Is it just me or is the latest conversation on Mr Wilshaw a little bit Monty Python?
“Stress! Don’t tell me about stress! I lived in a cardboard box …..” The masses of comments on an article in The Guardian relating to Ofsted Chief Inspector, Mr Wilshaw’s latest comment to the effect that teachers don’t know what stress is would indicate that the game is on! Teachers describing the stresses of their working day and members of other professions telling them they’ve been molly-coddled all their lives …”just try my cardboard box for size, then you’ll know what stress is”. Hmmm – as competitions go I’m not sure Mr Wilshaw’s quite got it right. He cited a stressful time in his life being brought up in the late Fifties and Sixties while his father was unemployed. Well I tried that comment on my father and I won’t repeat what he said in case we get sued, because we don’t know the circumstances and we should not speculate, but he pointed out that at that time there was 2% unemployment, you could walk out of a job in the morning and have another one by the afternoon. I leave you to ponder the implications of that but yes, perhaps at that time, it was awful to have a father who was unemployed. But however difficult life was then, that’s not stress in the work place so Mr Wilshaw do you want to play a game?
Let me join in this competition for a mo’ after all I had a childhood in the 50s and 60s too and I moved three continents and six schools in in six years, character building! There was the independence day celebrations in Tanzania,
when I remember my mother getting ever so slightly too much attention in a mildly threatening way and this was not long after the Mau Mau in Kenya and not far from Congo. Yup stressful, there was the car breaking down in the middle of a herd of elephants and the scenic drive – yup stressful. Then there was Darwin in the early 70s, seawasps, sharks and crocodiles,
nearly running out of petrol on the Barcly Table lands– oh and cyclones (although we weren’t there for the big one) – am I winning yet?
Oh I’d better do work place stress, well live broadcasting can have its moments, publishing deadlines, hell freelancing (and almost no one in my family is employed, just self employed) tendering for work, losing on a whim, all that is stressful.
Then there are the stresses other people have suffered that might help them win the competition: chronic ill health, caring for an elderly relative or a disabled child, loss, bankruptcy, divorce, debt. You know what? I probably don’t win any competitions on stress, everyone has their story, but am I stressed at work as a teacher? Perhaps some of the problem lies in the definition. Every job is stressful, every individual can be stressed by their job if it doesn’t go the way they want it to, from Hollywood stars to pet groomers and office workers. Some may even like the stress, why else would anyone want to Halo jump or go into space? But the classroom is stressful not in a crocodile might eat me sort of way (although I am told that one of my former teachers was eaten by a saltie – I think that might be rumour though) but in a relentless, grinding sort of way. Every year teachers know that government will tell them they are letting society down (no pressure) despite their good results. Every year government will tell them to change their practice without consulting them on how to do it. Every year their skills will be used to stuff holes in a timetable, rather than used to play to their strengths or their talents. Every day a child will refuse to do as it’s told, they will disrupt a lesson, or disrupt the learning of others, every parents’ evening a parent will complain that the reason their child does not pay attention in class is because the teacher is teaching the subject badly. Everyone who has ever been taught remembers a bad teacher and refers to that experience as witness Jimmy Kimmel at the White House Foreign Correspondents’ Dinner for Barack Obama, telling his former teacher Mr Mills that he was about to high five the President. Mr Mills responded to him “screwing around in class” if not damaging his own future then probably somebody else’s. Does he remember the teacher who taught him to read, or told him to follow his dream does he think to thank them? It is funny though.
The latest headline is that teachers are considering leaving the profession Link a great many more will not join. Why would you join a profession where every element of the job you do is constantly criticised? A profession, and this is probably the main cause of stress, where you are allowed absolutely no contribution to the development of your career. You teach what you are told, in the way that you are told , to the students you are told in the way that you are told by Ofsted even when you know that a good deal of what you are told, will either change next week, or simply damage the practice of your profession in the classroom.
Teaching may not be life threatening, although for some it is sometimes, it may not be as insecure as some, but it is becoming so and when you look at people’s lives, from the privileged to the socially blocked, everyone knows what a stressful situation is and if teachers say their job is stressful maybe they should be believed – after all this isn’t a competition!