If you work in an inner-city comprehensive, somehow you've earned your stripes

19th January 2001 at 00:00
The letter I always knew would arrive has been published (Friday, December 8). I've been expecting it throughout the three years I've been writing. And I've never been sure how I'd react.

The writer was sick and tired of Gemma Warren. All she does is moan, moan, moan, when actually she has it easy. Because Gemma Warren, in case you didn't know, works in a selective school. Last year, her school achieved 99 per cent A-C at GCSE, and they wouldn't know a child with special needs if he or she came and hit them in the face. What right has Gemma Warren got to comment on teaching, when she doesn't even know she's born?

There's a hierarchy among teachers that I've been aware of since I started. If you work in a private or selective school, people make assumptions. If you work in what people perceive to be a good area, people make assumptions. If you work in an inner-city comprehensive, somehow you've earned your stripes.

I worked in a comprehensive throughout my teaching practice. When I got my first job, I wasn't aware that I was compromising my professionalism. All I knew was that it would pose different challenges.

And that's exactly what I've found. I love my job, and I respect and admire my colleagues and pupils. I am also aware that I face a very different classroom from colleagues in other schools. I refuse to feel guilty. To suggest that my teaching is easy or leisured because of the calibre of the children seems to me simplistic. Everyone knows - and the Teacher Training Agency has observed as much in its recent advertising campaign - that gifted and talented children are just as challenging to motivate.

Of course I face discipline problems. I struggle with underachievement and differences between girls and boys in much the same way as teachers elsewhere. My pupils are the same bundle of hormones as any other teenagers, and any attempts to label them as ll of a type is insulting to the rich mix that comes into my classroom every day.

We complain about the over-simplifying effects of league tables, so why judge my kids on their academic record alone? Surely a school is more than its results?

This kind of attack says a lot about how divisive teachers can be. What happened to all being in it together? I've shared schemes of work with my friends, taken and given suggestions about books and resources, and no one's ever suggested that mine aren't good enough because they're taught to selected pupils. I'm not trying to describe some kind of ideal teaching community here. I'm just trying to describe the kind of colleagues we all have: supportive, generous and, above all, open- minded.

And there's something else. This letter said we have no problem with special needs. This is untrue, and I know this because I am the special needs co-ordinator. We have a register that, of course, is not as extensive as the register in a comprehensive, but includes children with statements, and children with diverse needs that my colleagues and I work tirelessly to meet. Are we suggesting that children with special needs aren't capable of getting an A-C at GCSE?

I've always been reluctant to write about my SEN responsibilities for fear of provoking the kind of letter I knew I'd receive. But what upset me most about this letter is that the writer has responsibility for NQTs. He says he'll show them my writing only to let them see "how the other half live". I hope he doesn't. All he'll do is create more divisive, bitter teachers who spend their entire teaching lives thinking that when straws are handed out, they always get the short one. Why is it that we welcome diversity among our pupils, but won't tolerate it among our teachers?

Gemma Warren teaches at the Latymer school, Edmonton, north LondonEmail: gemmawcallnetuk.com

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