Teacher failure is human tragedy

16th September 2005 at 01:00
I am standing on a distant hill watching a train derailment, unable to do anything to prevent it. Maggie is unravelling.

She paces in anger and fear, circling my office, talking irrationally about her lesson that the adviser has trashed. Her self-worth has been assaulted, her belief in herself completely destroyed. An outsider comes in, looks at her, condemns, and her life's work is in shreds. She is angry at having to confront a sense of failure, angry that a career in the classroom has come to nothing.

I put on one side the responsibility to deliver quality education. I know that the professional judgements are right. But I see an entirely human tragedy.

I have to try to lead her to understand that it is over. She cannot recover her lost drive, pride and desire. Her sense of vocation is gone and all that is left is daily conflict.

There has to be an acceptance that things are not going well and that it is time to call it a day. However, Maggie's focus has shifted. She is no longer concerned with the capability issues that we have been discussing for a long time. She wants her respect, her name. She sees her hurt but not the experience of the pupils in her collapsing classes.

It is about her rights as a teacher, not her responsibilities. Maggie has taught for a long time. In her eyes this is sufficient. She has letters from old students who once praised her.

Maggie has been underachieving for some time. She might not want to confront it but everyone knows - the children, her colleagues. So we must address it. But in the middle of it there is a real person who is falling apart before our eyes.

There is a balance to be struck, between our obligations to pupils to provide decent experiences and opportunities, and our wish to care for and protect the staff. If someone is not doing their job we need to address it.

Professionally my conscience is clear. But personally is this something I really want to do? The pupils are not getting a good deal but do we need to destroy her?

There has to be a coherent exit policy, one that is dignified and financially viable and that enables teachers to move on before they start causing damage. Something that rewards and recognises a contribution made.

Maggie's difficulties are not bureaucratic ones. Her plight cannot be ignored.

Ian Roe is a teacher from north Wales

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