Reveries of Solitary Teacher 6 (Sept 2015)

I nearly became the shoe shop guy.

When I was 16, in the long glorious summer after GCSE exams, I nearly didn’t go to college. I was being paid three pounds and sixty-two pence and I felt like I was a millionaire.

My job essentially entailed a combination of being nice to the elderly, and fetching the other shoe from a metal chute in the stockroom. I was expected to tidy up after customers made a mess of the shop and serve customers at the till. It was great – the work was easy, and I was good at it.

My managers wanted me to stay on full time and I was convinced it was a good idea because I was good at it. I had shoe shop guy syndrome – I was good at selling shoes so why go to college?

Fortunately parental guidance and the bleakness of Southern England, regarding youth opportunity, resulted in me going to college, then university.

As individuals I believe it is important to remember that just because we are good at something, it doesn’t mean we should keep doing it. In doing the things we are not good at, or have no experience in, we challenge ourselves and grow.

Whilst considering this moment I am drawn to reflect on the extent which schools exacerbate shoe shop guy syndrome. I have tried to outline the concept in the thought experiment below.

Pupil A is good at Subject X, Subject Y and Subject Z

At parents evening they get a glowing report from Subject Y

Parents praise Pupil A about Subject Y

Pupil A works extra hard in Subject Y to get further praise and rewards.

Parents buy presents and plan reward trips that are focussed towards Subject Y over the coming months.

Pupil A begins to make less progress in Subject X and Subject Z due to the extra dilligence they give to their work in Subject Y.

Pupil A becomes only good at Subject Y.

Is Pupil A now more or less skilled?

They may have developed one skill, but they have lost two.


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