There have been completely justifiable nationwide teacher’s strikes over the past couple of weeks which I fully support. I love being in the classroom. I love the children I teach. They are what gets me up in the morning and what makes my job worthwhile. If if wasn’t for them, however, I would never have completed my training year, because it’s obvious to anyone with a brain that the teaching profession in this country is undermined, bullied and completely discredited by the government, which makes doing our job increasingly difficult. The goal posts change constantly, and the number of boxes to tick seem to grow day by day. The whole system is broken. When I think about the situation outside of my own classroom, it completely depresses me. Which is why I don’t try to think about it very often. However, I am aware that some people find my teaching posts a little naive, and that is why I wanted to focus this month’s teaching post on the negatives rather than the glorious positives in order to give a more balanced perspective.
The major issue, as I see it, is the ever increasing government involvement in how children are educated. Not only do they dictate what is taught, but they dictate how it should be taught, too. Ofsted, the government’s ‘impartial’ inspection body, has a list of criteria by which they judge teachers and schools. Regardless of how happy and successful the children in your classroom are, you will only be recognised as an ‘outstanding’ teacher if you have followed their prescribed method to make those children happy and successful. Lessons therefore become ‘tick box’ exercises, built around what Ofsted wants to see rather than what the children need and want. The decision by the government to publish league tables of school performance means that Headteachers and their ‘Leadership Teams’ are obsessed with progress and standards to the point where children become merely statistics on a page, their personal needs and goals ignored and unprovided for in the relentless drive to secure the magic 100% A*-C to guarantee the best possible position in the league tables. In trying to make schools run like competitive businesses, successive governments have sucked the soul out of education and launched children on an endless conveyor belt of formulaic lessons and relentless testing, none of which actually has their benefit at heart.
I could go on for pages and pages about the incompetence, inflexibility, fear and lack of any creativity or compassion that is rife in our education system, but it would do no real good, so I won’t. To combat my frustration, every day I make a point of staging some sort of protest against the narrow minded and illogical policies enforced upon me by the government. Whether that be something as small as laughing in the face of the three part lesson plan advised by Ofsted and having my students sit on the carpet while we just enjoy reading a book for an hour, with no ‘learning objective’ other than to have a lovely time, or as big as refusing to make my borderline students retake elements of their GCSE coursework because I don’t want them to be made to feel inferior just so that the school can boost its place in the league tables. I am trying, in my own way, to form a resistance. But I know that will never be enough to bring about real change, which is what is really needed. Something has got to give, and soon. Teachers need to be willing to put their heads above the parapet and refuse to give in to bullying. We don’t tolerate it in our classrooms, so why should we tolerate it from our government?
The children we teach are not pawns in an arrogant, egocentric man’s ideological games. Education is not a business to be profited from. There is no such thing as an ‘average’ child who can be pitted against an arbitrary measure of ‘success’. Schools should be places where children are equipped for the real world. They should be free to learn what interests them without the constant pressure of testing and categorising and labelling. The reason why so many children don’t enjoy school or do ‘badly’ in exams is because they are being asked from such a young age to conform to a system that is tailored to an ideal and not a reality. The reason why so many teachers are angry and demotivated is exactly the same. For example, I was once marked down in a lesson observation from an otherwise perfect (my observer’s words, not mine!) lesson to ‘just’ a good lesson because some of my students were talking about their personal lives during an activity. They were completing the activity in the required time to the required standard, and while doing so were having a bit of a chat. It would be entirely unnatural to expect a 15 year old to do anything otherwise, and as long as work is being done, I don’t mind a bit of off topic chatter. However, my observer was sticking to the rules – off topic chat is not allowed. Even if they’ve done their work. Because obviously we are in the business of producing conformist robots who tick boxes, not interesting, creative, thoughtful and curious human beings who have minds of their own.
I want to work myself into a position where I can stomp all of this game playing into the ground and bring about real change. I want to see schools become places of fun and creativity, where children are allowed the freedom to find out who they are and what they’re interested in within an environment that embraces them as an individual and does not try to force them into a box. I want to see teachers trusted to do their jobs as they see fit, and respected as the highly educated, passionate, dedicated and hard working professionals they are. I want to see children leaving school with an education they can actually use in the real world, rather than a clutch of pointless exam grades that don’t teach them anything beyond how to regurgitate facts and follow rules. I want to see a Royal College of Teaching that oversees the teaching profession, not the government. I want an end to armchair teacher politicians dictating the way our schools are run for their own profit, and I want to see a profession that governs and regulates itself, overseen by highly experienced and qualified fellow professionals who understand what it’s truly like to work in a classroom. I believe it can happen. We’ll see what I can do.