I earn a crust from doing inset. Yes, one of those charlatans that “teaches teachers how to teach” ‘cos he hasn’t got a clue how to hack it in the real world. Shoot me down in flames!
When I “teach teachers how to teach” my aim is generally this: I want them to walk away thinking to themselves, “Bloody hell! I am allowed to teach! I am allowed to think for myself! I am allowed to be me! I’m really good at being me! I feel all warm and tingly!”
Often this message goes down a storm and lots of teachers lap up the idea, “People, you’re the grown-ups! You’re the subject experts! Think! Know what you believe in! Be what you believe in! Don’t be a box-ticking lobotomised automaton! You deserve better! Give it some welly! You are what you are, and what you are, needs no excuses! So what if you love each sparkle and each bangle!”
Whilst many warm to my Gloria Gaynor infused rallying cry this message scares the bejeebers out of others. There are lots of teachers out there who simply want to be “outstanding” at all costs.
Simply Outstanding! Simply conformist! Simply sycophantic! Simply, “Can you give me a checklist? So I’ll be automatically “outstanding”. Something instant. No Thinking Required – Just add credulity! I don’t want to invest in my own subject knowledge. I don’t want to address the core issues. I just wan to be “outstanding”. Is there a mask I can wear? Or a suit? Or a game I can play? A power-point I can download from TES maybe? Or something I can buy from Amazon – one of those ink stamps for “oral feedback given” perhaps.”
“How can I be “outstanding” whilst, at all costs, not standing out? I must fit in. I must conform. I must be what SLT want me to be. I must assume, in the observed lessons at least, the mantle of the subservient, micro-managed, dedicated follower of edufashion.”
“I don’t mind selling my soul. No probs! Prostitute myself you say? That’ll do nicely!”
“Would you like a happy ending to that ego massage Mr SLT? How about lolly sticks or traffic lights? What’s the observer’s favoured waste of time and effort? I’ll give him that then – Job done! Box ticked! Soul destroyed!
All of that FEAR makes me sad. These teachers, desperate to please in observations, aren’t bad people. Far from it! They want to do a “good job”. They want to do an “outstanding” job – at all costs.
But so many teachers I meet are simply TERRIFIED. They lead a schizophrenic life. On the one hand, they teacher ok lessons, day in, day out, they do the slog, they do the marking, they do the discipline, they teach hundreds and hundreds of kids, they’re essentially on stage for 6 hours per day facing a crowd of professional hecklers. They then attend pointless meetings, where little is ever achieved, they watch the clock, they eat a few biscuits, they are bombarded with nonsense, ill-conceived initiatives that will ultimately fall by the wayside in favour of the “next big thing” and then… they go home to their families.
They have families! They have kids to pick up, they go to Tesco’s, they have clothes to iron, partners, kids, assorted neuroses; they even have sex sometimes – though infrequently, and never on a school night. They’re not superhuman. They’re just people. With strengths and weaknesses. With fears and insecurities.
So that’s every day life. That’s your bread & butter, “get them in, get them quiet, get on with it, get them out – NEXT!!” kind of teaching most teachers manage most days.
And then, there’s the other type of teaching! The “outstanding” kind! The ridiculous, over-blown, completely unrepresentative, appearance over substance, tick-box a-go-go extravaganzas, that masquerade as typical when teachers are being observed.
These paranoia-fuelled, fear-drenched cavalcades of EI, AfL, VAK, SEN, G&T, BLP, PP nonsense. All nonsense! Nothing about learning. These aren’t the lessons where you walk away feeling chuffed ‘cos you’re thinking, “Kids learnt loads today! I was smokin’!”
These exercises in fakery that take hours of prep, but where kids invariably learn an awful lot less than they would in your normal run-of-the -mill lesson, these lessons sadden me. More than that, the fact that so many teachers feel they have to pretend – this REALLY saddens me.
I always say on my courses (oh how I repeat myself!), “Don’t teach like me! You’ll never be me! Don’t develop a bald patch and a Geordie accent in an attempt to mimic me! Be you! You’re brilliant at being you! Shake what your mamma gave you!” (I don’t ACTUALLY say that last bit…I stole that line from Alexandra Burke when she won X Factor…but a crackin’ line I think you’ll agree.)
My point is, there are a lot of frightened teachers out there trying to please other people, trying to mirror other people, trying to mimic other people, trying to BE other people.
My question is, how can you ever discover who you really are unless you practise being you every day? Practise in a very reflective, thoughtful, focussed way. Practise asking, “What do I believe a brilliant lesson should look like?”, “How am I going to get there?”, “Where are MY priorities?”, “What’s MY vision?”, “What would I want a fly on the wall to see?”
See, that’s the difference. I want teachers to know what they believe in and be what they believe in – unashamedly, habitually, proudly and with every fibre of their being!
“Outstanding” shouldn’t be about l*ck*ng SLT *rs*! “Outstanding” shouldn’t be about shape-shifting your way to career progression. “Outstanding” shouldn’t be about your ability to mask your own brilliance, your own beliefs, your own expertise.
“OUTstanding” should be precisely that! STAND OUT! Stand loud, stand proud, be an expert, have your own carefully considered opinions and beliefs, experiment to maximise learning not to tick a box, experiment to ensure none of the lazy b*gg*rs get away with cruising their way through 11 years of education, not to provide evidence that you’re “on message”.
So here’s my plea: Don’t be a turn-coat, don’t be a lackey, don’t be a slave, don’t be an “outstanding” shadow of what you really are, don’t listen to “experts” and don’t assume the fad du jour in your school is, in any way, related to the real world.
Nobody can TAKE your self respect away. You have to GIVE it to them. Remember that next time you’re contemplating a pointless power-point or a fruitless card-sort or a kinaesthetic croc of sh*t! Don’t do it!!! You’re better than that!
Don’t hide your light, don’t sell your soul, don’t be less than you are. Go with Alexandra Burke, and “shake what your mamma gave you!”