'Every teacher has been faced with a superhuman colleague. How can we compete?'

10th October 2017 at 11:50
What are mere mortals to do when confronted by perfection? Cloning is the only answer, says one head of humanities

Just look at Jackson, the outstandingly brilliant colleague sitting there in the team room, the customary galaxy of  “thank you” cards gushing forth from the wall above their desk.

What are the rest of us to do when we have a Miss (or Mr) Jackson on our team? He or she is the special one, the department virtuoso, the one the children all want to be taught by, the one the parents all talk dreamily about, the one they naturally yearn to see featured on their child’s timetable each year. The rest of us in the team might do a perfectly decent job, but in the punters’ hearts we’re forever “not the Jackson”. And Jackson's great at marking and all the other non-classroom things, too, dammit.

One (arguably rather shallow) solution would be for us each to buy an even larger shed-load of “thank you” cards and sign them all to ourselves, complete with effusive words from made-up former students “Chloe”, “Sam” and so on. We, too, can have a section of team-room wall to be proud of, even if we are just papering over the cracks.

Alternatively, we could always arrange to dispose of Jackson in an unfortunate accident on the stairs. However, rather than getting rid of Jackson, there is surely a new and better way of getting rid of second-fiddle syndrome.

Nowadays all of us in the team should simply BECOME that teacher. It's the only genuine solution. Enough of those deluded platitudes about “everyone in the team having their own teaching style” for the harsh fact is that Jackson’s is immensely better than any of ours. So the only logical way of avoiding year after year of parental and pupil disappointment is for us to swallow our pride and transform completely, all to adopt the brand name and literally become “Jackson 2”, “Jackson 3” and so on.

The future of 'scripted' lessons

We are merely taking the new and fashionable "scripted" lesson a few corporate (and, one day, inevitable) steps further.  

First, we set our phones on voice record and hide them in  Jackson’s classroom. We then click on the relevant recorded lesson and, with a Bluetooth invisible ear-bud  (about £15 each on Amazon), we repeat – parrot-style – exactly what the genius said and did with their classes –  jokes and all. Staying just a fraction behind Jackson’s delivery could mean our displaying a slightly heavy hand at times (for example, ignoring students who go "off script" or who ask untimely questions) but learning will be the winner in the long run.  

Even an extreme scripted lesson, however, can only take us so far. None of us can fully turn into a Jackson merely by repeating what they say. As many a great actor would confirm, we need to immerse ourselves fully in the role.

This means living the Jackson life. We need to share her house for a few months, share her experiences, her food, her clothes, even her partner. Eventually, we will start to think the same as she does,  to “be” her.  Eventually, we will no longer even need a script.

Team cloning is obviously the future for modern teaching. It will lead to a glorious world where no parent or pupil need ever have to settle for second best. But are we, as teachers, ready to throw away our pride and personality and take this step for the good of learning? Is Jackson also ready for this encroachment? Being the truly perfect professional, I suspect so.

Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams’s School in Thame, Oxfordshire. For more from Stephen, see his back catalogue

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