I became a teacher because there’s not much else you can do with a degree in Theology and Religious Studies and because I like holidays. I remain a teacher because it turns out that helping young people to discover and make sense of the world around them is one of life’s greatest pleasures.
I am fond of pointing out to my students that I don’t get out of bed in the morning so that I can tell people off; I do it in the hope that someone will be inspired to think, to question, to want to know more. I do it because I think it’s important and because I learn as much from them as they do from me. Sometimes, someone says thank you, but that’s not why I do it. I do it because our future depends upon the nurturing of enquiry, creativity and a refusal to blindly accept the status quo. I do it because some children do not get taught how to be polite, respectful and sociable at home. I do it because it matters.
Ten years ago, when I first encountered an OFSTED inspector, I naively followed the advice I was given not to plan anything special and taught the lesson that I had planned before I knew that we were being inspected. This happened to be a full lesson of silent assessment. It was graded as ‘outstanding’ because the inspector was allowed to use his professional judgement; he saw the relationship I had with my class in the way they approached and followed the strict rules of my classroom. He saw my lesson plans and spoke to the students and was satisfied that for me to deliver anything other than the planned hour of silence would be to undermine the carefully thought out programme of learning that I had provided for the students. He checked their books and saw evidence of learning, teaching, marking and progress. He spoke with them and had no doubt that they had been well taught. Both he and I were trusted as professionals to put the students’ interests before the box-ticking.
Now, upon inspection, I am expected to be able to provide hard evidence of progress every twenty minutes. I should ensure that I have included elements of ECM, PLTS, AfL and VAK (of course, these acronyms are subject to the whims of those in power and will undoubtedly change – of the four, only VAK was around when I trained, and ICTAC has come and gone in the meantime). 60 alphanumeric levels (current and target for each student) should be on the tip of my tongue every hour and every student should be doing something which is clearly productive at every moment. The lesson I taught ten years ago would now be ‘poor’. What this means in practice is that given the same set of circumstances, my students would arrive at their lesson prepared for an assessment and instead be surprised by a show lesson. Fine. I’ll play the game. I’ll get my ‘outstanding’. Who has benefited? The students’ learning has been disrupted and neither I nor the inspector has been trusted to exercise the slightest bit of professional judgement.
Three weeks ago I was in Nepal. Whilst I was there I had the pleasure and the privilege of spending a few days at a school in Kathmandu and working with them to modernise their curriculum and pedagogical approach. Freed from the shackles of an inspection regime designed to produce figures which can be spun by the ruling party to ‘prove’ their success at educating the nation, we were able to make fundamental changes which would profoundly alter the learning experience of the students for the better. We were able to use our combined and varied experience to find solutions to contextual problems and implement them without having to justify ourselves; it was enough for us all to know that we had the students’ best interests at heart.
The whole experience was inspirational for me; the opportunity to be an educator, rather than an acronym-fulfiller was motivating and rewarding. My relationship with the school in Kathmandu is ongoing and their students and mine continue to benefit. I’d find it hard to provide evidence for this that would satisfy the current OFSTED regime because the delight on my students’ faces when I showed them photos of Nepali children enjoying their work and the enthusiasm with which the Nepali teachers embraced our relationship can’t be quantified on a tick sheet. This saddens me.
I became a teacher because there’s not much else you can do with a degree in Theology and Religious Studies and because I like holidays. I remain a teacher despite the bureaucracy.