I have a dream...
THE summer holidays may now be over but, for me at least, they provided the opportunity for a spot of day-dreaming.
It's 2010. I'm on an English beach enjoying the Mediterranean-style sunshine which, as a result of global-warming, seems to have become almost as British as fish and chips. But it's not just the weather that has improved.
Nearby, a relaxed group of people are talking about work. Teachers, of course. They are speaking with real enthusiasm about the support they receive from the Government, from the major educational organisations and from their own professional body. Even the press, it seems, is on their side.
This support appears to have manifested itself in recent pay settlements. There are more non-teaching staff in schools to relieve them of administrative work and more funding for schools. More teachers have been taken on, reducing contact time, and staff are able to benefit from some excellent training, based in their own or neighbouring schools.
They look back to a decade earlier, when large numbers of their colleagues were leaving the profession, or saying how much they would like to break out of their teaching rut. Some of them had even contemplated leaving themselves, but now they are glad they have not done so because they are enjoying their job so much.
I can't resist asking them what has changed. There is general consensus that there has been a change in climate. The Government and its
agencies have begun to trust and praise teachers. There is a greater recognition that all teachers would like to, and mostly do, a good job. They feel that politicians and the wider public have developed a much better understanding of the challenges and complexity involved in teaching and in implementing change in the day-to-day world of the classroom.
I realise that this new-found optimism is based on their strong sense of self-esteem. They are now used to their voice being heard, thanks to more effective methods of consultation between government and the profession. They feel there has been a genuine change - it is understood that teachers' self-esteem is a prerequisite for creating high student self-
esteem and that teachers perform better when given very high support to match high expectations.
I ask them what advice they would give to young people thinking of becoming teachers and they say they would not hesitate to recommend it as a career. Though some of their older staffroom colleagues remained cynical, many others hd come to share their view that life in the classroom had got better.
They tell me about the training programmes they have taken part in. Under these programmes, all teachers are entitled to professional development beginning in the year after they join the profession and continuing each year after that.
In the year following the induction year they work with a mentor to identify areas of teaching or classroom management which they wish to improve. They are then assigned to one or more experienced teachers in their own or a neighbouring school, who spend regular sessions with them either in their own classroom or that of the experienced teacher.
This enables new teachers to begin acting as professionals from the start by identifying their own strengths and weaknesses and where they need to improve their skills. It also encourages experienced teachers to share their expertise and to take responsibility for less experienced staff.
At first, say my new beach friends, this proved difficult with colleagues who had not been used to working in each others' classrooms and found it quite threatening. But once barriers had broken down they learned to value the training. Teamwork improved; planning and preparation could be shared. But above all, the quality of teaching and learning improved.
The training is valued by these teachers because it allows them the chance to try out techniques and to improve on or abandon them, in the light of their own professional judgment and through discussion with other teachers. It has given them a sense of professional ownership, with time to be creative about their skills as teachers, and to solve problems.
The planning, preparation for and evaluation of these development programmes is rooted in the schools' performance management schemes, which encourage evaluation in terms of student outcomes but do not impose this in a rigid and inflexible way. What the teachers value is the process of assessing how improved teaching leads to improved student achievement. It has come to underpin the way in which they work together in their schools.....
Of course, this is a vision for the future. Whether it becomes a reality depends on the teaching profession. Later this month the General Teaching Council for England meets for the first time. From now on, working with teacher associations and other organisations, it will be listening closely to teachers and articulating their views powerfully and effectively to Government. We want to ensure that, in future, teaching is a profession to be proud of and a good place to be.
Carol Adams is chief executive of the General Teaching Council