The joys of colonic appraisal

15th August 1997 at 01:00
She was walking quickly because her last class was waiting in a separate annexe building 10 minutes' walk away, with the period timed to start at precisely the point when she left the main building. The class would be restless when she arrived. Further, the road between the two buildings was through the site of the M8 motorway, with mud underfoot, and huge pipes being swung overhead as she passed.

Turn the clock back five years. Two probationer teachers are heading to an Edinburgh college of further education to take a Spanish class after the normal working day. They enjoy it, but by November the burden of winter weather, of teaching seven first-year classes, of travelling between buildings (this school has an annexe too) catches up with them. They miss a few weeks. On their return the lecturer chides them. "Where have you been?" They say they've been tired - he replies: "But I'm a teacher and I'm not tired."

Fast forward finally to the original school, the same day as before, and a visiting HMI is upbraiding the modern languages department about the lack of audio-visual material in classes. The fact that the depute head keeps all the audio-visual equipment locked away under his personal supervision and the bizarre period timings previously mentioned fail to impress the inspector who has never taught in a secondary school, but taught - yes, you've guessed it - in an Edinburgh FE college. "Well, I've done it," he says. "I've done it in lots of classrooms."

The exasperated teacher has had enough. "Where, exactly, have you done it?" The eyes narrow. The reply, when it comes, is guarded: "Have I met you somewhere before?" End of conversation.

The authority of inspectors, advisers, students' tutors, headteachers, principal teachers and especially classroom teachers has to be earned, not assumed. "Sapiential authority" was the pompous term once employed. Yet if a lecturer has never taught a school class since O grades were in vogue, if an inspector has only two or three years' relevant experience, or none, then the credibility they can command is fatally weakened.

Headteachers who never taught a full-sized mixed-ability class are likely to be less well regarded by those who perform this task routinely. Curriculum bodies or development groups need membership where relevant recent insight should be a prerequisite.

Perhaps posts of sapiential authority should be of finite duration - three years, say - allowing a reasonable time for wisdom to be cascaded before a required return to the classroom. After all, how often is the mantra "I'm so envious of you all at the chalkface" intoned by those very classroom refugees?

Appraisal currently means little more than a series of targets about external agendas. Courses to be attended, developments to be undertaken, (self) publicity to be sought. How refreshing if appraisal targets described intention to stay in school, desire to mark more work, willingness to have better relations with colleagues and pupils. Instead of top-down appraisal what about colonic appraisal - from the bottom up.

An art principal friend once took part in an interview where the headteacher imposed his choice on the panel. "There's a look in the eye of a competent man," he opined. The look might be a bit more concerned if his job depended on the acclamation of a majority of those working for him.

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