Ashley Pearce (@ashleypearce84) is a secondary school economics teacher in a comprehensive school just outside of Reading. Last year he was elected as a councillor for the Labour party for an area in South Reading. He is also a Reading FC fan and keen reader of educational literature.
I recently read an article on the TES website titled “The press is full of bad news stories about teaching-we desperately need to focus on the positives as well”. At first glance this seem a fanciful idea as more requests for tracking come in, you haven’t replied to that parent email, you have a pile of marking building up and you haven’t planned tomorrow’s lessons yet. It also made me think of the fairly well trodden known that all teachers do is moan. Now I’m sure this is true of most professions but most professions don’t get the press coverage that teaching does.
I am well aware of all of the negative stories around teaching in recent years: exam reform, pay cuts, pensions worsening, stress, class sizes…..there is a long list.
But there are so many positives to teaching that maybe sometimes we forget and the press certainly doesn’t report. We have the opportunity every day to influence and inspire a whole group of young people. It may not seem it sometimes but many of these young people really do look up to their teachers. I was a guest at a Primary schools Council recently and 5 of the 15 students present when asked who their role models were replied their teachers. From the kids own words, because they never give up, they explain things to us, they make things interesting and they’re passionate. Every day teachers get to choose (within the restraints of the curriculum) how to deliver knowledge and enthuse kids about subjects that are close to our hearts. This is a privilege most don’t have.
For us personally, we have the holidays. Twelve weeks off a year, treble the holidays of most. Yes we have to work in them sometimes and it is annoying flights are so expensive during them but still, most workers would happily swap for these. There is also our pay progression. Most professions do not all but guarantee a pay rise every year or every other year for the first ten years in a profession. Of course there are those schools that have used performance related pay to curtail wage rises but on the whole these are few. Despite this Government attempting to ruin our pensions (managing to damage them sadly), we still have a decent pension. Not “gold plated” as the media would like people to believe but we get a decent sum matched to what we put in, this isn’t the case for most. This is in part down to teaching unions being able to protect (at least in part) our rights and pensions, again, another right many jobs don’t have.
So why all the negativity around teaching? To me it seems most of this is psychological and leads to what is called “Negativity bias”. This is just a clever way of saying humans remember the bad more than the good. In teaching (as well as all walks of life), I’m sure we can all relate to this. You have had a 5 lesson day where you are really enthused, all of the kids have been engaged and all your lessons have hit the spot. Then last lesson, little Timmy just doesn’t want to know, he’s not interested in learning and what’s more, he’s going to make sure no one else in the room is going to learn either. He’s ruined your lesson. Which of those are you going to go home and tell your partner about? The 80% of the day that was positive or the 20% of the day that was not so much? As humans we are prone to focus on the negatives and tell others about them also. This is why negative political campaigns are more memorable than positive ones. Tory election strategist Lynton Crosby called it the “dead Cat on the table”. The premise being that to counter a story he didn’t want in the news, bring out another story that will counter it, the more negative the better.
The other reason for many of the negatives surrounding teaching include the admin, the paper work and bureaucracy. Much of this is down to another psychological phenomenon called “pluralistic ignorance”- a situation in which a majority of group members privately reject a norm, but incorrectly assume that most others accept it, and therefore go along with it. Sometimes there isn’t much any individual teacher can do, but if we all rejected it, what would happen? We all knew the Ebacc was a nonsense when introduced by Michael Gove, it’s included in stats so Governors have to care. Head teachers may have to push unsuitable students into those subjects to improve the stats, the kids don’t want to do these subjects and many times there are not sufficient teacher numbers to teach them. In short, we all know it is nonsense! But we all go along with it. Another facet to this is that the huge majority of teachers want to help, that’s why many went into teaching in the first place. Most teachers want to help and mostly want to be compliant, this good nature is often taken advantage of. Teachers don’t like saying no.
But for teachers to enjoy their job this is exactly what I think they need to do, they need to say no more. Saying no lowers the demand on your time, it enables you to make better decisions and focus on what is important. It enables you to keep a work life balance. To students, no I am not running an Easter revision session, revise yourself. No I am not replying to every email that doesn’t need it. No I am not going to look at my emails at home or lunch time. No I am not partaking in every school event. I know this sounds much easier than it actually is and I appreciate that. But for teachers to not burn out, keep their passion for the job and stay in the profession, this is exactly what is needed. In the long run this benefits the Government, parents, students and teachers themselves. Tired, burned out teachers leave the profession, saying no may just stop that.