VOICE: Five Questions with Mr A

Mr A is a Maths teacher and department lead for Core Maths. Initially studying to be a civil engineer at Salford, Mr A fell in love with the maths side of things and made a decision to start afresh, enrolling onto a Mathematics degree at Manchester Metropolitan University to pursue his passion. After graduating in 2013 and achieving his PGCE in 2014, Mr A has worked in the same school since his NQT year, committed to serving the students of Greater Manchester and establishing himself as a competent, gregarious and trusted teacher and colleague.

Thank you for your time, Mr A. You’re a right pal.

1. Now, I know this may seem like a very broad question, but what do you think is wrong with the education system today?

That is a question now – I think the idea of standardised tests is not reflective of the diverse range of students, their attitudes or their abilities. It’s not fair that people are judged on grades that they achieved at sixteen. Education needs to be more holistic and stimulating – not everyone has to learn the same thing. It is unfair on the students, the curriculum is not accommodating.

For the teacher? Overburdening and the embellishment of a martyr and leaving them to deal with the job. We are admin clerks, we are pastoral managers, we are attendance officers, we are teachers and now we’re IT technicians as well, and we’re supposedly living in an era where we need to be kinder and we need to be good to ourselves, but then we need to put our money where our mouths are, but my main gripe is that I think the education system is not inclusive of all students and does not reflect the students we have today. I don’t think it’s fair that it’s all standardised to the same level and the same subjects. I think it’s important to have standardisation to a certain level, I don’t totally disagree with standardisation, but if students cannot reach that level then the curriculum and their education should reflect that and they should have an education that is suitable for them, will help them and be effective for them.

2. Do you think leaders consider teacher wellbeing enough when making decisions?

No. I say that because as I’m currently working in a high pressure context, which I understand is my choice and it is a high flying school and ‘Ofted outstanding’, the teachers are left to their devices to go and teach. For example, we need to teach online. Registers. We need to register and challenge each and every absence in all our classes as well as absences in my form. Observations are happening. We have been told that people will be dropping in on our online lessons, and so if senior leaders were thinking of our wellbeing, they wouldn’t make such a decision.

Teachers are very self-reflective people; we are naturally introspective and so we will doubt and question our abilities and so something like this doesn’t show a care towards teacher wellbeing. Empty slogans, you know, I think empty slogans are used a lot by the people at the top: “we are doing it for the kids” and “no child should be left behind” – but really? Are observations for the kids? I wonder. If we are in unprecedented times and we are teaching unprecedented lessons then surely we can be shown some unprecedented kindness and be given some slack. The implicit pressure of teaching is there. For example, our headteacher has said we don’t have to teach for the full hour, and he has actually said that, but then the implicit pressure you feel from the head of department and the SLT compels you to. So, there’s no difference, is there? Nothing is achieved.

3. What are the main challenges that teachers face today?

I think the number one challenge is trying to make everything Ofsted pleasing – why is everyone trying to fit their framework when no one really agrees with it? I think that is the biggest challenge but then where do you draw the line? The people who are on the ground working at grass root level, where do we go? What is the point of it? I think that’s the main problem, that schools are trying to hard to be Ofsted-friendly and they forget about context for example the communities that they serve, Pupil Premium children, children with SEND needs. That is what the focus should be.

Policy makers, the people at the very top. They are a massive problem in education because they are so far removed from the reality of teaching they don’t know what they are doing. They are an ocean’s length apart from the reality so obviously it comes from the top, and the two things at the top are Ofsted, who quality assure, and the Education Secretary and they aren’t supposed to be but they seem to be in bed with each other.

When I think specifically about challenges within the school building, I would say there is a line, a barrier, between management and teachers. SLT were teachers once upon a time and I often wonder whether they stop and think about how that felt and remember those times when they make their decisions? I understand their pay packet changes but that doesn’t mean their kindness and compassion goes out the window. I think the accountability for teachers is much more stringent and judged much more harshly compared to leadership and leaders. The inequality exists and I don’t think that’s fair.

4. How has COVID-19, the pandemic and a national lockdown affected your wellbeing?

I am a very social being. We are all social animals. The one thing I love the most about teaching is the interaction with the kids, the banter, the relationships, and that physical aspect of teaching has gone with the online teaching. Online teaching is a very lonely place where no one replies to your questions. The staffroom is non-existent; we are in a bubble of one when it comes to interaction with staff members meaning there is no interaction with staff members. On a professional note, the excessive workload and the unnecessary nature of it. I understand that a teacher’s role is complex and includes a whole host of roles but you do sometimes wonder if subject specialist teachers should be the ones performing those roles in addition to teaching? Is it necessary? I have seen three members of staff cry because of everything that’s happening here and that shouldn’t be the case.

5. What do you think must be done to improve teacher wellbeing in England?

My broad statement would be is that the people who are leading and are in charge should have respect and empathy towards a teacher and their job description. They should allow teachers to flourish, not reduce them to mere workers and allow them to prosper and develop in their role. We try our best and we are in it for the kids. We don’t work from 9-3, we aren’t lazy, we aren’t moaners, we aren’t holiday grabbers, but that is how we are perceived by the public, which has become even more stark in current times and in the headlines and that needs to change. Empathy is number one and it boils down to leadership, respect for our role and who and what we are.

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