Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Who really wants to be a teacher today?

The ‘battle against mediocrity’ must be fought to improve school standards across all parts of England, says the head of education watchdog Ofsted. Launching Ofsted’s annual report, chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said the regional gap was like ‘two nations’.  The report showed that eight in 10 schools were now good or better, the highest in Ofsted's history but there were still nearly 250,000 pupils being taught in inadequate schools and 1.5 million in schools that require improvement.  Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt said the ‘postcode lottery’ of regional differences needed to be tackled and he accused the government of weakening rather than improving standards.  The solution seems to be calls for greater accountability and more assessment—because that’s what countries who scored well in the recent global Pisa tests. 

Central to improving school results, it is generally agreed, is having good teachers and good school leadership.  But why would you really want to be a teacher today?  If things go well then clearly you’re coasting and need to do more, get even better results and if not, we always knew that teachers were rubbish anyway.  Well if you have a good degree, the chances are that you wouldn’t.  Whatever the incentives—financial or in terms of rapid promotion—teaching lacks the advantages or status that people who go into financial or commercial services or the law gain.  This is not to say that all those with good degrees do not enter teaching but often do so as part of a career plan that frequently takes them out of the profession.  For those who do become teachers, there is no guarantee that having a good degree will make them into ‘good’ teachers anymore than having a lower degree will make them ‘poor’ teachers.  Although teachers can be trained to be better teachers, I have always believed—and my experience in teacher training sustains this—that individuals can either teach or they can’t and no matter what the training you can’t turn someone who can’t teach into someone who can.  Yes, you need to know your subject but if you can’t communicate your enthusiasm for that subject in ways that appeal to students, then you’re never going to be an effective teacher.  In reality, you’re not going to be a teacher at all. 


Fred Channell said...

Hi Richard,
This popped up on my Facebook page as I waited to go into my last education class before I graduate as a history teacher. I am in the United States, but what you wrote seems to be an international problem. Academically I graduated at the top of my class in history, I even wrote a book but still find I have much to learn as a teacher of history. I would say I learned little about bundling the lesson and how to deliver it to teenagers in grad school. I plan on honing my skill in the classroom and by observing other teachers. It will take years of trial and error to hone my own approach. I knew going in I would not get rich, but money, as most of us know, is not the only key to happiness.

Richard Brown said...

Hi Fred
Your experience in grad school parallels mine some forty years ago. I learned little from most of the classes though we were well taught in how to plan and teach history classes. In fact the term I spent in the classroom was confined to lessons on Tuesday to Thursday morning so I spent Friday teaching in my uncle's school in London...I learned more there than anywhere else about managing classes and what were difficult students. You're also right about never getting rich teaching but when I started teaching was regarded as a vocation more than anything else and that gave teachers a status that is sadly lacking today in many cases.