This Christmas I spent quality time with my family, caught up with friends and for the first time since the ‘noughties’ didn’t have a feeling of constant guilt that I should be working nagging at the back of my mind. I left the classroom at the end of the winter term and I am now embarking on a new business endeavour supported by the flexibility of supply work.
Looking from outside the microcosmic goldfish bowl of the classroom it is clear that in order to do all the work it takes to be a great teacher the job is all consuming. It’s not because of targets or performance-related-pay or league tables that teachers drag themselves to collapse each half-term; it’s the deep sense of social responsibility and desire for the pupils in our charge to gain the best possible life-chances. It’s because everyone wants to do a great job.
The problem with the current workload debate is that education in its current form in England demands that a lot of work is done by the teacher outside of working hours for our pupils to succeed. It is an unfortunate truth that although the workload is all consuming, getting it done is the best way to teach our pupils in our schools.
I know from experience that marking is fairly meaningless unless it is immediate and when you see a class of 30 four times a week, that means just spending one minute per book involves two hours of marking for just one class. Add five more classes and that’s 10 hours marking minimum, and that’s spending just one minute per book.
The problem when considering ways to tackle this immense workload is that when marking is immediate, it has great results. The pupils do better. If it is not immediate then it is not worth the time it takes. Everyone wants their pupils to do better but there just isn’t the time in the day.
As a professional I had a decision to make. Do I continue to grind away displaying Boxer-esque stoicism or do I decide that, despite all the voices claiming ‘we are all in this together’, I need to have a life for myself.
Boxer from Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ is a particularly pertinent character to analyse when considering the teaching profession. Boxer believes in the ideology of the pigs. He works as he feels it is his duty and the right thing to do. He works and works building a windmill for the pigs and works until he can no longer work. Then the pigs sell him to a glue factory.
The tasks Boxer had to do were almost insurmountable and in performing his duty he destroyed himself.
How many teachers are not sleeping enough, eating enough, drinking too much, passing their children like ships in the night and only seeing their partners eating or asleep? Teachers cannot do more and many do way too much already.
If we cannot change teachers then must we not look instead at the ideologies driving this high demand on staff time and change teaching?
Why not have more than one teacher a year? Why not have a different teacher per unit? Why not let teachers collectively design a rotation of specialisms in each year group and take responsibility for that unit all year? It works brilliantly in Design Technology departments around the country, why not do the same with all subjects? Project based learning on a rotation with different skill foci. When we teach the same units we have the chance to refine our lessons and deliver even better provision without needing to reinvent the wheel. Won’t this reduce workload?
Why not allow the pupils responsibility for their learning and facilitate it by providing a range of specialised tools and resources designed to deliver specific subject content and a task that will show the skills and knowledge gained at the end? A proper project that’s properly resourced. Not only would this be a better proxy for the learning that has taken place but wouldn’t this reduce workload?
The problem is that as teachers get more experienced and expensive, they get promoted and then teach less, meaning a school has higher outgoings but less capacity. This only leads to young teachers teaching more lessons and getting paid less. Why not have all teachers on the same manageable timetable and then expect managers to do their extra duties on top of teaching their timetable or if they do not want to do this then take away the value of their teaching salary if they are not teaching? They are paid extra to do extra right?
There just isn’t the money in schools to alleviate the pressures of a full teaching timetable in the current system. Why are we paying experienced teachers not to teach? For teachers to have less classes then there need to be more teachers teaching classes. If a head teacher can no longer teach classes surely pay them their management money but reallocate their money for teaching to employ another teacher? Wouldn’t this reduce workload?
Since leaving school (again) the best part has been learning for myself that there is a world beyond school and hopefully my time in the real world will help alleviate some of the pressures in schools so that I can return to a job that can be done brilliantly without sacrificing everything else.
This April I am launching a bespoke learning platform to deliver the English GCSE curriculum via a range of multi-modal online learning courses. revisenglish.com @jcoleman85