Bad teachers and how to spot them…………….This weeks headline from Mr Gove.

Art Deco style research, learning to look and to see.

Art Deco style research, learning to look and to see.

An astute colleague observed that Mr Gove managed to get himself into the broadsheet papers or on the media almost every week, citing his journalistic background as the source of his expertise.  This week the shock headline was all about making it easier for school heads to get rid of bad teachers.  So many things to say!  One of the news reports featured a headteacher who in her own words had counselled some of her staff to the effect that they were in the wrong career and it was time for a change.  Cast your mind back to your own teachers, of course for some it was a job, not a vocation to use an old fashioned term.  From your point of view some were good and some were bad.  Simple solution; get rid of the bad ones.   It was entertaining to watch Mr Gove confront a television interviewer with the simple logic that for a child to make no progress in their learning for a term was a bad thing, that this was the responsibility of the teacher and that this teacher should not be in the profession.  Like all simple statements made by politicians this one bears some scrutiny.

Another pronouncement from the same source was that ICT teaching was in a mess and that the current curriculum is to be scrapped.  If you would like an alternative view on this have a look at, http://tristramshepard.wordpress.com/2012/01/11/breaking-news-ict-deleted/  Tie this up with another government directive which is that bursaries to train teachers will only be awarded to those who gain a 2:1 degree or better.  So let me think now, to teach IT the way you want you are expecting a highly qualified IT graduate to decline the career opportunities and financial rewards offered by industry to take up teaching.  Is there anything that worries you about this picture?  All this quite apart from the wrong headed notion that academic success automatically means that you will become a high quality teacher.  I am sure that you have met teachers who were very good at their subject but could not teach children.  I may be stereotyping but it is possible that the particular mental approaches, attitudes and skills that could make you really good at computer science might not be the ones that go with the highly inter and intrapersonal skill sets required of great teachers.  (With apologies to some of my colleagues who are great at what they do, you know who you are.)

Now back to the issue of teacher incompetence.  Would you recognise bad teaching if you saw it?   I take it for granted that we accept that teaching to a formula, however good the formula, is unlikely to result in high quality learning.  For example I have witnessed lessons where the teacher did everything by the book, they hit all the right spots and used all the right parts of the lesson yet I would say it was a bad lesson.  I have known teachers who were regarded as poor performers who were loved by their classes.  I also remember a teacher who by every measure you could use was bad at his job but he was the one who reached out to me with sensitive support when I needed it most. He would certainly not have survived in the classroom today and perhaps someone else would have been there for me, who knows?

Then we have the issue of supply and demand.  Just suppose for a moment that a head has what they estimate to be a poor Maths teacher so they do the necessary and that teacher leaves the school and the profession.  You will of course be able to recruit another Maths specialist who is a high performing teacher won’t you?  Teachers are a mixed bag, thank goodness, and I suppose that like any such group and by almost an measure they will fall into the so called normal distribution curve.  Here is the problem, slice off the bottom and you will still get a normal distribution curve.  The idea that by doing so you will consistently drive up standards is dependent on the availability of more top flight teachers.   I am delighted to say that in the limited work that I am privileged to do with teacher trainees I meet some outstanding people, some of whom I believe could go on to be outstanding teachers.  I have also met some who have realised that this demanding and challenging job is not for them and have withdrawn and some who I have had to tell the truth to in order to convince them that they should withdraw.

Interestingly some of Mr Gove’s “bright ideas” seem to have slipped under the carpet, remember the one about ex forces personnel solving school discipline problems?  Once again I have met some excellent teachers who have come into the profession from a military career but all of them will confirm that the differences between military and educational discipline have been among the hardest things for them to come to terms with.  The truly worrying part of all this is that some of these suggestions, which because of the position of the man who makes them assume the force of regulation if not law, seem to reveal a deep rooted problem which is a lack of understanding of education and of schools and of children.  It is perhaps too much to hope that this current plan will go the same way.

One final thought; I watched a programme in which Dylan Wiliam, (not my person of the month since he is on of the expert review body appointed by the government who so signally failed to grasp the importance of Design Technology) worked with a group of teachers to help them embed assessment for learning practice in to their teaching.  I confess that one of the teachers I thought should never have passed a training course and was never going to make the grade no matter how much support was offered.  Well it just goes to show how much I know, by the end of the programme his support and coaching had transformed her teaching, her classes and her enjoyment of the job.  It is to be hoped that a government faced with shortages of qualified teachers already will see this sort of career development as an equal part of it’s mission to improve teaching and that head teachers will have the skills they need to carry out this level of support for struggling staff.  Wishful thinking?  Well t be a teacher is to be an optimist.

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Comments
2 Responses to “Bad teachers and how to spot them…………….This weeks headline from Mr Gove.”
  1. Richard says:

    I very much agree that to be a (good) teacher you need to be an optimist. That is key! As soon as I became pessimistic (and tired) I knew I had to go, for my sake and the children’s.

    You make lots of good points – but then I would expect nothing less!

    Richard

  2. Roy Lindus says:

    Reminds me of two occasions way back.

    A much liked Maths teacher who also took music,for one term filled in for our demented science man. Not his subject but during this time I went from 34th to 1st in a class of 40 & still remember essential parts of the subject 60 years later.

    The second was a scheme for manager trainees all of whom had to be university graduates. The company,First National Securities, introduced the scheme in the eighties but after two years it was dropped as a total failure.
    Reason, although most were fine chaps they had little ability to deal with what was at that time our “real” world of finance.

    Roy

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