A Year 6 primary teacher, who blogs and tweets by the name @HeyMissSmith, writes:
Everyone has a story of “what education used to be like”. Teachers of considerable experience have two stories: what education used to be like when they were a child, and what it was like when they first started teaching. I have both stories. This Easter holiday with some time away from the relentless pressure of looming SATs, I've been reflecting on these. I am aware that I have become increasingly disillusioned with my life as a teacher in England, and things do not seem to be getting any better.
I am cautious of saying "it was all better back then". It probably wasn't. It was different though. And in many respects my life as a teacher was much more rewarding, not to mention easier. When I look back thirty years, I know my life as a primary school child was not filled with worry about exams or of “not measuring up”. There were no exams for me; I had nothing to measure up to (except my own rather grandiose personal aspirations).
I was at primary school in the1980s. I had never heard of a private tutor, or a tutoring company. There were no online packages to help me learn my tables (I didn't until I was a teacher myself). Nor was there a room attached to my local grocery shop with banks of shiny flat screen computers inviting my working class mother to dish out cash to help me “catch up”.
I used to help my mum carry her shopping back from Muswell Hill through Highgate Woods looking for conkers or rainbows. I do remember many instances of finding both. I then helped my mum bake a cake, or coat slivers of liver in flour, before she fried it with onions and told me to eat it because it was good for me. I can remember the taste of cake mixture, and the feel of the raw slippery liver that had turned to bitter powder in my mouth, like it was yesterday.
While I was enjoying breakfast in a Sainsbury's in Edingburgh yesterday morning, I saw an annex attached to the cafe. “Explore learning” it read. Inside was a less than pleased 10 or 11-year-old being cajoled into spending part of his holiday at a computer learning maths or English (in preparation for his SATs probably). I thought of my own class of 10 and 11-year-olds who I had sent off this holiday with revision guides and instructions, and I felt remorse and sadness. It wasn't always this way. Not even when I first started teaching.
I have written before about my teaching mentor Mrs B. Mrs B taught me how to plan using an A3 sheet of paper with the word “threads” in the middle of it, and the curriculum areas in mini clouds around the edges. That was how she planned: it was easy, it was quick, and it showed an overview of a truly connected curriculum clearly. It allowed a teacher the opportunity to see learning as a cohesive whole; to invent her own pathway through knowledge, and link it to previous and relevant learning. Today, schools buy in “creative” packages: pages and pages of detailed learning sequences that do not help a teacher like me with a million ideas, but cost the school. A million ideas, I might add, that I rarely get the chance to use these days as a Year 6 teacher.
I love teaching 10 and 11-year-olds. It is an age when children are able to articulate their views on the world; an age when their curiosity about themselves and their place in the world is high. They are excitable and interested - a real joy to teach. Unfortunately my wonderful job has been reduced over the past 18 years to helping children achieve the “expected” level of progress on a test. I feel myself turning slowly from a teacher who wants to talk about conkers and rainbows with her enthusiastic class, to one telling them they have the right or wrong answer to a standardised test question. "But Miss, why?" often being answered by, "I'm afraid that answer is what they accept, although I see what you mean..."
I know I am better than a computer at teaching children, but it seems I am being turned into one.
I am becoming increasingly worried this means that some day I can be replaced by one.