Of late I have noticed a disturbing trend. It’s been around for some time but it now seems to have gotten out of hand. Some time ago I attended a conference dubbed a ‘festival of learning’ that, when I look back now, I am almost embarrassed to say sucked me in completely. This day saw myself and around 200 others hoodwinked into engagement in sessions that on reflection seemed to be entirely about developing practice. The cunning foxes devising these ‘workshops’ had managed to con us all into believing that no matter what our previous experience or how jolly good we were already thank you very much we might want to develop, see new ideas that could improve things in our schools and for our students, and – and I really do admonish myself here – change and innovate our practice in a manner that might mean more thought, consideration of learners and work. More work? Imagine the very notion of teaching being something that might require effort in order for it to be successful? I’m still shuddering.
But it didn’t stop there. These people continued with their ‘festival’ and have done so for a number of years. I’ve been many times now, all the while hoping for a panel featuring Toby Young which could really take hold of these fools and remind them that education and teaching should be about discussing what’s wrong with the systems and battling to see who can be the most erudite and witty and that they had sorely missed the point if they thought teachers were interested in doing things in classrooms, wasting valuable time that could be spent establishing quite clearly who had read the most books or had the most twitter followers that could get onside to ridicule the ideas that these progressive fools seemed to think could have an impact on learning.
And yet they continue. An alarming trend of ‘Teachmeets’ (Yuck) seem to have no room at all to establish whether we should be burning Claxton or Dweck this week and seem to be all about trivial notions of classroom strategies and ideas to improve the lot of students but with little sense of how this can caress the speaker’s ego and get them invited to a focus group hosted by the Department for Education – who of course we all hate, until they indulge us for half a day, recognise how important we are and then carry on regardless. I’ve even seen people willing to go to full days and travel the length and breadth of the country to attend events such as TLT13 in Southampton, various Pedagoo events and next year’s (next year? They’ve really got this conspiracy organised) Northern Rocks. Honestly, it’s enough to make you want to run one of those charity campaigns to save these deluded fools from themselves, one like that great Teachfirst one about parachuting people with first class degrees into schools in far off places like Bradford. Your two pounds really can make a difference.
I don’t like to name names but I have identified just a couple of these people who I’m sure are ringleaders. It’s distasteful I know to mudsling but these people don’t even have the decency to hide their ridiculous and dangerous ideas behind anonymous twitter profiles or blogs. They really are that brazen. Tait Coles is one. He’s there with his Brylcreem bouffant and his swearing (oh very clever) and some notion about students being at the heart of what he does, putting them at the forefront, allowing them to ‘co-construct’ (what?) their learning and engage in creative ways of sharing what they’ve learned. These ideas may be all very well and good in your pop concert culture Mr. Coles but classrooms are for teaching. This notion of learners is all very well but can you really expect anyone to take you seriously or buy your garishly coloured tome when you don’t seem to have included anything we all agree with already or made reference to how it will help us with Ofsted (who of course we think are ridiculous but will use to justify our own thoughts/criticise others when it suits us)? Come, come.
Equally as frustrating as this brothel creeper wearing trouble maker is his chum and co-conspirator Jamie (James, surely?) Portman. I witnessed this rebel rouser delivering his ‘keynote’ speech at the event in Southampton I’ve already mentioned once but won’t do again – oxygen of publicity? Not on my watch! He swears as well (a common trait among those who haven’t read quite widely enough, or certainly not this week’s most important books) and spoke about teachers who didn’t invest their time and effort into the students, who sat back and sniped in staffrooms, who were quite happy with being told their lessons were satisfactory as this, as we all know Mr Portman, means things are good enough. It’s practically a dictionary definition and yet there he stood suggesting we should want more. Not when there are textbooks to be laminated and numbered thank you very much!
These are not the only ones. Oh no. There are many more at various positions within schools from classroom teachers to heads of departments to senior teachers and some headteachers as well! And these aren’t the kinds of school leaders we know and love. These are some that seem hell bent on improving schools and encouraging and supporting staff to do better and in turn provide better for students. They are a far cry from the noble senior leaders who decry any attempts to look at ‘teacher performance’ and have the decency to play down that they have a role leading schools and offer embarrassment and the usual excuses when they adopt a stance, in no way patronising, of encouraging us all to ‘remember what it was like.’
It seems that these people have failed to recognise that Ofsted (who, may I remind you we don’t care about or listen to unless they happen to offer something we can use to support our own arguments) have clearly stated that they do not expect to see a particular style of teaching. Or at least they have heard this made explicit and yet cling to some absurd notion that identifying effective or ineffective teaching and suggesting improvement is in some way different to style of teaching. As such they have, and I believe willingly, missed the point that we can peddle any old nonsense we like and if anyone has the audacity to suggest it’s not all that then we have the full weight of Ofsted (who we hate unless etc etc …) behind us and their judgement of Requires Improvement – a horrible term and much less easy to duck around with semantics – is clearly nonsense.
I don’t want to be dismissive of these people. They are clearly just misguided. But they are so confident in their confused ways that they don’t even have the common courtesy to blog about it, or at least not regularly enough that we could all amass and tell them quite how silly they are. No, these sneaky pests go quietly about their work focusing their attention on students and classrooms and finding ways where creative and innovative teaching can continue to help students succeed. It’s almost as if they’ve deliberately chosen to ignore the fact that these things mean nothing without affirmation from people who think the same thing already. Like a band of brothers, or soldiers perhaps, with a clear mission to make classrooms better quietly and confidently regardless of how popular or not it makes them. I’m sure dear reader this bewilders you as much as it does me.
I feel though, that I must end with a confession. You see I too was once like these people. It was most likely in my efforts to get close in order to overcome but I could feel myself being subverted. I saw potential in the development of classroom practice and realising that sometimes to be supported meant I would need to be pulled up if I was heading in the wrong direction. I even read one of the books recommended by Chairman Coles where it stated that if you really do care about something then at times it can’t always be about saying ‘you’re right, let’s ignore everyone else and the obvious facts’, at times we need to say ‘you’ve slipped up there son, let’s get you back on the right track and I’ll be there to check and help.’
Luckily before any of this managed to catch hold I met Lord Adonis. It was only a short conversation but in it I told him of my background and my position and he told me that the country needed more teachers like me and I was pulled back from the brink. Thank (quite literally) the lord for giving me the courage to only listen to those voices that tell me I’m right regardless of what I’m doing, those voices that allow me to stay quite where I am thank you very much, those voices who know that some students are just going to fail to make progress because they are probably just lazy, or come from a bad family or joined the school late so really there’s little point in me doing anything at all to engage them.
This weeks not so secret teacher is another one writing to an easy to please audience in a clearly disgruntled profession some members of which could benefit from a long hard look in the mirror.
Lots of Love