Motherhood, mental illness and beyond

This guest post is written by two friends who are primary school teachers. Both wish to remain anonymous to protect the confidentiality of their students, colleagues and schools.

 
TEACHER #1
Teachers should stop portraying themselves as “victims” says Sir Michael Wilshaw. I am not a victim, sir, but I am angry.

At the age of 21 I realised I had always been destined to be a teacher. I couldn’t wait to start school as a child, always loved learning (as well as helping others to learn new things) and would play ‘schools’ with dolls and teddies and anything else I could get my hands on. I also think children are far more fun to work with than adults.
 
For 7 years now I have worked very hard at my job, always working many hours over the 32½ hours a week I am paid for (often to the detriment of my relationships with family and friends) and often doing school work 6 or 7 days a week. I love my job, I really do. According to Sir Michael Wilshaw, though, I should be revelling in the joys of being a teacher. So why is it that over the last year I have spent a lot of time looking into several other career options? Why are 40% of new teachers leaving the profession within the first five years?
 
In my opinion, there are two faces to this problem. Firstly there is Michael Gove, the man in charge of the education of the children who will become our country’s future. He was privately educated and has never worked in a school environment. I do not understand how he is at all qualified for the job he has been given. He has effectively privatised education, pushing all schools towards becoming ‘academies’. He is introducing a new curriculum when even some of the very knowledgeable advisors disagree with what has been written. Education and teaching strategies must evolve and develop, I agree with this. However, these changes are being forced on schools who are powerless to object because the Government refuses to listen.
 
The second name which is considered almost an expletive in any school I know of is that of Sir Michael Wilshaw himself. The Ofsted chief occasionally pokes his head out to give some inflammatory quote about how awful teachers are, and then disappears again to watch the reaction from a safe distance.
 
I invite both Michael Gove and Sir Michael Wilshaw to spend a week in a school that is expecting an Ofsted inspection. Let them feel the tense atmosphere, the sense of fear and anticipation, the incredibly low morale that comes from waiting for a group of people, who you have never met before, to spend two days in your school, criticising every little step that you take on the road to educating these wonderful children that we teach. That was the case in my school last year, even though we went on to be judged very well in the inspection. Being a ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ school does not relieve this tension at all.
 
Then, of course, there are the ever-moving goalposts provided for us to aim for. ‘Satisfactory’ is not good enough any more. It is now called ‘Requires improvement’. If it requires improvement then it was never satisfactory, surely? Teachers never know what is expected of them because Ofsted and the Government cannot make their minds up as to what we should be doing.
 
I completely understand why 40% of new teachers leave the profession. The ridiculous amount of paperwork and bureaucracy behind the scenes, the long relentless hours, the angry parents who think nothing of shouting in your face, the children with complex educational, physical and emotional needs in a school that is not given enough money to fund the help they so desperately need, the teacher-bashing in the media and the constant scrutiny of everything you do. It’s all gets to you eventually, and there are many days where you feel like crying, giving up and going home. I’ve had two days like that so far this week and it’s only Wednesday!
 
The other 60% of teachers are too stubborn to give up, though. Some because they enjoy enabling children to discover new concepts and find the wonder of learning (and are determined to keep doing so even though the new curriculum seems equally determined to stamp it out). Some stay because it was their dream to do this job and they refuse to let the Government win. I will remain a teacher for one simple reason: I would do absolutely anything for my class. Anything. I adore them. I work harder than I ever thought I could because I want to give them the best chance of a good education and to help them become decent human beings. Every child I have taught over the last 7 years means the world to me, and I want to give them the skills to overcome obstacles and barriers, because with a Government like this one, future generations are going to need all the help they can get.

TEACHER #2
Having read the report on the BBC I find myself somewhat confused, Not by what I read but by the odd mix of feelings it invoked in me.

Most strangely, I found myself agreeing with his comments about providing better training for student-teachers and new teachers to better prepare them for the increasing behavioural problems we now see in school. After all, how can you teach someone about the problems children have that provoke many such behaviours and the myriad strategies they will need to deal with these in just a few short months? Post-graduate teachers begin their training late September and complete it in June; it took me 4 years to train as a teacher and I’m still learning about behaviour management strategies. Of course a good teacher is one that has been able to learn and practise their craft before being subjected to and held responsible for the pressures and problems of the classroom situation.

However, I was infuriated that Sir Michael Wilshaw dare to warn teachers to stop complaining and thinking of themselves as victims. Of course teachers feel they are being victimised; have you read the press recently? Have you read any OfSTED reports? 

The reason so many teachers and schools are supposedly ‘failing’ is that OfSTED keep moving the goal posts. Just as we begin to achieve our targets, up go the requirements and we are all failing again. The Government expect to see children’s progress as a beautiful continuous line on a graph. Ask any child psychologist or Educational expert (but please, not Mr Gove!) and they will tell you, as all teachers know, that children have a time of learning and progress, sometimes rapid, sometimes more slowly, followed by plateaus of consolidation. So a truthful graph of progress should look more like steps. This is what we know happens. To be told constantly that we ‘have to play the game’ and show a specified number of children making progress at any time, so that OfSTED will see their desired smooth graph of progression, is demoralising and dishonest.  

I love teaching. I have always wanted to teach and was determined to inspire children to want to learn. I have taught for almost 20 years and have seen brilliant teachers break down under the pressure, strong people become depressed and leave. I myself am unsure whether this is what I want any more. In my own school, almost half the teachers have been prescribed antidepressants in the last few years, several others have developed stress-induced conditions.  

Teaching used to be a noble profession. Yes, a profession, not just a job. Teachers, like doctors and judges, were among the most respected people and were looked up to and trusted. We are trained, we choose to work with children to educate them and skill them for their future lives. We all give far more hours than anyone outside realises : 45 – 60 hours a week are common (remembering that many teachers are also parents themselves). We run clubs, booster classes, give 1:1 coaching, all in our own time, unpaid. We take children to quizzes, sports competitions, music events. All in our own time and unpaid. What would happen if we didn’t give the children this time freely?

This country needs good teachers. If Sir Michael Wilshaw wants teachers to stop complaining, maybe he should listen to what we are saying. We deserve his trust, his respect and his support. OfSTED should be encouraging schools and celebrating their successes. Of course they need to point out areas where we can improve and be even better at our chosen careers. But try using a carrot, Sir Wilshaw, not a sledgehammer.

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Comments on: "“There has never been a better time to be a teacher.” Really?!" (2)

  1. ‘Every child I have taught in the last 7 years has meant the world to me’. Thank Goodness there are vocationally dedicated teachers such as this left in the world. Great post.

  2. Claire S said:

    I am the daughter of two teachers – one left the profession in the early 80s, the other stuck it out until the 21st century. They often remarked on how they used to teach children; now they just attempt to control them and hope something of intellectual worth goes in. The two extremes of the intelligence scale were a joy to teach; the remainder were constantly being reminded that they needed to do better by curriculums which seemed designed to be irrelevant, boring, and every-changing. With such wonders being presented to them every day by teachers who were drowning under paperwork, ridiculously long hours, and short holidays (6 weeks?! Try two. The rest were spent in school repairing the damage from last year and gearing up for the next), as well as the terrifying prospect of a week-long visit from people who seemed to care less about education, and more about tick boxes, is it any wonder that the capabilities of school leavers have been slipping? I don’t mean the 3 Rs – I mean the ability to chase after knowledge simply because you don’t know something, the ability to get excited about something new, t think around a problem instead of expecting the answer to be drip-fed to you. Anyone checked SATs recently? Figured out that the schools usually drop everything else right before the exams? Children are now taught to pass exams, not how to think, because the government can’t measure thinking, and therefore the school’s only chance of not being penalised is to push the SAT subjects to the detriment of others. They have no choice – it’s the funnel down which they have been forced by league tables.
    I’m surprised there aren’t more people leaving the profession, but that stubborn 60% is a battle-hardened group, determined to educate despite the interference of politicians who have no experience and little knowledge. We need as many of these people in the classrooms as we can hang on to, as they’re the ones guiding the leaders of tomorrow. Just not sure how we go about that at the moment…..

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