The topic to kick off my thoughts on education focuses on why there is an exodus of Biblical proportions of teachers from the profession, that most people enter expecting a career for life.
Well, look I can only speak for myself – with maybe a little bit of validation from the many teachers I have met over 17 years in the classroom – but that’s certainly why I wanted to be a teacher. Inspired by a jolly primary school teacher who greeted us everyday with a smile, an enthralling English teacher, and a Head of Year who regularly took time in his day to ensure the new little black girl in a sea of white faces was enjoying school and being supported when faced with casual racism.
Absolutely brilliant – all of them – and so were many more that I met in my 13 years of state education. I’m pretty sure that every teacher can name one of their own teachers who inspired them to go onto this career; or at least such a passion for their subject that they want to pass that on to the students that they meet.
So why are more teachers reaching for resignation letters than signing up?
A Radio 4 programme on Tuesday night about the levels of sickness brought on by stress in teaching was enlightening and frightening at the same time. But I’ll be honest – not really a surprise.
For those not in the know, there have been so many changes, amendments, acronyms, policies, and mounting expectations dumped on the profession that it’s become a joke. It seems that each new political party or education secretary charged with sorting out the teachers, rolls up their sleeves and makes a humongous list of absurd demands. Said list is dumped on headteachers, who drop-kick it to their senior leadership teams, who frying-pan whack it across the heads of middle leaders, who for the most part share the workload amongst their team of frontline teachers.
And this is where the problem begins.
On top of the basic, bread and butter part of the job that is teaching some four to five hours in a day, there is also planning lessons, marking, running a club, meeting students, holding detentions, going to meetings, calling parents, and having a wee to fit in during any one day. Newbie teachers might have a bit less but it takes them longer to plan and mark. Teachers with management roles will have a bucketload more. In. One. Day. The upshot of this over time is extreme exhaustion. So we start to see teachers off work for stress or sickness.
Now let’s add some government changes, exam board changes, OFSTED changes, management changes, back to some more government changes again prior to an election, maybe a couple of acronym changes to important stuff that we just got to grips with, chuck in some more power to school leaders, deadlines with reports, assessments, getting coursework off to exam boards, revision classes as the exams loom closer and things start to turn ugly. What we are left with are teachers who don’t know which urgent task needs to be prioritised first. Staff are now feeling despondent because they can’t complete their workload, so the stress increases and feelings of being inadequate kick in; especially when it is clear that management have got your card marked and start to ‘support’ you.
The worrying aspect, that I am hearing is happening more and more, is the inconsistency between schools about how and when observations happen, how managers report back and set targets for teachers, and the support that is put in place for staff if aspects of their work is deemed unsatisfactory and placed on capability. The profession is awash with stories from staff that have suddenly disappeared – it was so interesting to hear the Radio 4 journalist refer to ‘the disappeared’ when this is a phrase I have heard used for many years about staff that you see in the staffroom one day, only to notice their covered classes the next. No leaving speech. No carriage clock. No goodbye.
All of this has a toll on the teachers that are left. Teachers become frightened that if they don’t jump through the hoops high enough they might be next. Surely the trainee teachers coming in must feel the tension around them. What kind of advertisement is that to stay in a job? Simply put it’s mighty hard to enthuse the kids in your classroom and be open to new initiatives when you fear that the next meeting you attend might actually be pulling the plug on your career. To hear that teachers have been admitted to hospital with severe depression, considered suicide, or spent car journeys in and out of work crying due to the crippling workload is just not acceptable. Don’t the power-players realise that the best advert to encourage more people training to be teachers are happy and healthy teachers in the profession at the moment? Apparently there is a dearth of teachers.. go figure.
There is a real culture of blame in the profession which is quickly turning into a culture of culling. Someone doesn’t improve in the way that particular head wants – they’re out. Someone gets too old or voices their opinion too often – out. Or maybe someone just doesn’t like the cut of your jib. The thing is teachers are built to adapt and reform. Every class and every year bring new children and new challenges. Technology caterpillared into the profession, broke out of its cocoon and suddenly we all became interactive butterflies. As an English specialist with an irrational fear of numbers I was expected to create and analyse data without a sniff of training. But I did it because it was apparent how useful this information could be to help our students (and because I was told to do it). And there are millions of teachers out there that will move mountains if they are given the tools and the time.
Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan said that (she didn’t want her child) “to be taught by a someone too tired, too stressed and too anxious to do the job well”. I’d like to know what she is doing to resolve this ridiculous state of affairs.
Niki Carrick-Steele | Mama Elsie