickle the walls, and ‘characterful’ meant that the local wino had been an unofficial tenant for the past decade. My students would then make up their own examples, recasting a property with broken windows as “possessing a comprehensive system of ventilation ducts”, and another, infested with rats, as “sympathetic to the local ecosystem”. However, I no longer rely on estate agents for stimulus materials because I have some new toys. Stuffed to the seams with code, adverts for teaching jobs are my current favourites.

Pretty much all the schools I see advertising for staff have been found to be outstanding. This could point to several things. Perhaps ‘outstanding’ means something really obvious that I’ve only just twigged, like ‘standing outside’. Which lots of school buildings do, to be fair. Or perhaps outstanding schools tend to have higher staff turnovers: maybe, those working in outstanding schools develop professionally at such speed that they are ready to take on management posts within, ooh, minutes. Or, maybe, outstanding schools are horrible places in which to work, and tend to lose burnt-out staff like a haemophiliac loses blood. I know which one I’d go for.

So, now that there’s nowt outstanding about being outstanding, let’s turn to the other honeyed phrases with which schools try to lure applicants. Boasting about which percentile of the country’s ‘most improved’ they occupy seems to be the latest fad…and, encouragingly, they’re all way up near the top! Now, how did they get there, and what does it take to work in a school like that?

First up, make sure that you’re ‘data-driven’ as in “we are looking for a data-driven candidate who is also an outstanding teacher”. Blimey. You mean there are teachers out there making decisions on the basis of no info whatsoever? I made a point of learning the names of all my students (eventually). Does that make me data driven too? Probably not. It’s numbers they mean – hefty figures called targets that often bear little relation to the actual abilities of the students around whose necks they are hung. And, because they are The Law Before Which We All Genuflect, you, oh applicant, would do well to regard the students in your care as statistics unhappily trapped inside human bodies, and desperate to be liberated. So, cajole them, plead with them, bribe them and, if that fails, do the work for them. Anything less is, frankly, unprofessional and not what’s expected of a “team player”. You may not have known it, but you’ve been training for Mendacity United, and your call-up from the subs’ bench may be imminent.

The ads also tell us that many schools are on “a journey of year-on-year improvement”, so that en route at least 267.5% of their students will leave bearing teetering stacks of GCSEs. You can tell these places are on the move, because they always seem to be seeking candidates “willing to go the extra mile” (who knew that nomadism was so ‘in’ this season?). This is a little misleading. As you will discover, what with Oz always being a further mile away, you will have to (deep breath) cajole your students plead with them bribe them and if that fails do the work for them. Anything less is unprofessional. Plus, you did tell them that you’re a team player and you may have nodded eagerly when they spoke about their culture of “additionality” (eh?). Some schools, however, may be a little more blatant about their expectations, requiring candidates to do “whatever it takes” to ensure that The Law Before Which We All Genuflect is not broken.

So, finally, we come to my favourite: the school with a “no excuses culture”. I have no real idea what this means. For whom, pray, are there no excuses? I know that in some schools, students have no recourse to excuses – which is why one who had been thrown out of home and had been sleeping on park benches was excluded for missing an assignment deadline.  But staff may also have to abide by the new rules – perhaps in schools where there is no excuse not to cajolethempleadwiththembribethemandifthatfailsdotheworkforthem. Or, indeed, to simply cut out the middlemen and go straight to the ‘do the work for them’ bit. I’m still confused. Although I do understand that ‘no excuses’ is an excuse.

Anyhow, I no longer need worry about this stuff. Ascending to the deoxygenated heights of the upper pay scale banged some monster-sized nails into the coffin of my future employability; so I’m staying put where I am, until such time as it becomes intolerable, or I am deemed sackable. Whichever happens first. But for aspiring and viable employees, forewarned may be forearmed: dishonesty has been normalised in schools, so those of you able to turn a blind eye, swallow your moral qualms or perform other feats that will rearrange your organs are well-placed to thrive. Independent learning be hanged: guaranteed short cuts to fab grades are part of the cultural weft. I just wonder when the edges will start to fray.

Happy job-hunting.


About Joe Allardyce

Joe Allardyce has been a teacher for more than fifteen years. State and private; secondary and primary; man and woman: Joe has been there. Perhaps not the last one. View all posts by Joe Allardyce

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