The ideal role model for a head teacher? A hard bitten realist who having lost his parents at a young age, and having surmounted tremendous odds, builds up a vast and powerful empire. Which he then bequeaths to the strongest and the most intelligent of his tribe. Is this or is it not the role model that most in senior management aspire to? No? Well I would have thought not, except for this:-
This is your average middle aged teacher committed to working in schools that most teachers wanting a progressive career would avoid. The kind of teacher who walks into a difficult school (they’re referred to nowadays as ‘challenging’) and develops a strategy that hits the mark. Every child in her class gets encouraged, every child realises their potential and if she can’t help them she tenaciously ensures that someone can. Teachers like this can remain working in the same school for decades having the same positive impact on generations of the same family. Now if you’re not employed at Eton or Harrow, if you’re working in the new improved state education sector this may seem a bit ‘old school’ you might be more used to this:-
The young, energetic forward thinking ‘academy-orientated’ teacher whose got it going on when it comes to hitting those ‘head-start’ targets. The teacher who has a smile for every child who is achieving and, who skilfully lets her students know when their clearly not reaching their proscribed potential. A dab hand at referrals she knows who is connected to who, and how best to utilise what she’s learned in order to maintain order in the classroom and, ensure that most of her students reach their designated potential. The highly integrated member of ‘an effective team’ she’s thoroughly compliant, she has to be, she’s got tuition debts to pay off. But most importantly she serves a dual purpose, she reminds experienced teachers that they are past it and, that in the brand new world of academy chains their views don’t count. What counts is being part of an effective team with all that failure on that team implies.
In a teaching world that borders on illusory perfection (complete with glossy inspirational posters and cliche burdened mottoes), perceived failure is not an option. And so experienced teachers are dragged into one ‘career review’ meeting after another and subjected to lesson observations at the hands of younger, more ‘go-getting’ teachers. Classes are discretely transferred out of the hands of such teachers who may then find themselves filling out their hours with teaching assistant work or covering lessons not in their subject area.
What does this mean for students observing their teachers lose weight, lose hair, burst into tears for no reason and run out of class and on occasion out of the school? What lessons are they picking up from observing a teacher who normally provides them with great classes, falling apart when a senior member of staff enters the classroom to observe them teach for the seventh time that week? As a Head Teacher you may bear a close resemblance to Jesus and even be able to walk on water but what the pupils are seeing is this:-
One further point, I have never seen the Red Sea parted nor a man raised from the dead nor bread fall from heaven. But I have been privy to the change in attitude and approach of senior managers, once it becomes clear that the member of staff they are raking over the coals is being represented by a pro-active trade union. Lesson observation notes are re-written, near abusive senior manager/teacher meetings suddenly become altogether more civilised and, staff who were previously earmarked for dismissal are just as suddenly offered promotions. That change in attitude? It doesn’t happen unless that union has a large membership and its members aren’t afraid to strike, if they need to.