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Are teachers part of the problem?

Discussion in 'Education news' started by STremlett, May 22, 2017.

  1. STremlett

    STremlett New commenter

    Having been in the teaching profession for 5 years now, I have developed all the cynicism and grumbling rhetoric of all but the most seasoned of complainants. We are a profession of martyrs who seem to relish playing the victim. Don’t get me wrong, we are under huge pressures and some of the expectations and demands we are subjected to are simply ludicrous, but I feel that argument has been made many times, far more eloquently than I could. My question is whether we as teachers, actually add to our already substantial burden.

    We are constantly encouraged to develop more resilient, more independent learners and I feel we are seeing a generation of students who actually are less resilient and less independent than ever before. I am a huge advocate of promoting positive mental health and indeed I run a campaign to encourage young men to talk more about their problems so I am not belittling mental health issues or the importance of looking after it. There is evidence to suggest that young people are not equipped to deal with the pressures and strains of today’s society and it is my opinion that we have actually contributed to that. Now I expect to be vilified for making such a statement and I would never suggest that we do it deliberately, and I believe that the reasons are due to the vast pressures we are put under.

    As a maths teacher I am always trying to expose my classes to more challenging work and in preparation for the new GCSEs I am trying to incorporate more problem solving activities into my lessons. Many teachers, particularly in my subject, will claim to do the same, however how many teachers have done this and found that immediately a hand or 5 will go up asking for help? We’ve all been in that situation where we’ve set a task and then panicked as seemingly the whole class don’t know where to start. It’s a terrifying moment as a teacher as your head goes into overdrive as you question your ability as a teacher, you try to work out how you are going to get the lesson in the direction you want and you frantically try to formulate a plan B in case it is unsalvageable. More often than not you will tear around the class explaining to small groups at a time exactly what they need to do in an attempt to save the lesson. At the end of the lesson you congratulate yourself for putting out all the fires and reluctantly admit that maybe the task was a bit too much at this stage and you decide to put the rich, investigative tasks on the back burner for a while.

    But ask yourself what have you achieved in this lesson? The students have gone away having been able to complete the task but have you caused more harm than good? The main lesson your class will have taken away from the lesson is that when life gets hard, someone else will get them out of trouble. That may sound extreme and you are perfectly entitled to disagree but I believe we as teachers are guilty of doing too much for our students. We hate to see people struggle and we hate to see our lessons fail. But if you change your perception of what a successful lesson is then you might change you ways for the better. I don’t believe we should work harder for the students than they are willing to work for themselves. When a student is stuck, what is wrong with telling them you are not going to help them? In helping them you may be helping them get the right answer but are you really helping them? My ideal classroom is one where I have to do very little. Too many teachers are worried about not being the most important resource in the room and feel that a lesson will fail if they don’t give their all in it. My classes learn far more when I spend my time working hard outside of lessons getting the activity right so that in lessons the class can work through the problems and find solutions to the problems themselves. The more we allow students to struggle in our classrooms the more we will find they are becoming more resilient to challenges and the more independent they will become.

    And it is not only in the classroom that we do too much. I have worked in different schools where extra revision and help sessions are run daily for students. Once again meaning that staff don’t get a lunch break, don’t have time after school to plan and subsequently are more tired at the end of the day, have less time to plan high quality lessons and they work themselves into the ground meaning they become disenfranchised with the profession, blaming anyone and everyone but themselves. The more we do for students, the more they rely on us. If you want to create independent, resilient learners, stop doing everything for them. Soon enough their habits will change from immediately asking for help, to thinking “how am I going to sort this out for myself?”

    We all know that the education system is constantly changing and we will soon have other pressures and gripes to complain about but if we prepare our students by allowing them to be stuck and allowing them to struggle we will be helping create a generate of young who are better prepared for the an ever changing and ever more challenging society. So my challenge to you as teachers is this: next time a student says they are stuck, respond by asking them what they have done for themselves to get unstuck and leave them to it. You’ll soon change their habits and you might actually find it makes your life easier too.
  2. drek

    drek Star commenter

    You write as if we the the classroom teachers have a choice in what we do and how we do it. Sadly that is not the case.

    We don't even get a choice on how and when we reflect on our own practice these days.

    all the micromanagement and performance judgements of the past 5 years has led to the current state of children being totally unequipped for any independent work or thought. They too are being triained to judge their teachers using leadership jargon they don't understand the meaning of.

    I thought once the training period was over I would be left alone to become a true reflective practitioner.

    But like our students I was let down. I can't reflect whilst someone or the other is breathing down my neck so they can provide evidence to OFSTEd who know next to nothing it seems about teaching children although school inspections seem to revolve entirely around this aspect.

    Their responsibilities should involve looking at staff workload and conditions because as long as they don't do this, students will not get the best they deserve and we will be taken advantage of to the detriment of our development as independent and professional classroom practitioners.

    They should look at balancing the pay scales between staff with less student contact time doing more data providing work for them, and those staff doing more contact time a year and all the admin time that accompanies that.

    Both parties are doing equally important work but payscales don't reflect this at all.

    Actually standing on ones feet teaching hormonal teenagers all day requires a different kind of emotional, physical and mental energy compared to sitting analysing data all day and having evaluation meetings, about data they have demanded to see not even true data.

    The result of fake data evaluation is sending emails full of commands and demoralising demands to those staff doing the actual teaching work in education.

    And until that fact is recognised by those in charge of perpetuating the whole improve the teacher all the time every minute of everyday myth, it will stay this way.

    Teachers constantly leaving schools with leaders so up their own bottoms they can't see what havoc they are wrecking.

    So although your words are very wise and thoughtful

    You will get observed by a 'trained and standardised' know it all and told how wrong you are soon enough.......
  3. hammie

    hammie Lead commenter

    Teachers are part of the problem because we keep trying to make a broken system work. Previous generations of teachers went on strike, refused to participate and stood up for what was needed. Now, we do a lot of whinging in corners then do everything that is required by multiple levels of managers. Then blame the unions for doing nothing, when we would not even back the workload agreement or work to rules in other ways. And don't get me started on the totally useless NAHT which could have stopped much of the present problem but are too busy making sure they get a nice comfy post when they take early retirement.
  4. phlogiston

    phlogiston Star commenter

    For the most part, I agree with your conclusions about young people. However I feel it is unfair to just blame "teachers".

    I've been out of mainstream a while, but saw this among some learners.
    I've also come across a number of resilient kids. I've also had reluctant, want to be spoon fed learners among the generation that are parents of the current cohort of teers.

    Maybe not, but there's more to it than just schools. There's the kids who spend all their time on social media, there's the drop in the number of kids heading to school under their own steam, there are fewer opportunities for music, sport, Scouts / Guides, youth clubs and all the other things that got youngsters socialising outside their families.

    I worked with a colleague who had a poster along the lines of brain, book, buddy, boss. A well planned lesson has opportunities for the kids to find help, but it all adds extra time to the planning, as well as being easier said than done.

    I agree with this, as I expect, do most active teachers on here. The biggest problems are caused by rammed specifications leading to a lack of time, and vigorous accountability that makes it hard for teachers to let kids fail - even the temporary failure of slowing progress up the greasy assessment pole. If kids predictions slide, parents get worried, bean counting managers start demanding catch-ups and intervention.
    Inspirit and (deleted member) like this.
  5. hammie

    hammie Lead commenter

    being forced under threat of disciplinary action to type up titles (LIs if you wish) and dates for pupils to stick into books is just one very obvious way in which we make them less independent. They are not even allowed to write their name on their books, labels all printed up and stuck on for them. i was so sad when much of the ink rubbed off and made the names illegible.
    Anonymity, Inspirit and Compassman like this.
  6. Compassman

    Compassman Star commenter

    I have said many times on here that teachers have allow this to happen to themselves. As you say in the past teachers would have been out on strike and ALL working to rule but the solidarity has gone. Everyone is out for themselves. How many teachers do you know who like to boast they are 'outstanding' like it's some sort of x-factor talent contest?

    Teachers paper over the cracks. They increase their workload to cover for inadequacies in the system. There is a need for more staff if they want more data handling, marking to be done but today's teachers just do more and more.

    Then there are those that buy equipment for the job because the school can't afford it. Everytime someone buys something for their job the DfE saves money and the teacher gives themselves a pay cut.
  7. whitestag

    whitestag Senior commenter

    I think this is a thoughtful and well-considered OP.

    My daily frustrations with the job tend to arise from knowing that the pupils need to experience a bit of challenge and even failure in order to develop resilience.

    The problem is that if you show a book or have a lesson watched and fifteen children immediately give up, it will be your fault as the teacher and not theirs for not trying. You're gradually chipped away at until you fall into line and start making sure that the books show 'evidence of achievement' i.e. a series of spoon fed activities in which they've virtually been instructed word for word how to complete them and over-helped if they claim they 'didn't get it'.

    My opinion, for what it's worth, is that the way our 'accountability system' works is misguidedly based on the industry model that if you put in all the required elements, the outcome will always be the same. Lesson observations and book scrutinies tell you nothing about understanding. It really is time to start trusting teachers to do the job and allowing them the space to breathe, prepare properly, experiment, teach from the heart in their own style, take risks, properly challenge their pupils and develop that resilience that is sorely lacking in the youngsters today. Allow teachers to insist that pupils work independently, even if the work isn't easy.

    Schools are not factories, teachers are not machines and if we continue to insist on treating them as such then we will continue to churn out generations of clones that are scared of hard work and frightened to fail.
    Last edited: May 22, 2017
  8. STremlett

    STremlett New commenter

    Sadly I think you have missed the point here. I wanted to pose a question that asks teachers to stop looking for the same boring excuses. I deliberately ignored the issues you raise as they are well documented and aren't going to change. Any industry you work in now will have increased accountability and increased pressures with ever tightening budgets. Education is no different. The reality is that 90% you will teach with no one observing you, and however you choose to do that, if your students make progress then no one will questions your methods. I do not fear Ofsted judgement as I can honestly say that I don't value the opinion of someone who observes me teach for 25 minutes. I know that my colleagues and students have a respect for me that is reflected in the progress of my students. Don't get me wrong, there are times when I don't always practice what I preach but I certainly reflect on it in whatever way I see fit and then alter my lessons accordingly.

    Ultimately you have a choice, continue the same boring rhetoric that we have heard a thousand times before that we under pressure and we have no choice, or actually affect what you can affect, and make your everyday lessons as good as they can be and prepare your students for the real world.
  9. drvs

    drvs Star commenter

    I have commented myself on here more than once about the victim mentality which has infected teaching and amplified the difficulties that teachers in the state sector face. It is unhealthy and unhelpful but it is also a genuine cultural problem which is now making a significant number of people very unhappy and in many cases mentally unwell - telling affected people to just ignore their problems and get on with the job is extremely simplistic.
    Pomz and SomethingWicked like this.
  10. Jolly_Roger1

    Jolly_Roger1 Star commenter

    Oh! But they do! In schools now, the process has become as important as the outcome. Teachers find themselves 'teaching by numbers', with any individuality of method and approach rigorously suppressed in favour of delivering standardised, corporate lessons. What with 'learning walks', formal observations, pop-ins, etc., I would say at least 20% of a teacher's time in front of a class is observed.
    Anonymity likes this.
  11. Shedman

    Shedman Star commenter

    Yes, I totally agree. Such is the culture of high-stakes accountability in our schools that the students' failure is the teachers' failure and so we can't afford to let them fail.
  12. STremlett

    STremlett New commenter

    I never said ignore the issues. Campaign for change, challenge middle leaders, do everything we can to reduce these pressures, but don't ignore the fact that you have a choice in what you do in your classroom. You may think that simplistic but my point in this post is to challenge whether we do enough to promote resilience and independence, in spite of all the issues you have raised. If you do, then good for you, I think many of us do not.
  13. whitwortht89

    whitwortht89 New commenter

    I strongly agree with the OP. As a Maths teacher you are faced with the "what is the point of this?" question on a daily basis. My answer is always the same. Maths, and indeed many subjects, are not always about the end product. "The struggle" as I put it is what makes Maths (read: problem solving) a worthwhile activity. We need to encourage students to enjoy this struggle and be aware of it for what it is. The old cliché "hard is worth doing" comes to mind.

    If you sign up to run a marathon and on the day someone runs the first 20 miles for you it is not a worthwhile venture. Sometimes the struggle is the learning.

    It is sadly reflective of today's culture of instant access to information. In the past if you wanted answers you would first try to work it out yourself and maybe have a go or try out ideas but now you just smash it into google and go with the first bit of information you see.

    If you are worried about accountability and short term progress you need to remember what you are, you are meant to be helping children to think for themselves, stop being so concerned about yourself and be a bit braver. Your pupils will thank you in the long term. It is worth noting here that, personally, I have a lot of autonomy over what I teach my classes.

    The brain is a fire to be ignited, not a vessel to be filled. You should be there to start that fire, not just to show the children that you can do the work yourself.
    ViolaClef and STremlett like this.
  14. simonbfc

    simonbfc New commenter

    Although I agree with the OP in principle and it would be nice to be in an environment where you can do this. Teaching in a grammar school for three years I witnessed a teacher who tried to do this and was faced with lots of complaints from pupils and parents as the rest of the department wasn't working this way, and the pupils felt like the Teacher wasn't helping them enough or preparing them for exams enough (the teacher in question was piloting a new way of working regarding investigations and deep understanding of the subject). The teacher was hung out to dry by the management and is no longer at the school (a school that talks about growth mindset and stretching and challenging pupils very publicly but doesn't have the strength of character to stand up to parents and support their teachers). Unless a whole department or whole school decide to teach this way I think it stores up problems and that is why people are afraid to do something like this. I saw how this teacher was treated and it influenced my decision to move. Best decision I ever made as not all environments are like that.
  15. drvs

    drvs Star commenter

    That's well and good, but the point you are not acknowledging is that the vast army of mentally ill teachers currently dosed up on anti-depressants and continuing "the same boring rhetoric" barely have the capacity to bring their bodies to school in the morning and fulfil their basic duties, they certainly have no fight in them to campaign and challenge for a better workplace. So while I wholeheartedly agree with your ideology, I feel that it is simplistic in its lack of empathy for the reality of depression, anxiety and WRS which fuels so much of the behaviour of those staffroom well-poisoners and drains.
  16. nervousned

    nervousned Senior commenter

    Not true. Having left teaching, I am now in a job where the pressure is lower than I have ever experienced. The company is one of the leading companies in the industry and at entry level paid close to the top of teaching MPS.
  17. ViolaClef

    ViolaClef Lead commenter

    At a talk I recently attended the speaker commented that when she visits schools she sees bright-eyed and bushy-tailed pupils and exhausted teachers. She said it should be the other way around. The children should be having to work really hard and think for themselves. She questioned the way we are told we should structure lessons with a sense that everyone has progressed and grasped the concept by the end of the lesson; she felt it was good if the pupils left a lesson with appetites whetted, lots of questions and a determination to persever next time.
    I've also noticed that some pupils who seem to spend a lot of their days in intervention groups are regressing - in the sense that they seem to switch off in a whole class environment, assuming that they can't do the task and expecting it to be explained to them again individually.
  18. wwbiscuit

    wwbiscuit New commenter

    [QUOTE="ViolaClef, post: 12098264, member: 3915712"She questioned the way we are told we should structure lessons with a sense that everyone has progressed and grasped the concept by the end of the lesson; she felt it was good if the pupils left a lesson with appetites whetted, lots of questions and a determination to persever next time.

    That's the problem. Who tells us, and what do they know about it? It's excruciatingly bad pedagogy - nay political dogma - and needs to be given the scrutiny it deserves.
  19. STremlett

    STremlett New commenter

    You are talking to one of the teachers who is "dosed up on anti-depressants" and one who runs a campaign to promote the importance of positive mental health in young people both in and out of school. I understand better than many the effects depression can have and I agree it cannot be ignored. Try looking at it more positively, I have spoken openly to my students about suffering from depression and I have become a positive role model for how one can function normally whilst dealing with a mental health issue. I would never tell anyone with a mental health problem to do what I have done as it is something everyone must cope with in their own way. It is for this reason I have written this post, to try to help ease the stresses of fellow teachers.

    What you fail to grasp is that if we are so broken down and beaten by the relentless pressure, why are we adding to our own stresses. I have tried to offer a solution to ease this pressure and saying we should stop doing so much for the students. You have found numerous excuse to not help yourself so clearly this is not for you. If what I have said resonates with one teacher and I help them to makes both their lives easier, and helps make their classes more resilient then I will consider this discussion a success. Clearly I am not going to convince everyone.
  20. drvs

    drvs Star commenter

    Well, I certainly applaud your intentions and the work that you are doing in your own setting. Your OP I'm sure will be useful to a number of young teachers who have not found the time to step back and do the thinking for themselves.

    Is that so? What an interesting assumption. Wrong, but interesting that your defence of your OP (and indeed the fact that you feel the need to defend it with baseless personal attacks) leads you to make statements like this.

    There are many posters on here who have deeper, wider and longer experience than the 5 years on which you have based your pellets of wisdom and to whom they risk being both simplistic and patronising. Disagreement is inevitable. I have already agreed with your ideology, wholeheartedly in fact, but my observation based on experience that it is simplistic in the face of the bigger picture still stands. It is quite extraordinary that you use my observation as an assertion that I have "found numerous excuses" not to help myself.

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