September will see us all a little poorer

In the summer I heard about a school that had quite a few staff leaving. The head had appointed the task of farewelling each of them to different staff. As the head of IT had served a respectable number of years at the school, the head took it upon himself to make the speech. To say it was a disappointing summation of almost two decades of teaching was an understatement. Apparently the head spoke of all the changes they had witnessed in computing technology during his time and acknowledged that it must have been hard to cope with it…. And that was pretty much it. Not a single word about this person as a teacher.

I thought about many of the under appreciated colleagues that I have worked with afterwards in particular a very dear friend. I wondered what I would say to her if given a similiar opportunity. As with things that I mull over, I was still thinking on it in the shower and ended up imaging the whole speech. Here is a summary of my made-up farewell to the Head of IT.

I spoke about the fact that in my own subject (science), some children find it hard to share their learning and understanding if they are always expected to handwrite essays. The fact that I was able to open up submissions to be in any media meant and as a result, that I had received videos, photo stories, stop motion animation, posters and even computer games all demonstrating pupils’ perspectives and understanding of scientific concepts. Children, who might otherwise had kept their thoughts to themselves have confidently shared them with their peers and we have all benefitted from this.

I told them (my imaginary colleagues) that my students’ confidence to find their own ways to express themselves came from their IT lessons, where a world of opportunities had been shown to them. I shared examples of children using the skills they’d learned in programming to simplify their problem solving methods. How her lessons had taught them perseverance and to raise their own expectations. Children that wouldn’t usually correct a spelling mistake would edit and re-edit under her guidance.

I imagined that she accepted my mini speech and replied that the head had probably never seen any of this. She even thought that if you asked her students, the majority probably didn’t think she had taught them much either.

With performance management and standardization, we are so keen to make sure everyone knows we are ‘really teaching’. There is now a constant demand to provide tangible, quantitative evidence – highlighting lesson objectives so that boxes can be ticked. We are checking and double checking that children can recite today’s success criteria, and chastising great teachers who don’t perform exactly as the observers’ check-list has laid out. All the while teachers who can teach without the children even knowing that they are learning; teachers who understand that when they are teaching a curriculum objective they are really teaching so much more – perhaps leadership, perhaps teamwork, perhaps honest self appraisal – these are the teachers that are helping our children become self directed, independent learners.

Which checklist would you like your SLT to use when they next pop into your classroom?

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In 20 years time, I won’t really care if one of my pupils can remember the equation to combustion; what I do care about is that they can question an article they read and take part in debates without becoming offensive. That they can set themselves goals and plans on how to achieve them. That they can work with others and still confidently stand out on their own if they need to. And that they continue to learn and share and make the world a little better for them being in it.

September will see us all a little poorer as individuality continues to be eroded by the homogenous product of performance related pay.

If you can’t test it and put it on a spreadsheet, does it really have no value?

To my friend, I am truly sorry we have lost you. We are all of us individuals and we are poorer for not having your style of teaching in the mix.

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