Editorial - In good times and bad, you're in it together

20th December 2013 at 00:00

It seems a tad contrarian at Christmas to use a phrase most closely associated with that old atheist Leon Trotsky, but 2013 can perhaps be best understood through the communist cliche of "permanent revolution".

It is another cliche - this time of a journalistic kind - to talk about a year in review as a "roller coaster". But look around you and around the wider educational world: what you see is a profession and a sector where both statements have been true.

Teachers and school leaders are fed up with the constant reform coming courtesy of a coterie of politicians, educationalists and so-called educational thinkers around the globe. It wouldn't really matter which of the four winds you chose to follow, you'd still find curricula being invented or rewritten, school systems being emasculated and budgets being slashed. (Trotsky would have enjoyed this scale of internationalisation, of course.)

All this is driven by the conclusions of global league tables that purport to use the grandest possible educational canvas to tell teachers how to run the smallest possible details of school life. "If Kyrgyzstan is doing this, and they have 2.75726 per cent better functional literacy at age 9, then we must do the same thing here," ministers say to one another. "And we must rush its introduction."

Too often the results are, well, close to shambolic. You just have to look at the introduction of the new primary curriculum in England if you want evidence.

It is ironic that there are constants in the educational world that you don't need a macro-research project to identify. Teachers and school leaders care about students. Teachers and school leaders work exceptionally hard. Teachers and school leaders, with the occasional exception (I'm looking at you Luxembourg), aren't terribly well paid. Teachers and school leaders are exhausted at this time of year.

To this list we can add a communal sense of humour. One of the most joyful consequences of the terrifying rise of social media is watching a joke, a video or a classroom note go viral; witnessing it tickle teachers' funny bones everywhere from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. It is this phenomenon that our feature celebrates this week.

You would need a heart of stone not to be hugely amused by the Texan teacher who wore the same clothes for his annual school photo every year for 40 years, just as you'd need to have had a full frontal lobotomy not to be tickled by Mr Mitchell's dancing in documentary series Educating Yorkshire. The shared experience of school life - the staffroom, the classroom, the fun of children and the buzz of watching a student succeed - is what brings teachers around the world together.

Of course, there's one more binding agent (think the egg in the Christmas pudding) and that is long holidays, plus the communal understanding of why they are so needed and the shared experience of lay folk really not getting it.

So, teachers, kick back, relax. And don't forget Directive #32 from TES Towers: there should be no planning or marking until you're scraping what's left of the turkey into the bin. Happy Christmas.



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