Love is a nod, a grunt and your own chair;Last word;Opinion

20th March 1998 at 00:00
How can you know whether you are doing a good job or if you are a potential Advanced Skills Teacher? Do crowds of pupils queue up at the end of every class, saying, "Thank you once more, misssir, for another truly inspirational lesson"?

Does the head slip a couple of used tenners into your hand as you cross the playground, muttering, "Genius, pure genius"? If this is the case, then I have two questions: What planet are you on, and are the tablets working yet?

Teachers are in the same category as parents cooking a meal. As someone who is keen on cooking, I have learned over the years that if your children don't throw the food at you, or say "What the hell is this muck?" then it is probably an excellent meal. Just don't expect any praise.

In universities nowadays we actually have to compile "esteem indicators". Pathetic, I know, but that is the sorry state to which higher education has been reduced. In the desperate quest for kwality, lecturers have to fill in forms, ticking esteem indicator boxes with headings, such as "medals, prizes". Conference addresses, mentions by fellow academics, invitations to lecture, all are recorded under numerous headings.

It is hilarious to think of some distinguished scientist earnestly entering the digit 2 in the "medals, prizes" box, with not enough space to explain that these are, respectively, a Tufty Club road safety bronze medal and a Nobel Prize. Before long academics will parade through town with a placard saying, "Please Love Me, I need the ratings".

The possibilities for finding evidence of esteem are endless, from "They all wept with emotion when I finished my lecture", to "Professor Splutzenheimer of Kleinpiddel University mentioned me in his seminal article, The semiotics of the 17th century antemasque, (Kleinpiddel Gazette, volume 23, pages 34-35)".

Teaching has always been a job where it is hard to tell whether you are genuinely esteemed. For most people teaching is a bustling activity, with a thousand or more interactions in a single day. There is no leisure time for standing back and admiring yourself at work.

In these hectic circumstances it is easy to delude oneself, for good or ill. I have often observed lessons and kept a record of which children are answering questions. When teachers are then asked to estimate roughly how many children responded to questions, some will say, "Oh, most of them, I suppose - was it 20-odd?" Sometimes the answer is six or seven, but because these pupils are especially eager to reply, and often seat themselves centrally when given a choice, the impression is that everyone has joined in. It is simple for me to look out for such matters as an observer, but far more difficult to see them clearly when I am teaching.

The same problems occur when seeking evidence of esteem. Some teachers may overestimate their effect, but many are hard on themselves, believing that they are achieving little. Appreciation emerges in small increments, a smile or a nod maybe, rather than a spectacular explosion of gratitude. With adolescent boys, a raised eyebrow or a monosyllabic grunt is the nearest they will come to ecstasy.

Given the masochistic nature of teaching and the tendency that some practitioners have to flagellate themselves, perhaps we should ask people to look out for "contempt indicators" instead of evidence of esteem. There are endless possibilities here: "Headteacher stubbed cigarette out on back of my hand", or "Inspector was excessively polite when he said my teaching was 'generally sound'."

Esteem is often subtle and understated. One of my former students was once told by a class at the end of her first term, "You're the first teacher we've had who's lasted a whole term." It was their equivalent of giving her an Olympic gold medal.

Praise can sometimes occur in perverse form, the opposite of what seems to be signalled. A new teacher was concerned that some of the class seemed to have taken a dislike to him, so he had a confidential word with one of the more streetwise pupils. "Perhaps a few of the kids do dislike you a bit", the lad announced, "but you've got to remember they absolutely hate all the other teachers."

In order to satisfy the thirst for a set of indicators of teachers' standing, I have compiled my own authoritative scale of "esteem indicators" for potential Advanced Skills Teachers, the Definitive Underpinning of Pedagogical Esteem. I fully expect DUPE to become a standard instrument in future. It teases out the most subtle, nay perverse, evidence of being valued for what you do.

* Pupils gave me an apple (extra point if no cyanide can be seen dribbling from stem).

* Children have given me an affectionate nickname (no points allowed for "Chalky" or "Tinky Winky").

* Head sent me a note saying that I would be in the running for an Advanced Skills Teacher award (minus one point if it included the words "when pigs can fly").

* Parents give me presents (no points for packet of amphetamines, or gift with label saying, "I hope Michael does well in the SATs").

* Elected union rep at AGM (no points if it happened while you had nipped out to the toilet).

* Governors named me "best teacher of the month" (minus a point if it was for August).

* Local authority selected me, out of all the staff, to go on a course (no points if it was entitled "How to keep order").

* Caretaker says my room is always the tidiest (no points if you teach Latin, extra point if you teach art, but check caretaker for irony first).

* Received several cards on Valentine's day (no points for "get well soon" or "deepest sympathy" cards).

* Colleagues always let me have a comfortable chair to myself in the staff room (check armpits before awarding point).

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