How do the kids rate you?

14th July 2006 at 01:00
A wee foray into Friends Reunited resulted in an email from a chap who was my first snog. He remembers that more than the day we tied for bottom equal in the Higher English class, and I discovered a lost mark.

To my shame, I went to claim it, thus lifting me from the ignominy of being last, and he'd just smiled.

We had both become teachers, and become middle-aged. Yet, in spite of nearly 40 years passing since I last saw him, we discovered a kinship that has been both fun and supportive. Last year, he moved out of teaching into a high-flying post and, while it was a steep learning curve, he has held his own and now writes complicated analysis of government policies in education.

Recently, he wondered how our old English teacher, fondly known as "the crow", would have reacted to the complex, well-written papers he now produces. Was she wrong to mark our work as harshly as she did? After all, I went on to become an English teacher but don't ever remember a word of praise from her.

Adverts enticing graduates into teaching tend to dwell on the difference you can make to a child's life. I know my lifelong love of the hills began when a geography teacher took us walking up the Cairngorms every summer, and a maths teacher took busloads of us skiing every winter.

Do we open doors for our pupils in the same way? I think, just as the rich get richer, the smart get smarter and they probably get more from school than the less able. The latter tend not to feature in the school show, or go off to do the Duke of Edinburgh's Award. They don't get the exam passes which take them to interesting courses and careers, and maybe their interaction with staff isn't quite as positive as it could be.

If I had to choose how I'd influenced the pupils who have passed through my hands, I'd like to think that I'd given them a faith in themselves, a sense of self and a sure belief that they were as good as anyone else. I'd want them to have been all they could be, never to have been belittled by staff or peers, to find jobs that they like and to grow up to be good parents.

Unfortunately, those kids we should and could be influencing don't want our help nowadays. We live in a society where you can be better off not working, and we work in schools where the bad seem to be rewarded (and certainly receive more time and attention).

There must be some teachers who make that difference, who are the ones who inspire the work and the exam passes, and who earn the respect of their pupils. However, if we want to know for sure, the internet will, of course, supply the answer. Just turn to a site called "Ratemyteacher". It'll tell you exactly what they think.

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