Everyone's a critic
Bloody teachers. If they worked until 5.30pm like the rest of us, didn't have those long holidays, disciplined the kids and taught 'em some facts we might eventually get a decent state education system ...
Yes, I know. It isn't my view, and it isn't yours, but some of the nonsense published in newspapers recently suggests that this is how the general public views us. In the past fortnight, I have read three articles castigating teachers, all of them laughably trite. Standards have been slipping for years, they said, so thank heaven for the two Michaels. They won't let these idle teachers get away with the second rate or inflict their lefty, trendy ideas on our children. They're going to put a bit of rigour into the profession, and not before time. After all, hasn't Michael Wilshaw shown the way by transforming an inner-city sink school? And with the academy programme, and the determination that every primary child should achieve at least a level 4, isn't Michael Gove ensuring that the dead hand of local education authorities doesn't stifle the desire to drive up standards? It's what parents want, said the columnists, because they're certainly not satisfied at present.
Well, funnily enough, most of them are. And in the primary sector, the number of parents who are happy with their children's education has been shown to be exceptionally high. In the last parental survey I undertook at my school, only two parents were unhappy with what we provided. And one of them, who had made misery into an art form, would have been unhappy even if she'd been told she'd won the lottery.
Thrashing about for a stick to beat teachers with, and in an effort to show how thick we are, one of the writers told an anecdote about a teacher who'd supposedly been asked when the Middle Ages were, and had replied that as far as he knew they were around the 1950s. Now, seriously, how many teachers in your school would have said that? None in mine, either, although I can imagine several who would have delighted in giving an irritating reporter an answer like that. It's called humour. After a long period of heavy rain, a local newspaper once phoned around primary schools in my area asking what contingency plans had been made for flooding. When the call came to me, I described the ark Year 6 was building from disused fire doors and offered to send a photograph.
Teachers, said one of the columnists, are unhappy with the national curriculum because they don't like teaching facts, the implication being that they don't know much, so in order to impart accurate information they'd have to do some extra learning themselves. They are far happier letting the pupils have an easier time of it, apparently, because it makes their job "a bit of a doddle". This is such a silly statement, it beggars belief. Rather like the comment from a senior "race adviser" some time ago that all schools were institutionally racist.
Of course, the teaching profession doesn't always show itself in the best light, especially at televised union conferences, where the infantile behaviour and extreme views of a few can risk persuading the public that this is how teachers are. But if some of the loonier columnists actually visited schools and saw how hard teachers work, their view would differ somewhat.
But then, that would be boring for their readers, wouldn't it?
Mike Kent is a retired primary school headteacher. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.