How do you spot a ‘coasting’ teacher and how can you support them?
Coasting teachers can’t motivate themselves, so how on earth do they motivate pupils? The answer to that is simple, they don’t. They fail them because they still ‘do their jobs’, but they just don’t do their jobs with any zeal, so pupils are short-changed. So, how do we identify them and how can we help them?
Primary school teacher John Dabell writes:
I’ve seen more than my fair share of coasters in staff rooms, and I’m not talking about the ones under mugs of tea and coffee. I’m talking about coasting teachers, the ones who get under the skin of their colleagues, under the wheels of progress and are forever under the weather and often under-perform. They are the fallen, no longer pedagogues but cholagogues and the system is beset with them. They are a threat and hard to get rid of.
You know the type: plodders, freewheelers, dead- batteries and clock-watchers who just get by. Their hearts aren’t in it anymore, they’re in a rut and they aren’t good for the school.
They tend to be the sort of teacher that has been in one school for double-digit years, although not always. They can be cocky, arrogant and set in their ways reluctant to develop and adopt ‘new-fangled methods’ as they have seen it all before even though they haven’t. They are the grit in the machine. They are tired. They are running on empty. They are worn-out dishcloths festering in their own stagnant water making the school corridors stink. They aren’t difficult to spot because they give off a whiff of despair. They require improvement but that involves movement and they don’t like shifting outside of their comfort zone so they stand still, happy to rot rather than trot.
How to spot a coasting teacher?
- They move with all the energy of a stone trough
- They are happy not to fulfill their potential
- They feel under attack by any new initiative
- They see progress as a threat
- They toe the line but reluctantly
- They have a closed-door policy
- They spread negativity like Japanese knot-weed
- They say ‘full circle’, ‘when I qualified we …’ and ‘mark my words’
- They pride themselves on being dinosaurs
- They have a sour face.
We worry about coasting and complacent pupils and bend over backwards to set up ‘interventions’ to help, but what about their teacher counterparts? Do we help them or do we fail them?
What to do with a coaster?
Coasters are broken bits of furniture that need replacing. Coasters are riddled with wood worm who have been let down by senior managers and deserve better. Yes, that’s right coasters need saving, they need a coast guard.
We cannot let coasters fail, because they have too much to give and they need tactful management to find their fire again. Teaching somewhere, has let coasters down and they have been allowed to falter, choke and splutter. The fact is, they can be rejuvenated, they can be rewired and they can be reborn! Only a great manager can make this happen and that comes down to great ‘leadership and management’, knowing what makes your staff tick. Coasters were once creative, engaged, connected and in their element and they can be again, if only someone would recognise it.
Being browbeaten and desolate is one stage in the life cycle of the teacher, but most teachers pass through it with sterling support and platinum partnerships. The problem is, coasters haven’t had the help to get through it, so they get stuck, pigeon-holed and soon start to believe themselves as the great downtrodden.
Tell them to leave?
Coasting teachers, or dynamic teachers, should all be told to leave their schools … at least for a short while. Doctors do it and it is called rotation. It’s imperative for development, quality, standards and reputations – which all comes through sharing practice and growing outside of the box. You can’t work in accident and emergency your whole life. You need to see different departments and work on different wards; doctors are probably the most mobile workforce of all, whereas teachers tend to be the most immobile.
A culture of learning and personal development can’t just happen in one school. Outward looking schools share staff, not just ideas. They swap classrooms, they reinvigorate each other by working out of their comfort zones, sharing expertise to move beyond, merely visiting a school for a course or a lesson observation.
Advantages of teacher rotation:
- Pupils benefit from a variety of adult perspectives, experiences and talents
- One teacher’s methods and preferences/biases can be compensated for by other teachers
- Pupils see that collaboration is king and that teamwork isn’t just a pupil thing
- The system is freshened up and rejuvenated
Teachers need to experience different staffrooms, different corridors and different classrooms to grow. Forward thinking managers develop staff by providing opportunities to dip their toes elsewhere. They keep staff motivated and buoyed up and don’t allow coasting to emerge. Moving about in one school is fine, but it doesn’t go far enough. Neighbouring schools can work together and a flexible and intelligent rota design would benefit all staff by working on placements, much the same way that teachers in training do. You learn from your colleagues more than from your pupils. It’s good for everyone; aren’t we employees of the system rather than just one school?
Coasting teachers need to leave in order to return to who they once were: being agents of change, enablers and teachers with spirit.
So, go and see what’s happening next door and grow a lot, not a little. All change, not short change. Coasting teachers don’t need ditching, they need to experience different roller coasters and get the thrill of teaching back inside their system.