Hard work is its own reward for teachers

1st September 2000 at 01:00
I was dreading this year's A-level results. As the date got nearer and nearer, I felt sicker and sicker. Had all my work paid off? Did I understand my subject? I mean, I really pushed myself this year, but you never can tell. What about paper C2 - the one that everybody has trouble with. Had I revised it properly? Had I taken enough time with the coursework? Oh God, I've wasted too much time on the bloody coursework!

This year more than any other, I have been painfully aware that my students' A-level results are also my A-level results. I am as nervous as any of my students on results day. We are all being judged - officially or unofficially - on how we perform. The complex nature of teaching has been crudely broken down into units, charts and blocks. Succesful teaching now depends on whether you provide value for money, and whether you exceed your targets. Educational institutions are managed like businesses, and students are the consumers. Everyone expects a good return, which at the end of the day means lots of good grades.

The problem is that educational "achievement" is so much more delicate than achieving better sales figures at burger bars. There are more variables. Student intake varies from year to year in many ways. What works for one group, one year may not work so well with another the next. One set may see your subject as their "first choice"; others may see it a a third. More students may take up the offer of learning support one year than another. You could be lucky and get a stunningly organised, punctual set one year, and the opposite the next. Even exam questions and examiners vary.

I wasn't looking forward to finding out how I (sorry, they) had done, but the results were great. Very high pass rates, A-C rates, and an even higher rate of exclamation, whooping for joy, happy faces and outpourings of relief. The students looked pretty chuffed too.

Several students came over to my colleagues and me to thank us (I'm never sure exactly what for, but it feels nice). Nothing beats talking to students you have taught, supported, and watched develop over two years as they proudly show you their results slip and tell you, grinning from ear to ear, that they've got into their first-choice university. You suddenly see them as adults with a whole new life ahead of them - a life which you, in your small way, helped make possible.

This year I saw many students achieve top grades, "re-sit" students gain superb improvements, students that did far better than they ever thought possible, and many, many getting the good grades needed to secure their university places. This is the best pay that I could ever receive in relation to my teaching performance. Relatively speaking.

Cassandra Hilland teaches atFarnham College in Surrey

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