Saddle sore, but still riding high

15th December 2006 at 00:00
In my 26 years of teaching, the only constant has been unremitting change. Most of that has been about altering the basic structures of our educational system or, as some might put it, watching the tumbleweed blow around the streets of a ghost town.

The upheavals we've passed through - Houghton, Munn and Dunning, Standard grade, 5-14, the revision of Highers, Higher Still, McCrone - have been about setting targets for young people to shoot at, then making sure as many as possible hit them.

If not enough hit the targets, we were bad teachers; if a lot of them hit them, we were good. Simple really - except that, if we got too good at getting them to hit the things, then we were putting the targets too close in the first place and we were bad teachers again.

So, we've been complaining, haven't we? For 26 years I've heard the criticisms, and joined in making them myself: we've been turned from professionals to educational technicians; we've been totally focused on exam results; we've moved away from real education, where we explore the frontiers of knowledge, to the drab mechanics of the educational conveyor-belt. And it's not fun any more: the kids hate it, we hate it, and we're totally hacked off.

What we really wanted was to be teachers like we used to be: pursuing an open-ended curriculum with us exploring wherever the pupils' interests and our inclinations took us; taking dazzling leaps of pedagogy from one intellectual height to another; creating lessons that spanned all that human knowledge could offer.

Well, bad news folks, we might be about to get what we've always wanted. A Curriculum for Excellence says we can choose the curriculum, we can develop the whole child and we can map the wilderness of human understanding in any way we think will work - without worrying about whether we should be on this trail or that.

Free at last, Lord Almighty, free at last. However and but... I don't know about you, but I'm knackered. All that target-shooting takes it out of you and there's a disinclination to saddle up for one more adventure. And I suspect I'm not alone. As a profession, with the demographic curve peaking in the upper forties, we look more like John Wayne in The Shootist - broken-down, tired and disillusioned - than the idealistic, self-sacrificing and (most importantly) full of energy Gary Cooper in High Noon.

We've been shot at by the sheriff, scalped by the Indians, ignored by the townsfolk and the cavalry didn't turn up. So what do we do now, Butch? Well, the thought of leaving a legacy of 5-14 national assessment scores and Standard grade exam statistics doesn't do much for me. A tombstone inscribed "he met his national assessment targets" isn't what I want to show for a lifetime on the trail.

No, siree. The sun is high in the sky and we've been called out for the final showdown - into the sunset maybe, but at least we might find that blaze of glory we've been looking for all these years.

Bob Cassellsis depute head at Hermitage Academy in Helensburgh

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