Wednesday, 5 December 2012

The Man should try teaching Year 9.

The government have launched yet another negative attack on the teaching profession. In short, if you're not deemed to be a strong teacher, you will be paid less than your peers. There are pros and cons to this move, but from where I'm standing, one greatly outweighs the other.

Teaching is already a profession laden with anxiety, stress and paranoia. It's like being at school again but with the added pressure that you actually care about how you're doing and, instead of a detention when you mess up, you get complaints from parents and meetings with your line manager. It is a profession of criticism and you have to be quite thick-skinned. I'm not and one of the hardest things I had to learn was the ability to turn a critical comment into a positive boost to my performance. In every other area of life, if you were faced with constant comments and criticisms, you'd probably either kick off or crumble but, in teaching, you have to cheerfully take it on the chin and then prove yourself to be implementing that advice at the nearest available possibility. Whether we like it or not, if someone is struggling, it does seep out and whilst teachers are generally supportive folk, it does mean you can end up feeling very self-conscious.

So now, the government, in their infinite wisdom, have elected to provide teaching with yet another competitive, performance-based hierarchy to conform to. As if the pressure of line management meetings, observations, data collections, report writing and parent's evening isn't enough (not to mention the pressure we put on ourselves as intrinsic, natural-born perfectionists anyway). All of this is just parts of the job that we grumble about but accept. However, I'd be lying if I said that I didn't feel nervous every time one of these things crops up. I KNOW I'm a good teacher - I'm passionate, enthusiastic, giving and devoted to my job and students but even then, I worry. So now, I have to worry about whether I'm going to receive my pay rise every year and, if I don't, I get to spend a whole year feeling like the loser teacher who messed up so much that they didn't want to pay her properly; an entire year worrying about getting it all wrong again; an entire year of feeling like every email I get suggesting I attend a CPD session is a pointed statement about how crap I am.

As you can see, I put enough pressure on myself as it is.

I can see the benefits of this. The rewards of working hard are relatively low at the moment because we're all equal. Last year, when my Year 8 class achieved a higher number of Level 6s than predicted, I was told 'Well done, you need to improve children going from Level 4 to 5 though.' Fair enough, I do, but it'd be lovely to be rewarded for such things. Also, it might make it easier to spot teachers who do need more support AND it will help to ensure that children are receiving the best possible education which, at the end of the day, should be our priority at all times.

However, another major issue is the potential for this move to create more difficulties than solutions. For example, when applying for jobs in the future, if I've stayed on the same level of pay for a few years, will potential employers see that as a sign that I'm not worth interviewing, or even employing? Or, will it be like we're supposed to do with the kids and have intervention strategies put into place to ensure that we do make progress as teachers?

In short, I can't help but feel like education has become a profession that is too obsessed with targets and progress. The increasing number of academies is not helping the situation, and nor is the government with its incessant demand for more, more, MORE from teachers. The job is hard, the kids are awkward, the hours are long and we all devote ourselves to it; it's not so much a job as it is a vocation - a lifestyle, even. So, why now must I prove myself to warrant being paid correctly?

The government's lust for making teaching a respected profession filled with individuals who have first-class degrees (see the recent changes to the PGCE bursaries) and who reach ever-increasing targets (in spite of it being nearly entirely down to the students anyway), is something which is in danger of alienating passionate individuals who simply just love working with kids. Students must be provided with the best opportunities to learn, I agree. However, all of these government initiatives are only serving to demoralise and stress out the teachers who can give those opportunities. Teaching is in danger of becoming a heartless, soul-sucking profession filled with individuals who are only there for the wage. What a sad state of affairs.

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