This weekend as is the time of year I went to a party, mince pies , mulled wine and good company. I met with friends and came across an older acquaintance who I had not seen for some time. The wine flowed, the mince pies mulled and I made the mistake of asking my old acquaintance what it was she did now. ‘Oh” she said, in all innocence. ‘ I teach a PGCE course, I teach young people how to be teachers.’ I’m afraid to say, that somewhat to my own surprise, I greeted her with incandescent rage! How could she tempt innocent young people into a career so devoid of reward or prospects, a career to span decades of their life at the mercy of political criticism for the whole their working life? I reiterated my dearly held view that under no circumstances do I want my children to enter teaching.
‘Why?’ said my new friend, not without understanding. The answer was not unexpected.
Setting aside government (temporarily) it seems that there is an increasing lack of respect for teachers as individuals and professionals,whether this is just a reflection of my age and gender, I don’t know, but increasingly teachers are used as timetable fillers, increasingly non-contact time, remission for skills development or other contributions is being destroyed, such that some colleagues who are part time are paid only for the time they spend in the classroom, not for their preparation or marking, all that is done in their own time. Is this the ‘extra mile’ that Sir Michael Wilshaw was so keen to impose on teachers, if it is, it is a guise for exploitation and protests to managers are met with the response that if you fail to produce individualised lesson plans (one for every student) if you don’t set and mark that homework, if you don’t improve your results and if you don’t do it in the time that they consider appropriate you are not only a failure, but you are letting down the institution, you may find yourself responsible for the failure of the institution at Ofsted.
In this now non existent, non contact time, teachers now must not only plan, prepare, make resources and mark, they must also break down the data, make Excel documents on results, find funding codes, get data on gender, trends, find out what students do when they leave the institution. Apparently, now Ofsted requires secondary schools to have data not just on where school leavers go when they leave – university or a job, but which student took what subject at university and if they did no take your subject why not? Not only that where do they go after they have graduated from university, do they pursue your subject as a career? This is data-mining worthy of GCHQ and big institutions have information serivces who are supposed to provide this data, but increasingly they regard teachers as having nothing better to do than find and assess data and if they don’t, if they are not familiar with every nuance of their data and the institution’s data then Ofsted will know. FAIL!
One of the reasons that I think that the character of Walter White of the hit US series Breaking Bad, has become so iconic in the US and then by stealth here, is that he gives the lie to that old adage ‘Those who can’t do teach’. Because hell! Walter White can do! He knows his subject, he knows his subject so well he can cook crystal meth with a purity that dominates the world and he can back that up with a bad guy strategy worthy of Keyser Sose. He can cook the best of the best and be the best of the worst and why does he do it? At one point in the series he just says ‘I won’ and he won because he could, it was just up until that time he chose not to, so why does he break bad? Because after years of sharing that knowledge to bored, unappreciative, incapable students, after working faithfully, and effectively as a teacher, changing people’s lives, qualifying them for life and work and a good future, better than his, he earns so little money that he can’t even give himself a chance against cancer. While we do have the NHS, our government press, parents and students all think that teachers are bad in the first place, teachers are considered failures both at life and at teaching, - why wouldn’t you break bad?
While teaching might have been Walter White’s career of necessity, millions of people work in public service or in the ranks of the private sector and everyone of them is treated as if “they should do better” and yet they do their best and without them society would collapse, just ask anyone who lives in a society with no education, buses, rubbish collection, health care, firemen even good bureaucracy, ask them how well they manage without public servants how easy is it to go shopping in sniper alley. And yet generations of teachers and public servants don’t win, no wonder so many break mad!
That being said Walter White didn’t give up teaching, Jesse Pinkman was his best student!