During observation feedback I was once given a list of things I hadn’t done that would have demonstrated ‘rapid and sustained’ progress. Thankfully, another member of my department stepped in and asked what I should prioritise, as to fit that in I would have had abandon something else.
Everything in the lesson was valuable so instead it was suggested I could mark every book after every lesson to cut down on AfL time to hone in on ‘rapid and sustained’ progress.
(‘Rapid and sustained’ always reminds me of the violent aftermath when I drank quite a lot of tap water in Asia. I spent two days in the foetal position on my bathroom floor.)
This suggestion is seductive. Lessons have finite time and schools have finite money, but marking every book every day affects neither of those things, so crack on.
When there’s no ‘extra’ (and that’s before getting on to actually having less), it’s teachers’ time and conscience picking up the slack. More meaningless data, more detailed feedback, more personalised learning. Even Sisyphus’ boulder rolled back down the hill sometimes.
It isn’t sustainable (“well it’s not about you, it’s about the children”), and more exhausted teachers is leading to more burnout, more quitting and more crap teaching as teachers teach to survive the hour/day/week.
It was reported this week how much unpaid overtime teachers do, but the hours aren’t the problem. It’s the intensity. At university I was a supervisor at a branch of that big green coffee shop, running the whole of Saturday from 7am-7pm. Being on my feet for twelve hours with nobody to cover my break was less tiring than teaching five hours straight.
Planning lessons is intellectually hard work (and bloody enjoyable), and classroom teaching requires a level of alertness, constant reaction and adaptability more so than a lot of other jobs.
Plenty of professions work upwards of 60 hours a week, but if they need to pee they can go to the toilet. If you’ve got kids coming to see you at break and lunch for detentions, or for help, or if you’re on duty you can’t. That parched throat stays parched.
Friends I know work in theatre and they say eight shows a week isn’t sustainable over a long period of time. There’s no proper time to rest. Two-show days with a matinee and evening performance are endurance trials, where they’re on full alert for a high-period of time. Similarly, we’ve a family history of truck drivers and they need to be well-rested and alert, and their employment is set up in a way that prioritises that.
Even with a full timetable teaching would be sustainable if teachers had supportive systems in place, and if after a day of teaching you could talk to another adult about something other than a new admin task to be done, some spreadsheet, the anxiety of where we’re at with the new GCSE or how you’re not keeping up with Kafka’s marking policy.
Yes the holidays are brilliant, and consistently I’d get a holiday illness for the first few days, unable to really do anything other than sleep. Then there’s time to catch up on the marking, be a bit of a human being and then get back to it (although there are the holiday revision sessions to get through).
I only teach the occasional whole-class lesson in my current role, and I’d forgot how much energy it needs. It’s only been two months since I was a classroom teacher on a full timetable but I had completely forgotten the gyroscopic whirlwind it creates. I now have the mental energy to actually think about teaching maths properly, which should be a large part of an early career teacher’s job, not an afterthought.
Professionalism in education can be seen as: having your paperwork up-to-date instead of engaging with effective CPD; doing six million things by decree instead of pesky moaning, questioning impact or discussing the best way to teach your subject; evidencing impact instead of having any.
Not having my seating plans in the ‘consistent format’ didn’t make me feel less of a professional, but I did when discussing the outcomes of our graded book scrutinies.
That’s before even going into multi-pen marking. As far as resourcing goes, it cannot be justifiable for ten people on upwards of £22k/yr to spend rare collaborative time wanging on about the colour of a bic.
The rapid and sustained stuff that takes teachers’ time, focus and energy isn’t helping them to help others. I’m now paid hourly, so it becomes very explicit what I’m spending my time doing in school. ‘If you could…’ soon disappears when it’s billable. I don’t need to go to meetings, so I don’t go to meetings.
Teachers are a finite resource and all the platitudes in the world won’t change that.