Teacher Punishment

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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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Why is it that some teachers are punished for doing a good job?

… or should I say, ‘pick up the slack’ for colleagues who are absent, incompetent or lack long-term quality. This is a blog I’ve been wanting to write for over 15 years. Allow me to expand on an example:

As a form tutor for over 10 years – I’m currently a form tutor again in a vertical tutoring system – I became fairly good at doing the pastoral aspects of school life.

As a tutor, I was far from an expert in safeguarding or child-protection (it wasn’t given the high-profile as it is now), but using my Salvation Army background in the social services, working with students from disadvantaged backgrounds, dealing with difficulties came natural to me.

Pleasure or Chore?

Over the years, it became clear I was confident with the awkward squad and they were comfortable with me. I supported students between home and school: bullying, gifted and talented, late-night concerts, ADHD, exclusions, abuse, drugs and knife crime. You name it, over the 15 years and more, you see the full range of childhood experiences in the UK when working in challenging schools.

It’s not for everyone, but there are 1,000s of teachers also doing it: some like me who thrive on the challenge whilst others who just see ‘tutoring’ as a chore.

Not much professional development is invested into being a form tutor. Something perhaps at the beginning of an academic year e.g. meet your tutor group and head of year, followed by a pastoral team meeting every six weeks or so. It’s as though you are left to your own determination and common-sense at times; made better or worse by the quality of the pastoral leaders (heads of year and senior teachers) supporting you.

I’m not pretending it’s a difficult and complex job – it is.At times it’s a thankless task leading a pastoral team in school. Weak form tutors and classroom teachers – those who have poor relationships with their students  – often bypass their own classroom accountability and ‘fob off’ the problem to the form tutor or head of year to solve.

On the opposite hand, if you’re good enough, you can be left to you own devices – perhaps even given more work to resolve to support a head of year who is struggling to keep on top of their own workload. Worse, a teacher can be punished for being ‘too good’ and left alone to resolve serious incidents. And here lies the rub…

You may be fully in-control of your own classroom and tutor group. You manage your own workload well and you find yourself beginning to enjoy your day job. Your career is established and you are on the cusp of taking a new step in your career and are very happy with the ‘set of cards’ you are playing. As your confidence grows, various challenges and extra tasks also head your way, you become happy with a ‘pat on the back’ or an ad-hoc additional payment here or there.

Being Good or Bad?

Then, at the start of a new term/academic year, you thrive on being a lead-tutor and believe taking on a co-tutor will be the opportunity for you to manage your workload even better. The pleasure of nurturing a new teacher into their pastoral role is also a bit of kudos.

Over the months and initial years, you develop a brilliant relationship, working smartly within your own sub-timetable, distributing tasks, reports and contact with parents. It’s the perfect day job and working relationship until another colleague leaves the school and that tutor group no-longer has a tutor.

There are countless permutations, but ultimately the tutor group is a challenging one and a solution for the school is needed.

  • The senior teacher asks you to take over the tutor group temporarily.
  • You hope that the co-tutor is now strong enough to move on to having their own group.
  • You jump to the challenge and volunteer, leaving behind 2 or 3 years of established relationships with pupils and families.

On this occasion, rather than move the co-tutor to have their own tutor group and work with this difficult class, the decision was made to move me as a more experienced person to manage the group. Was this a coincidence because the other tutor was underperforming?

I have no idea because this information was not under my jurisdiction as a middle leader, but the reputation of this colleague and class preceded them. It was obvious to all other staff and students.

The move was supposed to be a temporary move, but inevitably it became permanent. I, therefore, lost the tutor group that I had spent several years moulding into a desirable group of students to be with every day. In many ways, by ‘being good I had made myself transferable’ and what had always been a lovely start and end to each day, was now a chore and a challenge.

Where can we find similar examples in other aspects of school life? Well, almost everywhere:

  • ‘Ms. Good’ teacher takes over an absent colleague’s class. In-year timetabling makes this an additional allocation.
  • ‘Mrs. Reliable’ is placed on the front door of the canteen at break to manage 500 hungry students.
  • ‘Mr Conscientious’ becomes part of the transition team to meet new parents. Six evenings a year …
  • ‘Mrs. Strict’ is asked to cover a class at the last minute.
  • ‘Mr Inadequate’ teacher gets a smaller class to reduce the number of low grades.
  • ‘Ms I-Can-Handle-It’ takes on an extra 5 students in their class.
  • ‘Mr Money-Grabber’ applies for extra responsibilities because he wants the money, and the easy work.
  • ‘Dr. Project’ wants a whole-school project so he can have more time taken off his timetable with children.
  • ‘Ms. Friendly’ requests to line-mange more of her mates so that she can have more pay for having a chat every week.
  • and many others …

So, years later, what do I think about this experience of supposedly ‘being good’ as tutoring? Well, as they saying goes, “you’re only as good as your team”, and as teachers sometimes we must realise that being a ‘class’ teacher is more about working in your own domain.

We need to see teaching as a team effort and operate as a ‘school’ teacher. This may be difficult to achieve in times of performance-related pay, but it is something we should keep trying to aspire towards, whether you believe yourself to be good or not!

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