I’ve often wondered if it’s our capacity to lead the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, nurture creative writers or offer morning revision sessions that really defines how we are perceived as a teacher. Interview panels are always keen to scope out “what else” you can offer the school.
There were many things I enjoyed about working in a UK boarding school – but feeling like a babysitter was not one of them. It was a feeling that was shared by other colleagues, but not all. Of course, the parents, paying a hefty sum, were interested in the learning taking place in the classroom, but the leadership seemed oddly (and overly) concerned with the added extras: who was doing tea duty? Who was present in chapel? What sport did your offer? Were you at the S2 concert? The list went on and on.
Although this attitude does not seem to be quite so extreme in the state system, it is still apparent. How our behaviour is described by others is telling; perhaps you are “failing” to provide an extracurricular club or, more worryingly, “refusing” to provide additional enrichment, rather than choosing not to add more to your working day. Time on site and the number of “extras” does not appear to be a particularly fair or accurate way of measuring a teacher’s success, yet the additional activities you offer are often what is noticed and commented upon first. A fantastic lesson is often only experienced by you and the students and certainly won’t make it into the school newsletter or the parents’ bulletin.
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Even more concerning, those teachers who are single or do not have children of their own seem to come under harsher scrutiny. The same goes for postgraduate students, probationers and newly-qualified teachers. The notion that unless these teachers provide extracurricular enrichment for their students, they are not committed or enthusiastic about the job prevails, because, what else would they be doing with their time? It’s expected that new teachers go over and above to prove their worth at a time when it is most difficult for them to keep abreast of their workload.
Perhaps super-curricular activities should prove a marker of commitment. After all, the “teaching” part is the bare minimum of what is required, isn’t it? As teachers, we all know the vast quantities of time and effort that go into creating powerful and engaging lessons. However, praise is often dished out for what has happened outside of the classroom and the “bread and butter” aspect of teaching is overlooked. Surely the relationships we build, the positive interactions we have, the creative ways we use to embed learning, the structure we give and the results we help the students to achieve, is worthy of praise, too – and more than enough to measure our professionalism, commitment and passion for the profession.
There are even schools that do not ask candidates to teach a lesson at interview. This sends a clear message: we know you can teach, but what else can you do?
Sam Tassiker is a secondary teacher in Scotland