Unspectacular Jims of this world deserve praise

20th November 2009 at 00:00
In our inspection Jim was described as "unspectacular"

Poor Jim. After all these years, he is now "unspectacular".

You know what you get with Jim. He is quiet, calm and organised. The kids love him. They see in him a committed teacher who really cares about them. They know that he can teach them things that they need to know. The affection that they hold for him is evident in all that they do.

He turns up every day. The kids in his class get a good deal; most of them know more at the end of the lesson than they did at the beginning. His classroom is a restful place. A haven. What more do we need to say?

Except that now he is "unspectacular".

Jim has been in the school for years. He has never sought promotion, indeed has positively avoided it. He has never worked to a CV or to a career plan. All he has ever wanted is to do a good job. We all know that this is what he does.

His priorities are clear. He will do his duty in school - and he has an unswerving sense of duty. Jim enjoys the job, he likes the buzz. But when it's time to go home he switches off and assumes his other, far more important, life.

There has never been any doubt in Jim's mind where his priorities should lie. In this, as in most other things, he is an excellent example to young teachers. Although apparently he is "unspectacular".

The community respects him. The kids and their parents are always pleased to see him in town and when they have left, they come back to see him. Parents are pleased when they know he is teaching their children. He is the one you would chose to teach your own.

He has little interest in what he regards as unproven ideas or techniques. He knows what has worked for him, what has helped his pupils achieve, so he sticks to it. I suppose everything is easy paced, but it is calm and it succeeds. It is success that is the key.

He has never considered moving schools. He has his life worked out. Why upset a pre-school routine that has served him and his family well for so many years? But sadly he is "unspectacular".

When you consider Jim you realise that he is the backbone of the profession. Without teachers like Jim, schools would fall apart. We should never overlook the central part teachers like him play.

I remember when I started teaching. There were two Second World War RAF veterans on the staff. Part of the fabric of the school. They didn't want to do anything other than the job they were doing - a job they did extremely well. They were proper teachers who commanded both respect and affection from staff and students alike.

But such teachers are not the shooting stars of the profession, those who can light up our firmament in a blaze of light. For they are unspectacular. And to be unspectacular is clearly not enough.

You may manage their performance if you will. You may set them targets and ask them to assess each other's work. You may then enrich their lives with brand new management speak. You can talk of learning styles and three-part lessons. But remember: that stellar light glimmers for an instant and then it is dark once more.

It is an eternal reality that remains. A good person in a classroom doing a good job. And what more would you ask for your own children?

It is time we praised the ordinary teacher. We must make sure that they are not to become an endangered species.

Lessons now need to be major experiences. Multimedia entertainment. Energy. Explosions. Infinite variety. We must feed the need for thrills. Every lesson like a video game, like Noisy Night in the Youth Club. And every lesson full of sound and fury. Signifying nothing.

Apart from anything else, it is not possible to do this sort of thing five times a day. And surely nobody can take this constant stimulation, not even our most committed ADHD Asbo hoodie.

But of course this is what you must do, if you don't want to be labelled "unspectacular".

Apparently we should never expect reflection. Perhaps it is too dangerous.

In the end the circle will turn. It must. Someone will write a paper about these new lessons we are supposed to perform for the goldfish generation. We will be told that now we will have to read to our classes. Whole books. Every word. Or talk to them.

And suddenly the new stars of the job will be the unspectacular.

And we shall seek them out everywhere. For we will be told to model ourselves upon them.

And then we shall find that they will have retired.

Geoff Brookes, Deputy head, Cefn Hengoed School, Swansea.

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