Talkback

30th March 2001 at 01:00
We've all seen the Government's advertisements for "fast-track" teachers - where the would-be fast-tracker is at the top of a staircase, clearly well on the way to career success and fulfilment by carefully avoiding the mass of "ordinary" teachers (and, more importantly, any children) at the bottom of another staircase.

I don't know how many people seeing these have been inspired to join the profession or if it even attracted the sort of people most likely to enhance children's education.

Certainly, many of my colleagues responded with justifiable cynicism. But an increasing number of advertisements have a worryingly narrow view of school life. This, surely, can only further harm the already deflated morale of many teachers, and have a negative effect on the perceptions of those looking in.

Example number one: a young girl in primary school is so bored with the tedious lesson that her gaze is constantly out of the window.

Her excitement and joy when she is released are obvious as she races through the school to a waiting car. A flash to the future shows the girl driving said car. The message - forget boring education, this car is what life's about.

Example two: a teacher sits at the front of the class while mayhem reigns among her unruly pupils. This time it is the teacher who is distracted. Her superior head enters and is at first alarmed. But on being told that the teacher is daydreaming about a holiday, the head sits down, also to dream of distant places while chaos continues unchecked in the classroom.

Example three: an unfortunate child is left with his tongue stuck to a frozen pole in the playground while his tacher fetches hot water to unfreeze him. She's distracted by a pot of dried noodles and he is left to suffer. The teacher's priorities are clear as she tucks into her warming meal.

On the face of it, these ads are light-hearted and amusing. But the images give mixed messages. Is this what teaching is really like - bored teachers, bored pupils and the only light at the end of the tunnel the chance of a holiday abroad or a flash car?

Are teachers so uncaring and downtrodden that they are as disaffected as some of the pupils? Is there any hope of stimulating children to want to learn if the teaching profession has become like this?

Television's The Grimleys paints a less than perfect picture of life in a secondary school in the Seventies. Teenage boys struggle with their emotions and teachers are more concerned with their image and own sexual exploits than with teaching.

The whole scenario is farcical. But what is different here, and what makes The Grimleys acceptable, is that this is a devised comedy - it is meant to be far-fetched. Its grossly exaggerated characterisation surely means no one watching would take this as the way of things in schools - unlike the ads, which give a completely negative view of reality.

If the Government wantsto raise the profile of teaching to attract more into the profession and deter others from leaving it, perhaps it should consider the impact of this sort of advertising and take action before the morale of teachers falls even lower and they become the stereotyped characters the advertising agencies see them as.

Brenda Gunning is a Year 6 teacher in a Doncaster primary school


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