This article is the second in a series of articles addressing challenges in the teaching profession. They have been written by guest contributor, Matt Davis. Matt is a Psychologist, Writer, Teacher and Coach. His field of expertise is abusive personality types and recovering from abusive relationships.
OK, full disclosure. Here’s me writing an article suggesting a reason why you shouldn’t quit teaching and I quit teaching in December.
Now, before you start throwing anti-hypocrite knives, give me a few words to explain. Less than 100 should do it. Deal? Thanks. You know how you’re reading this article right now? And how you’re still doing it? That’s why I quit teaching. At some point, I’m going back but for now I’m out. And I did that because I know that I can do more good outside the classroom than in it right now. My particular (and peculiar) skillset is such that I’m more use to teachers and young people as a coach and a writer. Teaching was kinda getting in the way.
So there. 83 words. You can check if you like. Now, I’m not going to sit here and tell you not to quit unless:
- You really, really want to. Really.
- You have a different path to follow that is more in line with who you are.
So, What’s wrong with the education system?
What I am going to do is have a really good go at a system I believe is totally banjaxed. Great word, that. And I believe it’s banjaxed (still loving it) because it’s run by people who have a certain ideology. Dangerous things, ideologies. Not only that, the way it’s set up attracts a certain type of person to manage it because they are prepared to support that ideology instead of pushing back. And right now, there isn’t really a viable alternative ideology that’s actually in line with what education is for.
There we go. That’s the basic premise, so let’s get stuck into what this is really about: You. I firmly believe that all teachers (yes, even the not-so-good ones) are right.
Like you, I’ve had endless conversations in the staff-room and the pub about what’s wrong with this and that in the institution we work at, and this or that manager, or principal, or potential replicant. That’s all static, and it’s a distraction from the really important matter. Teachers constantly tell each other that they’re right in such conversations but it’s my experience that we don’t really listen. If we did, we wouldn’t keep having the same damn conversation, would we? But it’s time to listen, really listen. Because we’re right, dammit!
It’s the same old story, right?
Teachers know that there’s too much oversight in education. One of my ex-colleagues told me that it took precisely 2 minutes 37 seconds for the Principal to mention Ofsted (The UK government Office for Standards in Education) in his welcome-back speech after the Christmas break. 2 minutes 37 seconds. Jeez! He just couldn’t help himself. Because that’s what it’s all become about, isn’t it? Hitting criteria, exacting lesson plans and schemes of work, including Prevent, embedding English & Maths, yadda, yadda, yadda. And let’s not forget reports, tracking & monitoring, examples of marked work, moving the school a bit to the left, polishing the water.
OK, maybe not those last two but you know the score, right? It’s not about doing the job, it’s about proving that you’re doing the job. Well, you know who has to prove stuff all the time? Suspects.
We are NOT suspects!
If someone isn’t a suspect, no-one cares what they’re up to but if people start examining what someone’s doing, how they’re doing it, when they’re doing it and so on, that person is a suspect. And what are teachers suspected of? Failing Ofsted. Like they’re doing it on purpose or something. I won’t lie to you, people. I knew it was time to quit when I started to look at ways of sabotaging the process just to get people to notice how banjaxed it all is. I’d become the very suspect the system considered me to be.
I was right and so are you!
But I knew I was right, and that’s how I know that you’re right too. You know the score because you’re at the coal face every day. You see it, you hear it and you absolutely feel it, right? So why is it carrying on? In a word: Oversight.
This idea that the whole process should be transparent and that anyone who wants to know can look into any part of an institution at a moments notice and see how it’s doing. Now, on paper that’s actually a great idea and I fully support it. And I get where it’s coming from. Public money being squandered is a really bad idea, isn’t it? You hard-earned tax-quids/dollars should be being spent wisely, right? Right. So yes, let’s absolutely make sure that’s happening and that education institutions aren’t blowing money stupidly.
They want oversight but they don’t want to pay for it!
But the bit that really bends my brain is that no-one seems to know or care how much that oversight is costing. Sitting in Whitehall (A road in central London but it is used as a metonym for the British civil service and government) and saying “you know what would be great? Oversight” is one thing but no-one seems to want to pay for it.
The expectation is that education institutions like yours will just respond to the new regime and all will be well. That somehow the cost in terms of time and effort will just magically appear, like the whole oversight thing is a freebie. Well, it’s not. It’s hugely expensive. It costs everyone involved huge amounts of time and effort and stresses everyone the hell out because the system is trying to get something for nothing. No dice, my friends. No dice.
One of the current “big fish” in education as far as Ofsted are concerned is financial security. How do I know this? Funny story. The aforementioned principal took 2 minutes 37 seconds to get to the subject of Ofsted because he’d spent that time talking about financial security. I fell about when I was told that. Partly because I don’t have to work there any more but mostly because that’s not a speech for an educational establishment.
We are teachers, we don’t sell insurance!
It’s a speech for an insurance company. Financial security? What? Education isn’t about money, it’s about education. Should it be really good at education? Hell yes. But should it be financially secure? Who cares! Seriously, who cares if the place is financially secure? Education isn’t money efficient, it never was, it never will be and that’s the point. Education is a wonderful, creative, caring, nurturing, inspiring, developing mess and the one thing it definitely isn’t is money efficient.
Once again, the clones are trying to get something for nothing. “Be financially secure” they cry as they slash budgets again. “Be financially secure” they blurt as they completely fail to see how expensive it is to be in the middle of a recruitment crisis. “Be financially secure” they stutter as they spend the money they’re trying to save in ridiculously ineffective ways of trying to save it. The whole thing is laughable. All that oversight costs. Pay for it, and you can have it. Don’t pay for it and don’t be surprised when the wheels start to fall off. Trying to make teachers pay for what you want is just plain rude. Pay for it yourselves, you naughty people!
And that’s why you’re right and the system is wrong. You are being asked to pay for something by the people who want it but don’t want to buy for themselves. Actually, they’re not even asking. For my money, that is one lousy date.
Students aren’t customers and teachers aren’t salespeople. The cost of the product varies according to who’s consuming it and the performance spreadsheets are barely visible through all the extraneous variables they’re trying to ignore. I’m all for oversight, I really am, but teachers shouldn’t be paying for it. It sucks hard enough that we had to pay for our own damned qualifications, right?
My main line of work as a writer is in abusive relationships and I’m immodestly very well qualified to write about them. One of the things that characterise abusive relationships is that the abusers’ version of reality is the only one that counts.
They have a universal tendency to impose their reality on the targets of their abuse and getting them to “drink the Kool-Aid” of their distorted narratives is their reason for living. Essentially, abusers are all cult leaders and it’s unpleasant, to say the least.
Speaking with survivors of abuse always involves understanding the brainwashing they’ve been subjected to and one of the things they tend to do a lot is have the same conversation over and over again while they try to deprogram. You know who else does that? Teachers. I think I mentioned that earlier.
It’s wrong, plain WRONG.
Near the top of this article, I said that the system is run on an ideology and that attracts certain types of people who are prepared to accept it. Well, I’m sticking a flag in the sand here and saying that the ideology is wrong, that those who perpetuate it are wrong, and anyone who accepts it is just plain wrong.
But that ideology is the narrative. The “reality” being perpetuated is that the system is just fine and having teachers do more for less and act like they work for an insurance company is OK. That it is possible to run education as you would any other business and that teachers are suspected of not being on board with the whole process. On a daily basis, teachers are being told to “drink the Kool-Aid” of the narrative and it’s not good enough.
Those in your organisation who have drunk the Kool-Aid would much rather you did too because that way they can get through their day without having an existential crisis. They can just go about the business of perpetuating the narrative in peace.
But here’s the thing.
You don’t have to. And you don’t have to quit either. Sometimes it’s enough to know that you’re right and you can put up with all sorts of nonsense. I’m here to tell you that you’re right. As a teacher, you are working in a system that thinks it is something else. To use a hackneyed phrase, “it’s not you, it’s them”. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the teachers best resource is other teachers. And they’re all having the same conversation, which basically adds up to “I think we’re right. Are we right?” Yes, folks, you’re right. So with that in mind, what to do about it?
Let it go. You are not going to change the narrative any time soon but you don’t have to believe it.
Believe in you instead. You’re amazing. Look at what you do for a living. You work your socks off every day to make sure young people have the best future available to them. You bring the world to them and show them how to be the best version of themselves it is possible to be. That’s astonishing! And believe in each other ‘cos you’re all doing the same fantastic job.
It doesn’t matter what the system thinks it is. That’s just background noise. Is it wrong? Sure, but who cares? What the education system thinks it is is not your concern. Teaching is. Let those who want to drink the Kool-Aid drink it and have their delusion party. There will always be people attracted to the current ideology because it works for them and that’s just fine. They are not you.
They are not YOU.
I talk with loads of people who are in less than desirable relationships. Most are bothered about it but some really aren’t. What tends to characterise the latter group is that they basically don’t care. They’re getting what they want out of life in ways that make them happy, so who am I to judge?
As teachers, there is so much good about what’s going on right now that it far outweighs the bad. No, really. Sure, it’s stressful but you can bust a lot of that stress by letting go of the narrative. You don’t have to let go of caring about teaching and you don’t have to let go of your responsibilities to your students but please do yourself a favour and let go of the ridiculous narrative you’re being fed.
Those who’ve drunk the Kool-Aid will want you to do stuff that makes no sense. So what? They’re also the ones losing their shit over the stuff they think is important. So let them. It helps to think of the narrative pushers as the weirdo that lives down the street and shouts at traffic.
If you try to understand them, you’re in for a world of weird, so just don’t. Let ’em shout at the traffic and wear a tin foil hat if they want. It doesn’t make any difference. Same goes here.
If you’re still thinking of quitting, fair enough. Only you know the best road for you. If you’re wavering, I say that you’re an amazing person doing an amazing job. If it’s who you are, keep on keeping on, my friend.
But there’s a caveat.
As I said already, you are not going to change the narrative but you can change you and actually, that’s pretty cool.
Given that we know that you’re right in all this and that you can’t convince the Kool-Aid drinkers that they’re wrong, the very best thing you can do is work on you to make sure that conviction sticks. I strongly recommend seeking professional help if your Self Esteem is suffering and I’d say that in any situation. Who knows? Maybe your institution will even pay for it.
Never be afraid to speak your truth to those you trust. Seek support from your colleagues, friends, family. Anyone who isn’t prepared to show love and support to the people that educate the next generation can go to hell as far as I’m concerned. Expect support and actively seek it please. You are very much worth it. There are a ton of resources out there for teachers. I’ll list a couple at the end of this article. For now, please remember:
You are amazing. What you do is amazing. But more than that: You are right.
The Education Support Partnership exists to help teachers struggling with stress in the UK. They employ trained counsellors and have a free helpline.
In the US, these are some great organisations that can help you. 5 Great Organisations for Teachers
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