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Reflections of an Experienced Teacher

Posted 28 May 2009, 3.59 pm by Villager

I'm about to finish my third year of teaching. That might not sound like someone who can describe himself as 'experienced', but the average teacher now lasts only three years before packing it in and looking for another career, so I digress. I have moved on to my second underfunded and underprivileged school, this time in darkest Manchester. It's been an education, if you'll forgive the pun. Despite growing up on a council estate, I've always known that I was relatively privileged; my parents remain married, there's always been food on the table, and I've no particular reason to grumble about abuse, neglect or other childhood trauma. Even so, knowing that life is different on the other side doesn't always prepare you for its reality.

It's a depressing place, it really is. Staff cynicism is endemic, corrupting every activity. Perhaps imbued by years of mismanagement, the teachers here have committed themselves to teaching with the minimum effort required because they don't feel that they are appreciated. Positivity is met with a dismay, as though it's somehow inappropriate. It's infectious, too: I find myself grumbling and complaining, rather than trying to offer ways of improving things as I did at first.

In the past year here, no-one has watched me teach, enquired as to my or my classes' progress, or contributed anything that might improve what goes on in my classroom. Where other schools have tens of thousands of pounds worth of technology in every classroom, I have a whiteboard and some pens. The furniture appears decades old, the most recent books available for reading are from 1993. The entire English department of eleven teachers has a yearly budget of 900 for books, computers, photocopying, pens and anything else.

When I watch other lessons around the school, I cringe, as the hollow figure in the corner hides behind the desk, and puts another video on. In a way I don't blame them; those that try to teach so often lack the charisma or presence to command respect from the children, that lessons degenerate into shouting matches, in which the children have the advantage of numbers. The staff blame the children, the school and the parents variously, and abdicate power and responsibility for making any semblance of difference. No doubt they are right; the children are often obnoxious, aggressive, and always apathetic; the school is grossly under managed and underfunded; the parents are, as often as not, absent or unhelpful. I imagine many would leave, if only they were good enough to get a job at a properly run school with any standards.

There is a lot of pressure on schools to deliver good exam results. Headteachers are under professional and financial pressure to deliver ever greater results, and it is commonly acknowledged that schools inflate coursework grades whenever they can get away with it. Here is no different; those pupils in danger of failing to achieve a C grade simply had their marks increased to a suitable level. I had a number of students with long term absences with incomplete coursework folders. When I declined to invent grades for them, it was done on my behalf. I have spoken to union representatives at the school, but they didn't seem to comprehend my concerns beyond absolving myself of culpability. The idea that principles of fairness and integrity are being abused here is so obvious that it would be laughed out of conversation, the unspoken truth. Dirty words, principles.

In a way I'm proud that I've managed to maintain decent lessons and not involve myself in anything underhand. Yet I feel my spirit and enthusiasm waning every time I enter that wretched building, and I truly doubt my ability to have a significant impact on the culture there. Do I stay and try to improve things in whatever small way I can, or leave and find somewhere that I can do my job properly? I took the job because I wanted to work with challenging children who need people that care about them; I didn't expect to be up against the school and its staff as well.

For all it's bureaucratic suffocation the government is blind to the situation, for as long as the results graph goes up, all is presumed well. The children here are a damning indictment of class in modern Britain; their parents don't care, their teachers don't care, their school doesn't care. What's the end result? They don't care.

on 30 May 2009, 1.47 pm
You should see what passes for an A over here. It's shameful.

on 9 June 2009, 9.49 pm
I've always felt a bit left out that I never had a really inspirational teacher. My primary school teachers were functional mother-substitutes, secondary school teachers unremittingly dull, and college tutors womanizing drunkards to a man.

Hopefully Vill, you can inspire some of the kids you teach, I suppose that's probably why you got into the profession in the first place?

on 22 September 2009, 11.14 am
Yeah pretty much. It's not all bad, I enjoy teaching and there is visible progress, even from the hopeless ones. It's just a shame we've got such a myopic goverment.

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