It’s very difficult to maintain ones enthusiasm for teaching. Last year I really went for it. I developed my marking strategies to make my feedback more timely and effective; I tried new teaching strategies to engage the kids; I ran some after school training sessions for colleagues; and my students’ exam results were fine. And then came the performance management review. Even though I had met all my set targets, I was unable to move up the UPS scale because my average observation grade was 2, and not 2+ or better. This was the result of getting some ‘goods’, one ‘outstanding’ and, finally that year, a 3 – the grade which was once called “satisfactory” even though it never was. Now it is called “requires improvement”. So what, exactly, does that mean? What sort of teacher am I? My exam groups always do well, sometimes great. I rarely call for support for behaviour management – and when I do it’s often because a colleague has asked me for help. I volunteer to lead assemblies. I was voted Coolest Teacher 2012 (this bit is a lie). But, because of one naff lesson observation, I feel as if I am carrying a banner above my head inscribed with the legend REQUIRES IMPROVEMENT. Not a banner. A tablet, with those words chiselled so permanently only an act of God could remove them.
I’m not looking forward to this year’s performance management because this year I have lost my drive. I have become the belligerent old git, responding to everything and everyone with scepticism and cynicism. My natural tendency towards paranoia has been heightened. Now, whenever the head teacher enters my room, I see him looking for the slightest thing to criticise. Perhaps this isn’t paranoia; maybe that’s exactly what he is doing. I see the eyes go to the board looking for a learning objective. I see him scanning the room for any kid not ‘engaged’ or – to use one of the ugliest phrases in the educational lexicon – ‘on task’. Heaven forbid if I should be sitting at my desk when he enters.
To make things worse, my lesson observations so far this year have been as mixed as last year. I was recently given a 3 because there wasn’t enough pace in my lesson. Ironically, there wasn’t much pace in the feedback – it was over a week before I received any. Needless to say, the School has ignored Ofsted’s instructions to its own inspectors that individual lessons should not be graded, and that inspectors should not be looking for a particular style of teaching. I asked my lesson reviewer if he felt that the students had made progress during the ten minutes in question. His response was a gem: “Yes, clearly, because at the start they didn’t know the answers”.
Part of the problem is that the whole system seems geared up to promote the idea of ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ teachers – one quick look at the jobs section of the TES is enough to show this. Schools want “outstanding classroom practitioners” for fill their vacancies. This is missing the point, and Ofsted has moved away from it. They want to see progress over time – progress in the students’ work not the delivery of the lesson from teachers. The discourse is warped.
There are, apparently, ‘outstanding’ teachers in my school. I wouldn’t know for sure because I’ve never been invited to see them teach. And most of the teachers who are praised by SLT are slated by the kids, often on the grounds that their observation lessons are nothing like the rest of their lessons. Indeed, one of my Year 11 students recently told me: “Sir, you’re the only teacher who doesn’t change when you’re being watched”. I thought this was very telling, and I asked her to put it in writing addressed to the head teacher and the governors. She didn’t.
But I want to get seasonal now. I’m going to use Easter as my own rebirth. I’m going to embrace my naffness. All teachers require improvement. Alex Quigley (@HuntingEnglish) has a nice blog post here quoting Dylan William, and I’d like to pinch a bit of it:
“Our daily experience as a teacher is a failure. Which makes it the best job in the world. Because you never get any good at it.”
“This is something you are never going to have to worry about. This job you’re doing is so hard that one lifetime isn’t enough to master it. So every single one of you needs to accept the commitment to carry on improving our practice until we retire or die. That is the deal.”
So, next term, I’m going to embrace the failure. This is the whole point of this blog and the @naffteacher Twitter identity. I’m going to rekindle my enthusiasm for the classroom and improve my practice, not by talk of what makes an ‘outstanding’ lesson – that’s the wrong approach – but by talk of what works and what doesn’t work for me and my students.
This blog will also be a platform to explore my thoughts about pedagogy, philosophy and theory. There will also, no doubt, be some time to explore my views about Ofsted, the curriculum and, inevitably, to vent frustrations. I will give advice if anyone wants to read it. I will certainly talk about middle and senior leadership. There are as many naff SLT as there naff teachers, and I think it might be useful for those colleagues with leadership responsibilities to listen to the voices of classroom teachers. I know – I’ve been there – and it is easy to forget what it’s like to be a classroom teacher. I also know how hard it is to be a ‘leader’ when most ‘leadership’ positions in schools have nothing to do with leadership and everything to do with management, administration and, most of all, playing the game.
But here’s to the first foot forward. Here’s to some honest reflection and some moving on. Here’s to being naff.
And along the way I’m going to teach myself NLP so that I can make a fortune.