What keeps me awake at night - Don't run before you can teach

19th August 2011 at 01:00
Anonymous views from education's front line

This week: a teacher at a secondary in the north of England

What is it that has everybody in the teaching profession in such a rush these days? Whether it's NQTs talking glibly about being fast-tracked to the senior leadership team or headteachers hatching grandiose plans to become "executive head" of a cluster of schools, it seems nobody is content or fully focused on the job at hand any more.

I have no problem with ambition itself - I still harbour a healthy level of it myself. The issue for me is that we seem to work in a culture where everybody is encouraged to run before they can even toddle.

We have probably all worked with senior leaders whose prime motivation seemed to be to get themselves promoted out of classrooms where they couldn't cope as quickly as possible. But now a different kind of beast is emerging: young, ultra-ambitious and malleable starlets who are groomed for greatness before they possess the maturity and people skills to cope with leadership and, more critically, before they can actually teach.

This problem is exacerbated the further you get up the chain. The days of the dedicated head being carried aloft from his beloved school after 30 years of service are long gone. The modern head isn't happy until he or she is overseeing a "family" of schools and having their photo taken with the secretary of state.

The issue here is that, invariably, it leads to a series of predictable quick fixes designed to promote the illusion of overnight improvement - goodbye mediocre GCSE results, hello BTEC! - as the messianic new head seeks to gain kudos for transforming a failing school. The net result of this shameless and cynical cooking of the books is undoubtedly a dumbing down of the curriculum, which often forces other local heads to join the arms race and follow suit for fear of being left behind or, worse still, swallowed up.

The key thing to remember is that, so far, this approach has provided a successful blueprint and, until the implications of Mr Gove's dreaded EBac really start to bite, these ambitious young empire-builders will continue to proclaim their achievements on banners outside their "transformed" schools while scouring the neighbouring catchment area for their next project.

The flip side of all this frenzied ladder-climbing and creative CV- building is that it often leads to those capable classroom practitioners who don't choose to play the game being unfairly tarred with the dreaded brush of "lacking ambition" and being told how to suck eggs by senior colleagues whose own ambition often far outstrips their ability.

Our profession has more than enough over-promoted social climbers to keep us all amused on Inset days, but the one thing we still have a tragic shortage of is hardworking, dedicated teachers who can inspire and enrich young people in the classroom. In all this rushing around we have forgotten about the one thing we should all aspire to be: good teachers. Surely there is no more laudable ambition than that.

To tell us what terrifies you or to share the unscripted events that have happened in your classroom, email michael.shaw@tes.co.uk.


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