If you’re thinking of joining the teaching profession, take a look at the DfE’s latest billboards, according to which new recruits can expect high levels of job satisfaction, salaries 2.5 times the national average and generous pensions. Which is great because, for experienced teachers, a rather different kind of writing’s been on the wall for some time. Initially, it looked like an idiosyncratic hand borne of a personal habit. As it spread, it became more stereotypical (in the original sense), reflecting an increasing uniformity of approach. Now upper case and blood-red, like the opening credits of Hammer House of Horror, its import is pretty clear. Run. Fast.
I’m not quite at the stage of decrepitude that requires a comb-over. However, being an occupant of the Upper Pay Scale, I know/of numerous managers who, guided by concerns such as freeing up cash for their own pay rises, would happily frame my face with a set of cross-hairs. I base this on neither conjecture nor the consumption of ergot but, rather, on the many instances I have witnessed of experienced teachers, hitherto regarded as highly competent, being revealed suddenly and by the miracle of managerial perspicacity as, in fact, beyond abysmal. Unprepared to spend any more of my days listening for the click of the sniper’s trigger, I have fled before I am shot.
I have, of course, thrown triplets out of the tub with the bathwater, the first being that I no longer get to experience the frisson accompanying the turn of the knob. Allow me to explain. Devoting time and energy to covering syllabus content thoroughly is fine. (Granted, I increasingly need a microscope to see it and not just because of failing eyesight.) And because an assistant head I worked under was asked to move along, dear, after teaching the wrong material again, it has to be a legitimate object of teacherly effort. The matter is more whether the syllabus is the alpha or the omega of what we teach; for, where the latter creed prevails, teachers are exhorted to spend any spare time clomping, yet again, across terrain already covered. The desire to explore other paths, to help students develop a richer sense of place, often forced me to shut my classroom door tightly and hope that no-one senior opened it (the knob referred to above) lest I was found, in flagrante, delivering material above and beyond. Now, I’m employed for the above and beyond. Happy days.
Second, I am no longer compelled to claim that my students’ successes are all their own, while their lack of the same is mine. Or, if you’re a senior manager, vice versa. In a travesty of good sense, I can perpetuate the fiction that no pupil is a blank sheet I can simply fold or doodle upon to create whatever is desired. If it were so, many would have long since turned into obese cats, origami helicopters or crude tumescences. Furthermore, and enjoying the support of my muddle-headed clients, I am able to enforce the idiocy that we go Dutch, requiring students to furnish fifty per cent of our collective effort.
Third, I need no longer pretend that low expectations, malpractice and ill-supported pedadodgical fads are all in the students’ best interests. Working in faith schools taught me that God is most often invoked just before an instruction to do something immoral and, often, illegal. Similarly, claims that “It’s all about the students” are at their most frequent when “it’s” about everything but. I shan’t bang on about a workload that, like a coward, does not threaten to kill me at least twice a week; nor about the bizarrely proportionate relationship that now exists between the hours I work and the income I earn. The acquisition of neither drove my departure, though both are gratefully-received consequences of the same.
Were I prone to feel guilty about leaving school employment, I shouldn’t as there is, most emphatically, no problem with teacher supply. We know this because Nick Gibb assures us that an imminent rise in pupil numbers, under-recruitment of new trainees and the diarrhoea of experienced teachers from schools (my exit being but a Lilliputian stool in the effluence) constitute nothing more than a challenge. Feel free to extend the analogy to the institutions from whence said staff are discharged, too often by means of mendacity and force. And to those who, tacitly or otherwise, encourage the practice.
Still, Nick Gibb is a minister and not one of those scaremongering globules that comprise ‘The Blob’, so what he says must be true. And because he is told what to do and say by Nicky Morgan who, being a Secretary of State, refrains from using underhand tactics to misinform the public, it must be doubly the case. Far be it from me, then, to suggest that staff retention policies based on the overconsumption of laxatives could reduce reserves of expertise so far that whatever’s left ends up talking to itself, like a rumble echoing around an empty stomach.
Indeed, should the system start to feel faint, it could always implement the idea Jim Knight floated recently in the TES, of using Skype to fill staffing gaps. Not at all like eating tissues to stave off hunger, it’s a solution that’s bound to be amazingly innovative or some such: it’s Jim Knight, FFS! Unless the entire article was a Juvenalian satire – which it might have been, given that the Physics specialist featured to exemplify the virtues of Knight’s proposal, was a “Mr Hanke”. You may, perhaps, recall a similarly-named talking poo in South Park.
So, with there being a sufficiency of teachers and, apparently, oodles more poised to arrive, this is an excellent time at which to leave a field that has been treated less as a profession than as a performing monkey having its organ ground. No s**t, the simple fact is that as long as good teachers remain in a broken system, the broken system will have little incentive to mend. Sometimes, it’s kinder all round to let it crash and burn or, even, to fan the flames so that, phoenix-like, it can rise anew.
S**t… fan…I feel a sentence just waiting to happen.