The dark side of the whiteboard - No teacher crap for lucky celebs

15th April 2011 at 01:00

I'm ashamed to say I have only seen one episode of Jamie's Dream School. That was the one where the nice Latin lady discovered that smiling is the least effective form of classroom management and that long streak of poetry, Andrew Motion, took his kids out on the grass without the aid of a 27-page risk assessment or a sheaf of parental permission slips. Teaching is so much easier when you cut corners.

Motion's kids finally came up with the goods. Had he struggled with the usual teacher crap of taking a register, checking uniform and gaffer-taping his loose projector leads so his PowerPoint wasn't the colour of custard, it might have been a different story. I suspect we will now see series after series of celebrity spin-offs as experts in blow-drying and split ends tackle the problem of the nation's education. First up, Gok Wan rids our schools of adverbs and resources in How to Teach Good Naked. Next, we resurrect Trinny and Susannah in What Not to Teach, and finally Dr Christian takes time away from admiring his own farts to reveal the healthiest lesson size in his Supersize vs Superskinny clinic.

We are so desperate to make it work, we will lap it up. My boss recently sent me on a refresher course called "What makes an effective lesson?", which suggests she thinks it is anything not taught by me. We began by mind-mapping the features of an excellent lesson but ran out of A2 paper. That says it all. Our expectations are greater than our capabilities. Without so much as a hint of irony, my group agreed that good lessons need: challenging objectives, differentiation, assessment for learning, progression, bridging, behaviour management, stimulating resources, significant content, a tangible buzz and more. That is like running the 100m in a bustle: we might do it, but not very well.

It is obvious that we have too much to do. Our workload is like a Tardis: from the outside it looks small, but on the inside it's massive. However long you spend in the classroom, you will spend half as much again on paperwork: pupil-tracking, target-setting and responding to a never-ending chain of trite emails written by lobotomised kitten-lovers, slavering on about true friendship. Also, the teaching Tardis's short-range guidance is buggered, so one minute you're heading for Sweden, the next you're in ancient Greece. No wonder we don't know which planet we're on.

And if the admin doesn't get you, the quackery will. Management are desperate to discover a Cillit Bang for schools: one squirt and the problem's gone. Hence the burgeoning trade in miracle cures. Like desperate, terminally ill patients, schools grasp the latest outlandish panacea: staggered starts, accelerated learning cycles, biorhythms, fish oil and the relative positions of Mars and Venus are all gobbled up before a quick dash to the mirror to see if the patient is looking any less peaky. But they never are because we are treating the secondary symptoms, not the underlying cause. Underachievement is a disease caught in the home. When parents don't read, their children suffer because the biggest influence on a child's vocabulary is mum and dad. In the words of the medic's proverb: when you hear hooves think horses, not zebras. So when kids fail, help parents not just schools.

Anne Thrope (Ms) is a secondary teacher in the North of England.

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