A new script for the unpromoted

30th October 1998 at 00:00
TEACHERS ARE a funny bunch and, if you say, speak for yourself, that is what I am doing. I describe myself as a rather different "animal" within the profession. I don't have multiple body piercings or anything like that, but I have decided to eschew promotion in order to pursue other interests - classroom teaching and the development of teaching and learning strategies.

Nothing odd about that, you say, a few of us are choosing a different script. Dead parrots and John Cleese may spring to mind but is there a need for the powers that be to look carefully at this category of teacher? The recently published Millennium Review raises but does not solve the problem.

It is not surprising that the union-employer task force did not arrive at consensus. This is not a subject that lends itself to thinking of the brightly starched kind. Some teachers will have chosen not to seek promotion because they want to concentrate on what they know they achieve in the classroom. Others will have avoided the promotion journey because they have no chance of getting even one foot on the ladder.

This is where things get tricky. Have a look around. The best teachers are not necessarily the promoted ones. Some may be excellent administrators but not inspirational teachers. Human management skills vary enormously - charisma and empathy, for instance, are not always detectable. Sometimes you find yourself looking up and despairing.

My first principal teacher's idea of helping was to demonstrate the art of giving five of the belt without hitting myself and I prefer to draw a veil over the results of that particular tutorial.

The Millennium Review does make sensible comments in acknowledging the difficulties in deciding which unpromoted staff should qualify for increased salary. This is where phrases like "wisdom of Solomon" take centre stage.

In the old days it was easy. The best teachers taught with their doors open so that everyone could sense that palpable silence of unrelenting terror. In such surroundings I was caught, during a religious education lesson, reading a book under my desk. A subversive act of desperate recklessness.

So how do you decide on what constitutes a good classroom teacher in an environment which now looks for a great deal more than a reign of silence?

There is an important point here. What is so unworkable about staff development by teachers? It seems that everyone wants to place education high on the agenda for the new parliament so let's tackle some of these issues.

So far there has been a fair amount of abseiling up and down the practice slopes - much proliferation of theory and little of substance. Many unpromoted classroom teachers can offer a great deal to develop teaching and learning in their own schools or indeed groups of schools. I am not suggesting that we plunder the role of the training colleges, but how do we utilise the expertise already in schools?

First, get together a task force (or whatever you like to call it) of excellent classroom performers who have chosen not to climb from the chalkface. Make sure that their motives are strikingly honourable, give them time, a remit and, if you must, a civil servant from the Scottish Office to take the minutes.

I am certain that they will come up with workable ideas that will enable better teaching and learning to take place in Scottish schools.

Otherwise, all the fine talk about a 21st-century education "commanding the support and confidence of both communities and teachers" might as well just disappear into the night like the gags of poor comedians.

Give the unpromoted teachers a chance; they might just come up with an answer. As George Mackay Brown once said: "All a writer needs is a cheap pad and a 10-penny Biro."

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