A great teacher needs more than a good degree

28th January 2011 at 00:00

You know how it is. School finished two hours ago. Your desk wheezes under a marking mountain. More than 120 pupils have streamed in and out of your classroom throughout the day; some have listened, some have littered and all of them have expected you to teach them something.

You've been to three meetings this week already, and it's only Tuesday. You can't remember your name until a zealous pupil shouts it from the other end of the corridor. "That's it," you mutter under your breath. "Thank God! I remember now."

As you tread this endless education mill, the Government's relentless drive to improve standards continues. "Can you do all that?" they ask. "But do it better every year by improving pupils' GCSE results and making sure they do them in this list of subjects? Thank you. Carry on."

In the foreword to his The Importance of Teaching white paper, education secretary Michael Gove writes that there is "no more noble" profession than teaching (thank you, Mr Gove - you are too kind). We are also "society's most valuable asset" (secretary of state, now you are really spoiling us).

Teachers play such a core role that lifting school standards is all down to improving teacher quality, he suggests. How do you do that - reduce workloads? No, employ only top graduates because, apparently, they always make the best teachers.

Take a second to think back to when you were a child and there was that one teacher who really knew their stuff, who inspired you, who listened. You remember them now because of the quality of teaching and learning in that classroom, and how they made you feel. Chances are you did better in their class than others.

You didn't care about their degree or academic background. It was the indefinable quality that makes a great teacher that you connected with. The assumption that good university grades automatically lead to this quality is so short-sighted that ministers must need binoculars permanently welded to their foreheads.

Discussions about teacher quality are also difficult when the way we measure it needs reform so desperately.

Ofsted is bound by strict rules linking teaching quality with GCSE results. A school with low five A*-C results cannot be awarded higher than satisfactory overall, even if it technically has enough great teachers to be rated higher. This makes it clear that a teacher's quality simply means favourable statistics. No prize for teaching pupils with behavioural difficulties. No prize for maintaining quality in highly challenging circumstances. Such achievements are forgotten simply because you can't tick a box to measure them.

The league table culture, which measures pupils and teachers based solely on results, is our profession's albatross. We don't need an influx of "better trained" graduates to improve our schools, just a government that lets us get on with our jobs.

Amy Winston is an English teacher at a comprehensive in the West Midlands.

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