One of my close friends is a teacher with many years of classroom and administrative experience.
She came to KICE (Kangaroo Island Community Education) with a long history of developing positive relationships with parents, writing and implementing thoughtful and interesting programmes, and helping her students to achieve high academic standards.
She is one of those rare teachers who knows what standards are, and cares enough about her students to make them work to achieve them.
She has frequently faced hostility from both students and parents, hostility which has been replaced by respect and gratitude when students realise that they can do the work, and parents see that their children are getting results which they would not have thought possible.
At KICE she faced hostility from staff as well. On more than one occasion I overheard other teachers sniggering about what was being done to her. All the most difficult students put in her classes. Denied acccess to resources and to her own office space. Openly undermined with parents and students.
I was so disturbed by this that I wrote to the Head of Campus at Kingscote. I didn’t even get a reply.
Meanwhile, bullying is rife, academic standards continue to be appallingly low, and the school cannot stay within its budget.
It was reported to me by a parent that at the end of year assembly one of the finishing students had thanked the staff for their support. So far so good. But the student reserved special thanks for a staff member who had regularly rung them to remind them they should be at school, and who had finished their work for them if they were feeling stressed.
I was astonished. Surely that person could not really have thought this was kindness? Or that she was doing the students any good in the long term?
My impression is that (in many state schools, anyway) teachers who know what children should be learning, and try to teach, and maintain objective standards and mark to them (in other words, who do the things that are proven to build confident and capable students), are finding themselves more and more isolated.
This article by Katharine Birbalsingh tells of her similar experiences on the other side of the world.
A couple of excerpts:
For years, I soldiered on in the classroom, working hard to change the minds of children who were paralysed by a sense of victimhood. They found it impossible to believe that I had chosen to be their teacher, that I wanted to be there, that I loved being around them. Eventually, like any good teacher, I won them over by using all the tricks of the trade, from gold stars to phone calls at home with positive comments, to holding breakfast clubs in the early morning when I would spend my own money on croissants. My students felt grateful. Like me, other teachers give their life to the job, and we “succeed” despite of the shackles of the system.
The regular dumbing-down of our examination system is obvious to any teacher who is paying attention and who has been in the game for some time. The refusal to allow children to fail at anything is endemic in a school culture that always looks after self-esteem and misses the crucial point, which is that children’s self-esteem depends on achieving real success. If we never encourage them to challenge themselves by risking failure, self-esteem will never come …
I had become indoctrinated by all the trendy nonsense dictating that if children are not behaving in your classroom, it is because you have been standing in front of them for more than five minutes trying to teach them. If only you had sat them in groups with you as facilitator, rather than teacher at the front, then you’d have the safe environment conducive to learning that we all seek. The basic ideology is that if there is chaos in the classroom, it is the teacher’s fault. Children are not responsible for themselves, while senior management fails to establish systems that support teachers and punish children for not doing their homework, whatever their home situation.
I argued constantly with my colleagues and bosses. Often, I won and, almost as if they were inextricably linked, as the innate liberalism within people waned, the department or the school would improve. In every instance, I could see for myself that a move away from liberalism was a step in the right direction, a step that brought calm out of chaos, learning in place of trendiness, and success instead of failure …
Incidentally, my friend was invited back to a school where she had previously been in leadership, and begins there in a couple of weeks. Good for them. But such a pity for KICE, that someone who could have been an invaluable resource, and could have made a difference, felt she could no longer stay on in an atmosphere of hostility and indifference.