You were so much more than just 'good enough'

21st April 1995 at 01:00
Training expert Mary Thornton writes to a newly-qualified teacher who has resigned.

You left us not many summers ago, a competent, committed, dedicated, teacher of primary children. Your reference could not have been more complimentary, but you had already established yourself as a high quality student in local primary schools.

In many respects you were able to choose the type of school in which you wanted to teach, and you did, opting for those children who were most in need of your dedication, high expectations and highly developed teaching skills. You got the job you wanted, in the school you wanted - surely that in itself is an indication of your abilities?

But now, so recently into the job, you have resigned.

I know it is on the grounds of ill-health but, more importantly, it is related to your perception that you cannot do all that you know needs to be done for your class of children. You told me on the telephone that you were not good enough, that you were not up to the job, that you could not cope, but I know you are and that you can.

You must realise that no one, least of all a newly-qualified teacher, can do all that needs to be done in a deprived area, with a class of around 30 rising sevens, a third of whom have special needs and learning difficulties. No one can ever do all that is necessary. You are, by definition, a good teacher because you recognise this.

I have been in teacher education for nine years. I have seen many, many prospective primary teachers pass through the doors of higher education and into the profession. I know, or thought I did, about "good enough" teachers. These were the students who were "adequate", who could cope in the classroom but who were not, necessarily, those you would want to teach your own children or to join the staff of your own school if you were a headteacher. Regrettably, there are still some instances of "OK, but not for me" on the part of both schools and higher education tutors.

When we spoke on the telephone recently, I began to have doubts about my understanding of what a "good enough" teacher was. The phrase had always had a negative connotation for me, yet I found myself telling you, a very good former student, that you were "good enough" and should not be leaving the profession.

As far as you are concerned I believe you are "more than good enough" ; you are dedicated to your work, capable and bright, able to differentiate and develop. Above all you have high expectations of both yourself and your pupils.

You were and you are a gift to primary teaching, committed to raising standards, able to do so and concerned for those less fortunate than herself. Contrary to your view of yourself, and your professional practice, you are "more than good enough".

You and I share a belief in high expectations of all the children we teach, and recognise the need to make supra-human efforts to ensure that those entrusted to our care achieve their potential. I have seen you teach, in difficult circumstances. I know you can do it, that you are "more than good enough". I think, deep down, you know it too.

I do not want to add to your current medical state of depression but it must be said that by resigning you have opted out. You knew the problems and chose a school in which you would have to address them. You were more capable of dealing with them than many experienced teachers but, because of limitations on your time, resources and energy your ability to do so was constrained. But please think on this you were doing more than most.

You may not have been able to do everything but you did a great deal. Because you were a "more than good enough" teacher your pupils (past and potential) are now suffering, not because you could not do everything but because now, you are not doing it at all.

Your mistake was in thinking that the ideal was obtainable. Unfortunately it is not. Teachers are not miracle workers. You should reflect on what children are losing from your absence from the profession rather than what, in ideal terms, they have the right to expect from perfect teachers in perfect circumstances.

I have had to re-define my definition of "good enough" teachers in the light of your premature retirement from the profession. Now, for me, it does not mean "has potential but is weak", "can teach others' children but not my own", "can teach elsewhere but not here". Rather, it means you, and others, will do your utmost, your best, for every child in your class in the full knowledge that no matter the amount of effort you put in, no matter how good you are, you will never be able to do everything.

You must accept that your best is good enough. You are a very good teacher. Do not deprive future generations of primary pupils of your considerable teaching abilities and commitment simply because there are things which you cannot do (and nor can anybody else).

Come back to primary teaching as soon as you are physically able. Your headteacher and others know your worth. You cannot do everything but you can do a lot; you can make a difference.

Mary Thornton is principal lecturer and BEd Scheme Tutor at the University of Hertfordshire.

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