Actually, Mike, I’m fairly sure they do…

So Michael Wilshaw claims that teachers “…don’t know the meaning of stress”. This does suggest a catastrophic failure in the teaching of literacy, or that he simply didn’t ask any physics teachers who would have told him that it’s the ratio of internal force per unit area in a material and possibly taught him how to calculate Young’s Modulus.

I’m wondering if he had a call from the DfE asking him if he could do anything to make Gove seem more popular with teachers, like going out on the pull with an ugly friend. Mission accomplished, I’m sure that many teachers would happily walk past Gove’s house without so much as a casual bit of arson on their way to Wilshaw’s place.

So I’m going to flirt with danger a little bit when I suggest that, within the crassly insensitive speech that he gave, there’s a tiny germ of truth lurking. Remember; if you dry out horse shit, you can use it for fuel.

I think that what he should have said was that teachers shouldn’t be stressed. To say that they aren’t is ludicrous. I’ve been working in education for almost twenty years and I’ve never seen teachers put under so much pressure (same SI units as stress, by the way) to get better exam results and measures of progress from students, a significant proportion of whom are lazy, spoiled, in awful home circumstances or otherwise disadvantaged and disenfranchised.

Put on top of that, it has never been more apparent that the education that these students are offered is not the guarantee of employment and security that a good education was when Wilshaw was at a grammar school in the fifties.

We shouldn’t be surprised at Wilshaw’s views: after all, were talking about a man who, as a head teacher, banned students from hugging each other. His belief is that with zero tolerance discipline, smart uniforms and recitation of mantras, standards can be driven up. I bet that school was fun. I’m sure that Wilshaw would take issue with the idea that schools should be fun. It’s all about the statistics with him. No school will be described as outstanding unless its academic results are.

The problem is that if all you measure is exam grades and progress metrics, you’re missing out on some really important points.

A big one is that the world is fucked. If you ask the brains at the companies that are trying to solve the problems they’ll tell you that they get hundreds of applicants for every job, from bright-eyed graduates, all of whom have identically brilliant qualifications and none of whom can locate their arseholes with both hands and a mirror on a stick. Because the metrics that we judge our schools on don’t encourage creative thought, or teamwork, or long-term problem solving; in fact, as a preparation for real life, all school teaches kids is to do is as they’re told. That would be great if someone was going to tell them how to solve the world’s problems but they don’t because nobody knows – and the people that think they do are generally, well… dicks.

We haven’t really radically re-thought schooling since Victorian times. Read a bit of John Holt, watch Ken Robinson talk about changing educational paradigms (I know I’ve linked to it before but its great…) and tell me that they’re not onto something. Wilshaw, and by extension Ofsted, don’t give a crap about all that liberal hippy bullshit. They want A grades and lots of them. Doesn’t matter whether the kids can think, or love the subject. The point is that education is serving a society that’s barking up the wrong tree about how the world ought to be. That’s an important debate but its too complicated to have (especially with a nation who’ve never been taught any philosophy) and the people at the top believe, erroneously but to the core of their beings, that they have too much to lose.

Teaching, though, shouldn’t be stressful. I did it for ages and for the most part it was great fun.

It should be the best job in the world. People should be queuing up to take pay cuts to do it. Kids are hilarious, honest, enquiring. They make you question things. Teaching can force you to understand things that you thought you knew in a deeper and more profound way that you would think possible. A years teaching could be a new form of national service for anyone going into science, politics, medicine or any other job that forces you to explain complicated things to people who often fail to give a bugger.

What makes teaching stressful is teaching a turgid curriculum to kids from homes bereft of hope without the time or flexibility to make it interesting under pointless targets and restrictions on how it should be done with the threat of nitpicking, draconian inspection hanging over you. Its stressful because you can do it for ten years and be unable to afford a decent home in the town that you live while you see public servants lining their pockets from the tax that you’ve paid. Its stressful because you can be abused, kicked and spat at by students who can’t be expelled because it makes the school look bad on the league tables.

Let me be balanced. I’ve seen teachers create plenty of their own stress. Kids try it on and you can deal with it with a smile and turn it into a joke or you can snap and they’ll snap right back. There are plenty of people in schools who should simply not be teaching; they don’t know their subjects, they can’t talk to children and they’re no help to their colleagues. They spread plenty of stress around too.

But there are thousands of teachers out there working for fifteen hours a day and for a good chunk of the holidays that are supposed to be the reward for the pressure, who take on the problems of their students and colleagues alike and who daily light up classrooms, studios and sports fields with awe, wonder and laughter. I know loads of them and the compassion, wisdom and support that they offer to their students is incredible. If you think that comes without a cost, Sir Michael, then you don’t know the meaning of the word stress either.

2 thoughts on “Actually, Mike, I’m fairly sure they do…

  1. The man is an ignorant and arrogant twat and I would happily shoot him tomorrow. What on earth does he think he is bringing to the teaching profession by comments like that? A sense of pride? Motivation? Value? So some of his pupils ended up going to Cambridge. Excellent, even more of a chance to experience elitist attitudes and be drawn in to believe academic qualifications are the quintessence of successful education and soooo much more important and useful than any other life skills. Of the pupils he so generously furnished with ties and mantras and fear of physical touch and so selflessly encouraged to apply to Oxbridge, (since he clearly wished to beget and create other in His own image), I wonder how many have the necessary skills and EQ to deal with the reality of proper stress in their lives. And I wonder how many would want to become teachers?

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