I’m sorry you think I have let you down. I thought I was doing a good job and that you respected my efforts. I thought you weren’t serious about the holidays, after all my pay reflects this. I thought you understood that a contracted teaching day of five one-hour lessons, only reflects my contact time with students, not my total working hours. I thought you knew that planning lessons takes a lot of time, creativity and ingenuity and that there is a lot of marking to be done at weekends.
I thought you believed I was doing the best for our children; that I was fighting the exam machine with all my might and teaching our children to think for themselves and to enjoy learning for learning’s sake.
I thought we were on the same side and that you realised I can’t fix all the problems in society, only ameliorate the damage. I thought you understood this phony war between us was borne out of political ambition and a need to apportion blame for the effects of deep cuts to provision.
If education is the football then we are the grass, gouged and churned by the players who come and go in a perpetual reshuffle.
I can’t do this job alone. I can’t make our children want to learn all by myself. I need your help. I need you on my side. My job and yours is to hold a steady course, to not be distracted by lurid headlines, to remember we want the same thing.
If you really think about it, I am damned either way. If results improve it is because of grade inflation, and if they don’t it must be my fault.
I don’t do this job for the grades or the holidays or the pension. I do this job because I love teaching and it is something I believe I am good at. I do this job because working with teenagers is exhilarating and challenging and hilarious and I get a huge amount of satisfaction from seeing them succeed. I do this job because I love sharing the passion for my subject and seeing the same passion ignited in my students.
I hope this letter goes someway to repairing our relationship and the next time you read about how inadequate I am, you consider the intent behind the words.
Despite the relentless negative press stories and attacks on my professionalism, pay, pension and conditions of service, I can’t think of any other job I would rather do.
I’m not perfect. I admit I get things wrong. Not every lesson I teach is ‘outstanding’. I have my off days and occasionally I get behind on my marking, but I am in this job for the right reasons and I am trying to do the very best I can.
A secondary school teacher
Sir Michael said regional chiefs were being given orders to root out poor-performing schools, chains of academies and local authorities in each region.
In particular, they will be told to crackdown on schools that:
• Fail to stretch the brightest and weakest pupils by placing them in mixed-ability lessons;
• Enter large numbers of pupils early for GCSEs simply to bank a pass-mark before moving pupils on to other courses;
• Consistently mislabel poorly-performing pupils as suffering from special educational needs to disguise weak teaching;
Critics have warned that many schools are failing to place children into ability bands because of “ideological” opposition to the system by teachers.
I could blog about the lack evidence they have for their spurious assertions, in particular the idea that teachers are against ‘setting’ for ideological reasons, and the unsubstantiated assumption that mixed ability classes damage the most able.
The view that, at least for certain subjects, learning is best when pupils are grouped by ability seems to be widely held by teachers and others, as is evident from the setting that takes place within comprehensive schools. […] We may also note that despite widespread belief in the benefits of setting, it is not a view that is really supported by research evidence (Mosteller et al, 1996). Evidence of the effects of Selective Educational Systems.
I could rage on about how unfair it is, and how teachers (me included) are seriously considering why we work in a profession that is seen as an easy route for lazy,whinging people, who can’t do anything else. I could give you a run down of my typical day and the variety of roles I must simultaneously fulfill – but my job is no more difficult than many other jobs that involve dealing with emotions, expectations and hopes (nursing, policing, social work, childminding, youth workers, probation officers and on and on).
Instead I want to tell you about my teacher, Mr Hallet, who worked at Bushmead Primary School in Luton in the late 1970’s and early 80’s. I guess I was around 9 or 10 when he became our form tutor. I do remember it was love at first sight. His front teeth slanted backwards and when he spoke, a line of spittle would extend from his top lip to his bottom lip. I loved that line of spittle. I loved watching it break and reform as he shared another exciting fact about the world. He had dark hair, I think he was tall, though I was very, very short (kinda like a munchkin) – I didn’t get much taller as it happens. Whenever I remember Mr Hallet it is summer (why is it when we think of our childhoods it is always summer?) He read us Roald Dahl’s ‘Danny Champion of the World’ under a broad oak tree on the grass border that surrounded the playground every afternoon, until the bell went for home time. I remember lying on my back on the cool grass and looking through the leaves, while plump pheasants drunk on hand sewn alcohol-laced raisins plopped on the ground around me. His mellifluous voice wove pictures in my head. I do wonder if he is one of the reasons I love reading and writing. I cried when I left primary school. I swore I would never forget him. I never have.
On a side note, he was also partly responsible for the one and only broken bone of my childhood. A greenstick fracture of my right wrist. On a residential field trip, he offered aeroplane rides on his feet. I couldn’t wait for my turn and possibly pushed myself to the front of the queue. To be in his gaze was to be in heaven. His soles pressed against my tummy, gently, as he lifted me up in the air, grasping my hands in his and flying me around. Over-excited me, shouted; more, harder, faster – and then all I remember is flying over his head and thinking, I am really flying, before the grass came up suddenly and I realised, too late, I had let go of his hands. The rest is history. I didn’t cry. I didn’t want him to think I was a baby. My wrist looked wonky. It hurt a lot. He took me to hospital. I came back to the outdoor centre with a white plaster cast. He cuddled me and bought me an ice-cream. My parents came to collect me (once they had been found in the time of BMP -before mobile phones). I made them take me straight back there the next day and stayed for the rest of the week. He was the first to sign my cast. He was my first love. He may also have been the reason I became a teacher.
He made each and everyone of us feel special, important, unique and loved. I am so glad whatever it is Mr Hallet couldn’t do, meant he chose to teach.
In this little corner of the blogosphere, let’s celebrate those teachers who made going to school an adventure. Who made a difference in our lives. Who chose teaching, not because of what they couldn’t do, but because of what they could.
Got a teacher you want to salute. Remember them here. Share your stories. Let’s remind all those beleaguered teachers (including me) why it is one of the best jobs in the world. And Mr Hallet, if you read this, thank you.
Please do share.
Reflections from a Consultant Clinical Psychologist
"Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." - As W. B. Yeats never said
My views on Teaching & Education
Writer. Believer in the positive power of prison libraries. Managing editor of Forge Literary Magazine. Creative writing teacher.
Teaching in British schools
Medical journalist Jerome Burne investigates...
Moving back to Australia after ten years living overseas
Writing about writing. Mostly.
sexuality, research methods, social justice