Nothing Is Perfect!

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Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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What makes you feel inadequate?

Nothing is perfect in teaching, not in my job or in yours if you are a teacher too. And for those who are teaching, we all know that it is exhausting. Sometimes, we feel under-valued and that our to-do list may never, ever be complete. With the birth of social media, teachers may feel even more inadequate, reading post after post of idea after idea to improve learning or reduce the marking burden.

If we choose to believe what we read online, in reality we know that the work of all of the teachers in our profession, is often the best that we can do. That sharing content is to develop ourselves and each other as we look to nurture our knowledge and classroom skills.

However, for those who started blogging and tweeting 5+ years ago, sharing our passion for the profession, not for self-promotion, the extract below struck a chord with me on matters of ‘perfection’.

[perfect] … teachers are the ones that want you to know what an amazing teacher they are and frequently post about what a difference they are making … Teachers on Twitter are scarier than those on Facebook. They are wonderful and well-meaning professionals who have taught me so much, but many of these teachers practise symbolic violence. Some do it by shamelessly self-promoting, some pick fights with smaller fish and some deploy intellectual snobbery. I’ve witnessed hard-working teachers torn to shreds because they’ve dared to challenge a celebrity teacher on Twitter. (Secret Teacher)

Readers may think my timeline(s) and blogs are full or perfection and silver bullets, but in fact they are not. Neither is my job and probably yours is not either! You see, in the grand scheme of things, we know very little about the big-wide world and the influence we have on each other or on our students. After all, we are all human and we all have our vulnerabilities. Nothing is perfect and nor can it be. Because teaching is one of those jobs, where no-one solution or approach fits all.

We may teach a similar project year-on-year, but find that with another group of students, it simply isn’t working and requires us to make a change. We make mistakes; we can miss vital deadlines and take our eye off the target. We can also miss opportunities to support a student or a teacher, if what we rely on is a second-hand story or piece of advice from those ‘not in the know’.

External Influences:

We mustn’t let ourselves be fooled, or the people outside of education fool us.

Teachers, just like our students, want advice and guidance from colleagues who are in the know. Teachers and school leaders ‘walking the talk and doing the do’.

There is only so much a teacher can do to shape a child’s life. The same applies for teachers working with their peers. We need a common-ground and a level of understanding to shape each others’ professional journey. Not much of this can be attained from a distance – although not impossible – but there are stories of teachers securing new friendships, new jobs and support through online forums. Especially when some teachers/schools are isolated or mis-managed; it is more vital than ever that teachers communicate online with trusted sources.

There is only so much we can do on the ground if our education policy-makers are making decisions about what goes on in schools. We need to rely on experienced and/or expert teachers who can challenge policy, those who are already supporting teachers do to their job well.

We cannot allow the government to continue basing their decisions on evidence from distant shores, using headline measures to hold the profession to account, using what once worked for them as a child, offered in a totally different context and/or era.

Our education system is doing better than it has ever done before, and despite the recruitment crisis, don’t be fooled by the headlines (about schools failing our students).

As teachers, we invest in a relationship, sometimes those which are a 5-year-long struggle throughout secondary school, to ensure a child is safe and is also educated. But sometimes, there is only so much a teacher can do to help that child succeed.

No teacher I know ever (really) gives up on a child.

Even the hardest to reach or the naughtiest in the class can have a bright future, even without qualifications. And this is still possible for us to achieve. Why? Because every teacher wants to do the best job they can for each student, helping student develop into confident and resilient young people to contribute to the wider community. Unwritten qualifications that make boys and girls become the men and women we are today.

Teachers do this job. We shape lives.

External influences can have significant impact on the success of a child throughout school. The relationships we have in class. The time and energy we invest in a child’s well-being, whether this is a safeguarding issue, an emotional or a learning need, whatever it may be, teachers do what they can to support students outside of the examination headlines. But, outside influences can also determine the success or fate, and if we are using government measures such as the EBacc, the apparent failure or low-expectations of a child’s education.

The Real Journey In Our Schools:

Headline data does not consider the personal journey a child has been on. For example, since their arrival into the UK, or to consider the starting point and at which stage – and why a child is – on the EAL register. Examination data does not showcase the hours of classroom excellence invested by the teacher, the interventions and holiday revision put in place to help that child make the required progress.

Headline data does not take into account the period of absence, the family bereavement, or the moment when the success of a child is the moment they acknowledge that they will be safer in school and with adopted parents, rather than with their own family which puts them at risk. Headline data does not record this story. We only see the grade A*, grade C or E recorded on to the certificate which is number-crunched as headline data in our damaging league tables.

You see, nothing is perfect.

shutterstock_142055401 Orphan child on the street concept - boy sitting by the wall with drawn parent figures

Image: Shutterstock

Do Not Be Fooled!

So, dear reader, I ask this of you. Do not be fooled by social-media illusions, impressive tweets and statistics. Do not be fooled by what the government choose to tell you.

In reality, politicians are no-more human than anyone other teacher, and they do not know more than what we do.

And this is my reason for conflating the above (emotive) content with what you can read below.

For anyone working in full-time education, teaching is the best job in the world. And despite a never-ending workload, we are battered left-right-and-centre from politician, think-tank and consultation. Foremost, we are doing what we do, because we love working with students; secondly, for the love of teaching our subject.

With the above in mind, on the 5th February 2016, the DfE published an update on ‘what the government is doing to reduce unnecessary workload for teachers, including details of the workload challenge’. Despite the DfE’s best attempts over the past 12 months, do not be fooled! Nothing is perfect.

It takes a close eye to spot the detail and what changes have taken place. And I have blogged on countless occasions, why I believe the Workload Challenge consultation will NOT work or solve any of our problems. For any solution to have long-term impact, the government must increase funding in order to release teachers from a 90% contact-ratio in their classrooms; to offer more time for lesson planning, marking and data collection and analysis. Without this, everything else will be hot air.

DfE Workload

On closer inspection, the DfE webpage takes your here and states that the following information has been updated.

In response to the comments we received, we’ve committed to:

  • giving schools more time to prepare for any changes we make to accountability, the curriculum or qualifications – read our protocol for changes to accountability, curriculum or qualifications for more information
  • sharing examples of successful practices schools have used to deal with teaching tasks that can cause unnecessary workload
  • tracking teacher workload by running a large-scale survey every 2 years – in February 2016, we invited a representative sample of schools to take part in the first survey, which will run from 29 February 2016

As a result of the workload challenge, Ofsted committed to clarifying the guidance that explains what inspectors do and do not expect to see when they inspect a school. These updates should help teachers and school leaders avoid some unnecessary tasks.

Despite the DfE’s best efforts, do not be fooled. Without any significant funding, or change to teachers’ contact-ratio in the classroom, I fear any attempt to address the recruitment and workload crisis in our profession, will fall on deaf ears. Rapid curriculum reforms, Oftsed inspections,league tables or workload surveys will not support our profession, it will only continue to keep it at arm’s length.
‘If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got’. An over-worked and imperfect set of solutions.
Do not be fooled …
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