This Christmas is a Humbug for Teachers

So, that’s it. School finishes today for the Christmas break and I’m jobless once again. Now this might sound immodest, even big-headed but I’m a great teacher. Not in your regular 30 kids in a class sense but great all the same. I have a natural empathy for and understanding of those children with problems and low self-esteem. I can help change the behaviour of those kids who believe it’s better to look ‘bad than thick’; of those who go to school every day hoping to get it right but within minutes fall foul of something or someone and watch their expectations crumble before they even reach lesson 2 and of those whose home lives are so chaotic and unpredictable they can only rely on themselves to feel safe.

Unfortunately, instead of being sought after and having a choice of positions to choose from my career is nosediving headlong into obscurity because I’m too expensive to employ. Thanks to the Government’s austerity drive and the wasted millions being poured into their academy/free school programme, schools are having to tighten their belts ever further. They are being forced to reduce their broad and balanced curriculum (that was all the rage 20 years ago) in order to cut the number of staff they employ.

Learning Support/Teaching Assistants are being used to cover lessons they are not qualified to teach -usually the lower ability groups – leaving the remaining teachers to focus on those expected to achieve higher grades at GCSE and keep the schools on the more respectable end of the league tables. This is where kids with issues begin to fall further and further behind. Don’t get me wrong. I love these dedicated, poorly paid, unrecognised angels but they would be the first to admit they do not have the expertise to teach children effectively. They do their very best and go above and way, way beyond the expectations of their pay grade but teaching isn’t just the imparting of facts and figures it’s about knowing every child in your care, understanding why they behave the way they do and being able to help them do something about it.

Unqualified classroom assistants are not the only ones who find themselves in this position. Newly Qualified Teachers bounce out of university with their heads full of knowledge and their hearts full or enthusiasm, expecting to change children’s lives only to find that reality is crushingly different. Faced with a room full of inwardly unhappy, poor ability, low self-esteem children who desperately need a reason, any reason, to feel good about themselves, they panic. The challenging behaviours exhibited by some of their charges, deliberately aimed at unsettling this young, new intruder are almost feral. These kids have reverted to pack animals and without an alpha male/female will systematically destroy any and all carefully designed lesson plans.

Few behaviour management techniques are taught at university, so the lack of skills plus minimal support from other overworked staff members means that new teachers quickly find themselves out of their depth. They have three realistic options: they make ‘friends’ with their charges, letting them off rule infringes and ‘bribing’ them into behaving well; or they come down hard and fast, stamping out unruly behaviour with a rod of iron and doling out punishments like sweets, or they quit. 40% of NQTs do not see out their first year and a third are no longer in the profession in five years.

Teaching is a job like no other. The NHS have security staff who eject unruly, foul-mouthed patients. Accountants and lawyers would refuse to take on offensive clients and the police have powers of arrest if they are abused. Many teachers are faced with a class of young people who would prefer to be anywhere than at school, who know they are unlikely to amount to much and will be on the scrap heap of life when they leave, so they might as well have a little fun while they can. They ‘bully’ teachers. They know teachers have little or no power. Gone are the days when naughty children could be caned or when blackboard rubbers whizzed through the air at high speed and accurately smacked annoying pupils. These days the most we have are after school detentions or exclusions. The former most won’t attend and the latter they really enjoy.

If we don’t look after our most vulnerable children. If we don’t spend extra money helping them get through the difficult school years we are storing up bigger problems for the future. The Government needs to stop worrying about overseas aid and focus on its own people. It needs to recognise the importance of the teaching profession, properly invest in it and leave us alone to do our jobs. After all we are all highly trained and no teacher is in it for the money. Academies and free schools drain money from the central education pot. They are allowed to set their own entry criteria and can reject pupils who risk negatively affecting their league table position. They do not need to adopt national teacher’s payback and conditions and this is driving down wages and demoralising staff. It needs to be stopped before any more damage is done.

Anyway, back to where I started. I’m going to make myself a cup of coffee and browse through the job vacancies in Kent Teach and TES before doing some much needed housework. I wish ALL school staff a very happy Christmas and hope they can manage to get a few hours rest in before the madness begins again.

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