Blow your own trumpet

27th September 2013 at 01:00

I think I might be a rubbish teacher. I have no particular reason for thinking this: my students haven't rioted, my recent lesson observations were fine and my last brush with the Ofsted inspectors resulted in virtually no feedback (with Ofsted, no news is good news). It's just that, in the current climate, maintaining a reasonable level of self-esteem is difficult for those of us who don't possess the skin of a rhino or the kind of confidence you find in episodes of The Apprentice.

Unless you teach four and five-year-olds, who are likely to declare your brilliance several times a day, any form of praise is rare. When it does come, it is normally on the back of a boatload of "constructive" criticism and a tide of new strategies designed to enhance the "not waving but drowning" feeling that sets in soon after the start of every term.

But with teachers under scrutiny like never before, the ability to talk a good lesson is becoming increasingly important. The basic rule is, if your self-belief is wavering, start faking it in front of those who matter.

There was a time when, if you had had a trying morning, you could enter the staffroom and announce that you had just taught possibly the worst lesson ever. Colleagues would counter that their lessons were even worse and we would all cheerily swap disaster stories before heading off to the next lesson.

This would never happen now. In these days of performance-related pay, we are too scared to publicly share our failures in case they are reported upwards. In fact, it is now more common to hear colleagues talking about how great their teaching is, which always leaves me feeling hopelessly inadequate.

When I first started teaching, I was in awe of a colleague who excelled in the art of self-promotion. Parents loved her because their children were always out on time, still neat and clean. Staff were in awe of her tidy classroom, beautiful art displays and the flawless presentation in the children's exercise books.

It took me a while to realise that her students were always clean and tidy because they never did painting or practical science and were out on time because she stopped teaching 20 minutes before the bell to tidy the classroom. Her art displays were beautiful because only the most artistic children were allowed to contribute and her students' exercise books were so well presented because she tore out any pages that didn't come up to scratch.

She might not fare well in a modern inspection, although most teachers adapt their teaching to a style most likely to impress Ofsted, despite the chief inspector's claims that they are not looking for a particular style.

And while we sweat blood and tears to improve the self-esteem of our students, we can't rely on those above us to be as consistent in their support - one moment we're the "enemies of promise", the next we're the "legislators of mankind".

Blowing your own trumpet might be the way forward, but it's exhausting. All the time we spend trying to impress managers, inspectors and parents takes focus away from the 30 or so people we should really be trying to make an impression on.

Jo Brighouse teaches at a primary school in the Midlands, England.

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