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In the supermarket recently I was surveyed on my shopping experience. After the usual questions about ranges of products and value for money, the employee from the marketing company carrying out the survey, having checked my age, finally asked my occupation.
“Retired, at least semi-retired,” I responded.
“Okay, at what did you work before you retired?”
“I was a teacher.”
Never has admitting my profession excited such a powerful response. She told me that her company had been carrying out research on Curriculum for Excellence on behalf of a Scottish government agency, surveying learners, parents and teachers and that in the course of that work she had experienced some of the rudest behaviour she had ever met. “And it wasn’t from the pupils or the parents,” she asserted.
“There’s a huge bitterness,” she told me, “among a lot of teachers, especially the older ones. Retirement is the one thing to which many of them look forward. They hate the changes they’ve had imposed on them but change is happening to everyone. The world changes. We all have to change.”
What she could not accept however was the discourtesy. Neither she nor her company were responsible for the changes, yet the spleen of disillusioned professionals had been vent on her.
I suggested to her that change indeed happens to us all but perhaps the speed and frequency of the curricular changes had left teachers reeling. She accepted that and also agreed that, in fact, many of the teachers to whom she had spoken had been positive and courteous, but she returned to her astonishment at the discourtesy of members of a profession who should know better and behave better.
It vexed me also. Now of course her experience may have been atypical. Her observations may even have been inaccurate. Yet I suspect there was a degree of truth in them.
There is an underlying anger among many in the teaching profession in Scotland. Recent changes (most I believe for the better), perceived as emanating from government, have challenged many traditional approaches to teaching and have redefined many aspects of the curriculum, and at the same time the burden of preparing the teaching material and devising the daily (and hugely magnified) assessment procedures has landed firmly in the lap of the classroom teacher.
While the Scottish government and the local authority management structures have reiterated a mantra of relentless optimism, unwilling to even concede that the model delivered via Curriculum for Excellence might require testing and further amendment, teachers have rapidly had to deliver this curriculum to young people anxious about exams and qualifications.
All of this has occurred in the context of a referendum debate which may indeed have added to the Scottish government’s determination to portray everything in its own garden as rosy and possibly even to ignore teacher morale. Interestingly, the main opposition party in Scotland, Labour, has also been unusually muted in its critique of government, but Labour after all introduced Curriculum for Excellence.
There is a sense of impotence among many teachers. It is about the rate of change, the sense that change is being imposed but also that the teacher on the ground has to carry the can for any failure.
All that notwithstanding, teachers might stand back and ask whether frustrated rage and discourtesy help their cause. We wouldn’t accept it from our pupils.
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  • Heather Mackie says:

    Very good and true account

  • Change is dynamic,it happens everyday. I think the way the system blame teachers for student’s behavior and failure can make them vent their anger on anybody.

  • Kim Carlson says:

    I find that when it comes to reforms, changes are mandated but the infrastructure and supports for successful implementation or a redesign of an overall system and practice with input/feedback cycles — reforms without these supports create a feeling of overwhelming helplessness and no voice in the process. Anyone, not just teachers, will react with vexed voices when faced with requirements that have not been built from a foundation of understanding and trust. Mandates for change require political will but success in implementation is dependent upon those responsible for “doing” to understand it, be prepared for doing it, and have a voice in what modifications are needed for continuous improvement. Many times however, changes are not systemic nor are they systematic– thus decreasing the probability of a successful change or outcome.

  • I meet teachers every day, and every day I meet professionals who absolutely passionately want to make their students lives better. They get massively frustrated when they are tied up doing activities that they know will not fundamentally change their students cognitive processing.
    When I show teachers how children can learn to use their full range of cognitive skills they are really excited. They are also really excited when they can see and understand what is blocking children’s cognition.
    But I also meet professionals who are frightened to commit to long-term cognitive changes (none of this happens quickly) because they are expected to be meeting micro-targets every few weeks; they would rather appear to be doing the right thing without addressing the fundamental root causes of the problem than taking a risk. For example, we have children being asked to improve their handwriting who cannot sit upright; they cannot control their gross motor skills; so they certainly cannot control their fine motor skills – so everyone is trapped in a miserable handwriting lesson where the teacher is blamed for the failure and the child is emotionally damaged. We have teachers trying to teach reading to children who cannot track with two eyes, but we do not check the children’s stereopsis of vision, we blame the teachers. We have children trying to follow instructions in class when they cannot process speech very well, but we never check children’s auditory processing skills.
    It is no wonder that we have angry frustrated teachers – they need proper evidence based research to support the job that they are doing and the time and space and support to teach well. Assessment is only any use if we know the precise problem that we are trying to solve in the first place; that requires real skill, not politicians sound bites.

  • Carol Craig says:

    Interesting article. I recognise what you are saying. I think many teachers feel powerless – required to carry out reforms that don’t always make sense to them. The relentless positivity and having to put a good spin on everything simply makes matters worse.

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