Leave the teaching to us professionals

21st January 2000 at 00:00
LEAVING Lambeth after five years of teaching I was so thrilled about becoming a journalist I had got to the stage where there was no one left in the staff room to listen to me. They were all too busy. Being teachers.

The first discovery on starting my new life was that it's a lot easier to cycle with my kids into school and still get into the office at a civilised hour. I no longer have to drop them off in a ridiculous panic in order to get to work before the sound of the bell.

Teaching isn't as parent-friendly a profession as many people think. In my new incarnation, part of me feels civilised again. It's refreshing to see another side to the world. The money's better and you can go to the loo whenever you want.

But I miss teaching. I miss walking into a classroom without a clue as to how or what I'm going to teach and having a fantastic session. Then there's the sheer narcissism of a whole class of kids engaging in and enjoying what the teacher has started. Nothing can replace it.

Getting copy written in time for a deadline is one thing, but it cannot compare to unravelling the mysteries of algebra to a class of bewildered Year 5s. And them asking for more.

I miss not being able to click my fingers to a rhyme, accompanied by 30 kids, not knowing what's going to come next, and in 10 minutes producing a group poem the whole class is proud of.

I could go on for hours. I even miss taking the register!

And yet I left the profession. Why? For a mixture of reasons: too much regulation, too little flexibility, too much paperwork and the frustration that no one seemed to be listening to teachers any more.

Like any good teacher, I regularly tried to get round these strictures by breaking the rules. Lessons were only planned in advance when it was useful to do so. Much of our most memorable work was achieved by sparking off with the children and me thinking on my feet. Written assessments were kept to a minimum, I hardly ever stayed late after school and rarely took work home. I did displays in school time and got the children to help.

I think the literacy hour is great. But I had no difficulty in abandoning it if there was something happning in the world that I wanted the kids to react to. When I saw homophobic bullying in the playground, I'd deal with it. No hiding behind Section 28.

There have to be some basic guidelines and planning has to play an important part. But teaching at its best is all about creativity, or should be. I always put my energies into the creative side of teaching, not the dull paperwork. I was able to put energy and zeal into the job and I got great results.

But, in the end, that's why I left the profession I love. There's no room for fun or creative thinking any more. In some state primary schools, some kids aren't doing any regular writing because, the teachers say, the literacy hour is too restrictive.

Many primary school children no longer have drama or art regularly. There's no time. These subjects might happen in after-school clubs but not in the classroom. In many secondaries, drama is off the timetable altogether.

Not all the changes inspired by government are bad. The literacy and numeracy strategies, used flexibly, are a very good thing indeed. But variety is the key to successful teaching. Taking risks and keeping children excited about learning are essential and we are in danger of losing our risk-taking culture in schools.

That's one reason why I've taken a risk and left the profession in search of a broader horizon. It's surely healthy to work outside school and keep abreast of the "real" world. It's also healthy to move from that world into teaching. There's a fashionable term for it now - a "portfolio career".

The Government is said to want to encourage such portfolio-working. To attract and retain good people, ministers must encourage and support teachers to do their job more flexibly and reward them properly for it.

Sabbatical years and secondments would be a good start. Teachers need to be paid more but, more important still, their creativity and understanding of how best to teach their pupils must be valued. Achieve that, David Blunkett, and I will miss my old job more than ever.

Fiona Flynn was an English language support teacher in Lambeth. She

now works as a journalist on the

Learnfree.co.uk website

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