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Is a smile the teacher's most important asset?

David Henderson reports from the Association for Educational Advisers in Scotland

A SMILE and the inner confidence that comes from a teacher who is personally contented can make all the difference to pupils' outlook in class, Bart McGettrick, professor of education at Glasgow University, told education advisers at their annual conference in Stirling last weekend.

"Children learn from the smiling eyes of the teacher. Remember to develop relationships because education at its heart is a human enterprise. If you are looking to serve others, you will serve others better when you are at peace with yourself," the former principal of St Andrew's College of Education said.

Teachers who were content were able to motivate and inspire pupils in their learning and more able to bring about change. "But you cannot give what you have not got," Professor McGettrick admitted.

His appeal for a return to the basics of classroom interaction clashed with a further reminder about the stress facing teachers. Martin Williams, a senior lecturer in Dundee University's education faculty, said surveys had shown that one in five teachers suffered anxiety levels, depression and other mental health ailments at or above the level of psycho-neurotic outpatients.

More than one in five reported significant recent illness, almost one in three were looking for alternative work and more than one in 10 exploring early retirement. The survey was based on evidence gathered more than 10 years ago but the situation was "probably worse now", Mr Williams said.

Mental health problems were the fastest growing type of illness in Britain and teachers highlighted constant change, lack of support and diminishing respect for the profession as key factors in classroom and personal stress.

Professor McGettrick believed teachers were too compliant with central and local government education policies and philosophies for their own good and that of their pupils. Education was not about league tables or standards, reading and writing or maths and science, but about developing people of care, compassion and love who would serve others.

"The curriculum is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Too often we think of learning as being the curriculum but the purposes of education are not to be found in the curriculum," he said.

"There are too many people in our education system who because of compliance have developed a fearful heart. They are afraid of external objectives not being met and their own contribution not being fully valued. It is a profession that is timid, fearful and compliant with government in all its forms."

Education was undoubtedly in the market-place but teachers' job was to get beyond the market-place notion of learning. "The bottom line is not a balance sheet of achievement but helping people in their full development."

Politicians, Professor McGettrick said, looked ahead to the next election but teachers were there for the long run. The profession's job was to establish a culture that supported the formation and growth of individual children. Sadly, many teachers lacked the spirit and motivation and professional self-respect.

This negativity communicated itself to many adolescents who failed to see the point of learning. Teachers needed to spend time on how to make learning relevant to them, how they taught - not what they taught - and social and personal development.

"Many young people do not have a sense of peace, tranquillity and sense of who they are," Professor McGettrick said.

TOP TEN CAUSES OF STRESS

Constant change. Lack of political support. Lack os support and information on how to manage change. Centralised curriculum. Diminshing respect. Disruptive behaviour. Salary out of proportion to workload and responsibility. Public accountability and league tables. Lack of non-contact time. Promotion not linked to ability.

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