…in five days!
God, this supply teaching lark is a baptism of fire. Five separate days I have done thus far – and, in that time, I have achieved a state I never completely reached in thirty years as a full-time teacher: Jaded cynicism.
Oh! I was a rebel, a questioner and a maverick – but I genuinely cared about the children I taught, was passionate about my subject and wanted to watch the unfolding of personality which is such a crucial part of the school experience.
Sad to relate, I can see – after only visiting four different schools – the effect of the Tick-Box-and-A*-C-and-Ofsted-Outstanding mentality and culture upon the actual learning and behaviour of the children.
Behaviour has deteriorated even in the five years since I left – and any teacher who tries to instil discipline, by the raising of the voice, is frowned upon and seen as overly confrontational. Rules, arbitrarily chosen as a substitute, in all too many cases, for true discipline and respect, are adhered to in inverse proportion to the seriousness of the behaviour – or so it seems to me.
There seems to be a punitive and Big Brother-ish regime going on in Staff Rooms, a far cry from the days when these rooms were a sanctuary, a place where all fraught souls could meet after a ghastly lesson with 11z and vent in safety and away from the Young Things.
Today, after a hellish lesson (the first of two with this group), I asked a previously-unknown teacher for help – and, in the process, and because I was very upset, used a swear word to describe two of the worst-behaved children. This was in the Staff Room, I hasten to add, and no children were within ear-shot.
This teacher told me to stop right there, in a most officious tone, and said that they do not use that kind of language in their school. I was shocked, frankly: Had I been blasting bad language at the class, I would have expected, and accepted, a rebuke; but to be taken to task, when clearly distraught, in the teachers’ safe area was appalling. I would never have done anything like this when I was a full-time teacher – and I just feel that this shows a wrongness in prioritising which, to me, sums up a great deal of what has gone awry in education in recent years.
Gone, it would seem, are the days of teachers supporting one another in any true sense – and, in their place, we have this invidious new system of spying and sanctimonious reporting back – in order to gain Brownie Points and slither a bit further up the ladder, one assumes.
The trouble is that educationalists near and far are overly taken in by fancy smart uniforms, having the word ‘Academy’ in the school’s name and the latest vote from the Ofsted team – and, in the fuss and pother which surrounds all of the above, actual standards of behaviour, of decency, of respect and of educating the whole child seem to have fallen largely by the wayside. Posh clothes do not a civilised person make!
The other, to me, tragic part of it all is the increasing conformity, the cloning, of intelligent, well-educated people who train to become teachers. They do not appear to question the hellish initiatives, the outrageous working hours, the badly-behaved children. They are afraid to stick their heads above the parapet for fear of losing them to incoming fire.
There is, to me, something chilling about a teachers’ room which forbids swearing. The delusion that such an act will filter down to the under twenties is too obvious to belabour. But it is more than that. Teaching is incredibly, and increasingly, stressful – and teachers need that safety valve more now than they did even five years ago. Those of us who have taught know that these terms we bandy about in frustration, after a gruelling lesson, are not what we truly think of that individual – and we most certainly would not dream of saying such a thing to a child’s face; they are a way of expressing the angst and ridding the body of some of its stored-up adrenaline. Better to release it in front of other adults, surely, than to blow like a volcano in front of another class.
Anyone who knows me will be aware that I tend to get very fond of the adolescents I teach and, for all that they can be infuriating, I always have their best interests at heart – and am very conscious of their fragile self-esteem and the battering even the mildest insult can deliver to it.
I got out of teaching at the right time, I now realise. The mavericks were already being hunted to extinction – and have not, to the best of my knowledge, been replaced.
I fear that the only way to survive is to give in to outright cynicism, do the bare minimum and pay lip service to laws which appear to have been set up to please Ofsted rather than to deal with, and serve, real children and real, often heavily oppressed, adults.
Not sure I care that much any more. Shame and a waste, eh? But probably better for me in the long run – says she selfishly. I’ll do the best I can. But I won’t agonise the way I used to!
If I can disseminate the contents of the lesson coherently, stop the little buggers from killing each other/going on a rampage through the rest of the school and keep the noise level to a dull roar – job done!
Actually, I think the member of staff who told me off did me a favour in an odd way. A system which has such trivia at the forefront of its concerns is not one which deserves the best of my creativity, power and care.