Friday, January 17, 2014

Tough Young Teachers

'Tough Young Teachers': not quite 'Reservoir Dogs', is it?
I saw this last night.  I usually avoid 'reality TV', especially ones that have anything to do with teaching.  They aren't good for my blood pressure and last night's programme was no exception.

What to say about the 'Tough Young Teachers'?  Well, they're certainly young... It's difficult to know whether and to what extent this programme bears any relation to the actual reality of English schools but assuming the classes weren't actually staged and that the staff who appeared in it weren't actors, one aspect of the programme - and the internet chat about it - really stood out.

This is the extent to which teaching and learning in England is understood to be an individual enterprise.  All the talk on Twitter was about who was good, who was bad, who was a posh twat and so on.  Yes, yes - but what about the environment they were working in?  This was the blood-pressure raising point for me.  Certainly Meryl wasn't very authoritative, to put it mildly.  But what kind of school is it where a Headteacher and a 'Vice Principal' - whatever they do - can 'observe' a lesson and the only person who fears them is the teacher?  Then the Headteacher point out that the student has dropped a 't' in 'daughter'?  A phrase about straining a gnat while chomping on a huge camel-burger springs to mind.  Instead, ask yourself why it is the pupils in your school misbehave with impunity, as if you were not even there!

The programme seemed to feed into the wider notion - one that seems to have assumed the status of cross-party orthodoxy in England - that what the school system needs is more virtuosos.  The extent to which this is the case can be seen in the pronouncements of Labour's tough young Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt.  He seems to have been copying Mr Gove's homework but has added some thoughts of his own.  One of these is his latest weird idea that classroom management would be helped by training ninja-teacher discipline specialists.  What is this nonsense?  It is the function of the institution to maintain order, in which every teacher plays but a part.  And at the top of the hierarchy is, of course, the management.  If they are unable to maintain order, instead of suggesting they should be able to outsource their responsibility, I would have thought more people should be asking what on earth are they for?


Phil said...

When I was at school we never saw our Headmaster & didn't take him very seriously - although if he had wandered into a lesson we would have shut up smartish. But the Deputy Head - we lived in genuine fear of him. It was a bit like Doug and Dinsdale - he didn't get physical in any way, it was what he might say to you...

Interesting point about discipline as a property of the institution - I'm sure that's right. Thinking back I can see a definite parallel between the effective absence of the Head and our partial or total demolition of some perfectly good teachers (including, trivia fans, the man who invented the OHP). I also wonder what message my current workplace is sending to its (HE) students. We certainly tell then that we want them to be happy and that we value their opinions; I'm not so sure that they get the message that we want them to study, and that this might sometimes be difficult and/or boring.

George S said...

That's because a failing school is deemed to be not one where pupils fail or parents fail or social circumstances fail or educational systems fail, but one where teachers fail. Then you just godda sack those teachers and everything will be all right.

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