Thursday, 9 October 2014

What sort of person do you want teaching your child?

Why I’m supporting the OCOS charter, by Michelle Hendry 

What sort of person do you want teaching your child? I want my child’s teacher to be happy, motivated and feel valued. That’s because I want my child to be happy, motivated and feel valued.  All the teachers and support staff I’ve come across went into the profession with commitment, passion and enthusiasm.  I know this to be true because I have 10 years of experience of working in inner city London secondary schools.  As a parent, I feel so grateful for this insight because of the faith it has given me that my fellow professionals fully intend to do the absolute best for my child; to instil her with a thirst for learning and support her both emotionally and socially, during the sometimes difficult school years.  

The flip-side of this is that I know many - too many - wonderful teachers who are battered and demoralised by a system that is failing to support them in achieving this. 

Our children learn the importance of ‘group work’ from an early age; that through co-operation and having positive discussions from lots of different viewpoints, all members of the group feel valued and able to share their ideas.  By creating a collaborative environment, all members of the group feel supported and empowered, and so able to bring their own strengths, cultural experiences and differences to the table; and to do this without fear of judgment, criticism and being put down.  Should the same model not apply to teachers then?  Should they not be working together to share good practice and make learning exciting and invigorating for our children? This seemingly simple task is becoming increasingly impossible against an overwhelming backdrop of constant monitoring, assessment and testing.  The balance is all wrong. Teachers now spend so much time documenting evidence for the work done in lessons, and inputting countless data into spreadsheets, that they have precious little time to prioritise the most important part of their job: giving worthwhile feedback and planning high quality lessons.  Yes, I want my child to get good qualifications, but I also want her to have the space to be creative, the ability to socialise and above all else, to have an enjoyment of learning. 

40% of teachers leave within the first five years.  The chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw has famously said, ‘if anyone says to you that staff morale is at an all-time low you know you are doing something right’.  An ethos that condones low staff morale is not a supportive one. If a member of staff challenges a procedure in their workplace, they should feel free to do so not only without fear of recrimination, but because their voice is valued and will be listened to. After all, we know that students learn the most when asking questions, when curiosity is encouraged, and where they are challenged to look at different perspectives. How can we expect teachers to make that vital connection with our children, to encourage higher levels of thinking when their own levels of stress, tension and exhaustion are so overwhelming?

For many teaching is a vocation; for all it is a profession.  By definition, professionals should be accountable. Of course I want to know that all teachers follow a professional code and I certainly want to know that my child’s teacher is fully qualified.  But the problem comes when professionals are accountable to a system that undermines and contradicts the very values we want instilled in our children.  I don’t want the people who spend more time with my child than I do, spending more time proving they’re doing the job than doing the job itself. 
I support the OCOS charter because like our children, teachers and support staff need space for reflection; to try out new ideas that will make the next lesson better than the last; to be nurtured and supported so that they can grow and perform to the best of their ability. Like our children, teachers and support staff need to be respected, valued and listened to and have working conditions that are conducive to a positive learning environment. Like our children, teachers and support staff need to be treated equally regardless of gender, age, race or religion.  Because like our children, we want our teachers and support staff to represent our vibrant and diverse community where everyone has a voice that is equally valued.



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