Let’s start with this statement. Being a class teacher, in schools the way they are now, is impossible.
Not difficult. Not hard, but some people who are very skilled can do it. Not impossible for some. Impossible.
You can’t do the work in the time you have. You’re teaching (in primary schools) till hometime every day except for maybe 2-4 hours for PPA once a week. After school you have staff meetings once or usually twice a week, phase meetings maybe once a week, and if you’re at an academy it’ll be part of your contract that you must run an after school club once a week. That might leave you with one night a week where you can actually do the marking and assessing and so on at school during your work hours. One and a half hours, once a week.
So when do you do the marking of the books, which should be done every day so children have next steps, pink to think or Green to be seen, or tickled pink or Green For Growth, or using their purple polishing pens, or their orange editing pens, or using whatever pens your school uses to indicate feedback, which must be responded to or you won’t get “outstanding”? You end up doing it at home. You take a bucket or tray or – as I used to – a wheeled trolley of books home with you. And you pore over them as you fade off into a bleak, dreamless sleep every night. Or you don’t do it during the week, hope no one sees, and you spend all weekend plugging the gaps.
Every term, pupil progress. You test, you look in books, you highlight on a grid. Everyone must be making progress, or you won’t get a pay rise, or you could be put on performance management with increasingly unattainable goals so you can be eased out of the door or made to jump before you’re pushed. Children must make outstanding progress. What are you doing for looked after children? Children with free school meals? Children who are gifted and talented? Stretch the brightest! If you don’t, and if they plateau, we won’t get “outstanding”! And you will be the one who did it.
Get ready for Ofsted. Ofsted are always coming. Book scrutiny, to see if our school improvement plan is working. Learning walks, to see if you’re doing the right things, or if your displays are working, or so someone can notice one child out of 33 not paying attention during a lesson and tell you about that rather than the 32 who are. Learning walks to tell you that one if the post-it notes on your board wasn’t quite parallel to the board, so please move it. Learning walks to tell you that the top of the sheet on your working wall was torn off at an angle so looked messy. “yes. I know working walls are meant to be messy, but I don’t like it!”
Observations. Observation after observation. Get it right and there are still things to do. Do it well and you didn’t do it well enough. Find fault. Pick holes. The same lesson seen three different ways by three different people. Progress. Are they making progress? Where are you recording the progress? How much progress? Where’s the learning objective? Why isn’t it stuck in the books properly? Why is that sheet hanging over the edge of the page? I don’t care if a four year old did do it, get it done neater. Do it yourself.
Don’t forget to smile!
Parents complaining. You kept the children in because they weren’t behaving. Well mine is always perfect. You have to tell them to ruin their weekends with homework and spellings and reading and everything rather than going out and splashing in puddles and seeing the world. You have to pretend that home learning is more important. They don’t believe you. They know and so do you. But it carries on. Make enemies as you go along. If complaining to you won’t work, they’ll see the head, who may or may not back you up. Spin the roulette wheel and see.
Data. Floor targets. Sats. Practice. Ofsted. Data. Book scrutiny. Learning walks. A million observations.
All that before you get to do any teaching. All that before you start saying a single word, then a rubber goes flying across the room, or the child with attachment behaviour turns over a table, but the principal says “We’re not social workers, make your lessons more engaging and they’ll be fine”, and you feel like it’s your fault, and slowly you start to sink, and drown, and when did I ever do anything that made me feel proud of my work? When did I achieve anything, ever? But then there’s another pupil progress meeting, another set of disappointing data, another inadequate lesson, and you find yourself walking through the door for the last time, not even able to say goodbye to the children, and though you’re sad you just feel one overriding thing. Relief.
And yet, for some reason, there’s a teacher recruitment problem.