Monday, January 17, 2005

Do we trust our educational leaders?

If you're a teacher, you'll be saying internally "of course not, you moron" and move on. No, don't go away; this was the title of an article by Professor Walter Humes in January's edition of the GTC's "Teaching Scotland" - and it was actually worth reading. No, really. Take this, for example:
"I am (intolerant) of the efforts of leadership "gurus" - those who claim to be able to transform the lives of individuals and the culture of organisations by a few days intensive course...they do not begin to address the underlying systematic problems facing many parts of the educational system".

We've all been to that in-service, eh? Think it'll be good to get a track-suit free day or two, until you get about an hour into it and you feel the life-force ebbing from you as you listen to repeated crimes against the English language being committed by someone who has clearly had the inside of a school described to them. Professor Hume then goes on to argue that this is essentially a "diversionary tactic":
"It involves passing on responsibility but not power...Attention is thus shifted from the people whose leadership underpins the whole edifice and determines the environment in which teachers work: politicians, inspectors, directors of education, chief officers in educational quangos".
You know - them that talketh copious pants, yet get paid more than us, and lord it over us. Why doth the Lord not hear our cries and smite the pants-talkers?
"Teachers are not unaware of this but feel too powerless to do much about it, often because they are too busy getting on with the job of promoting learning".
Or in my case, farting about with this blog when I should really get on with my prelim marking...
"If an independent survey of teachers was carried out, asking them what they really think of the leadership offered by (educational leaders), the result would reveal a profound cynicism".
He's not wrong - and, if any such survey had a wee box for any comments, they'd all say things like, "You're only a leader if someone's following you, shit-for-brains". But it's a couple of lines in the last section that are so true, it makes me wanna cry:
"The leaders of teachers' organisations like to think of themselves as radical but are generally deeply conservative in their professional attitudes".
The frequently used oxymoron "trendy teacher" always makes me laugh; delete "in their professional attitudes" from that last sentence. One Heedie that spoke to a group of us when we were students actually used this sentence: "Just to put you in the picture guys - I'm a socialist; I'm a member of the Labour Party". No irony intended, I can assure you. Now, the really painfully sad thing was that I think he said this so that we would think he was cool (I swear I'm cringing with the memory of it as I write). For non-teacher readers of this blog, the international pecking order in the "most conservative force on the face of the planet" competition goes something like this:
1) House of Saud
2) Catholic Church
3) Scottish Teachers
I hope you don't think I'm making a sectarian point if I point out that 2 and 3 are in many places virtually indistinguishable. I've been accused of this before but my position's FTP and FTQ, know what I mean? (Don't make me spell it out).

Not sure about the next bit about Scottish teachers recapturing their "reforming zeal" if that means a return to innovations like the open-plan school (on a par with the chocolate frying-pan in the good ideas department) but if that means confronting these leaders and saying, "get thee behind me, semi-literate ruiner of education - after the revolution ye shall be tried for crimes against the English language and for being too stupid to live", then I'm up for it. Professor Humes advocates teachers asking "searching questions at school and at local authority level":
"That will require courage because the techniques of marginalising dissent are well developed in Scottish education"
That bit is so cool, I need to repeat the phrase:"the techniques of marginalising dissent are well developed in Scottish education". Is that elegant understatement or what? And it's so true, I'm wincing right now; non-teachers will have to re-read Kafka's The Trial or something to get a flavour of it, I'm not kidding. But courage? Nah - just a ready acceptance that you'll never be promoted, that's all.

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