A survey commissioned by the DfE as part of its Get Into Teaching campaign (GIT) has found that 44% of the general public think they would make a great teacher. Of these, 44% said it was because they were good at explaining things, 40% thought they could make learning fun and 39% believed they could relate to others. I’m guessing at least 35% completed the questionnaire in crayon because they’re not allowed sharp objects.
Pardon me for thinking the survey is a heap of offal. I’m only surprised no one mentioned ‘having long holidays’ or ‘a day that ends at 3.30pm’. GIT is an apposite acronym.
The vacuity of understanding of what it takes to have the right stuff for teaching is appalling. ‘Being good at explaining things’ – what sort of things? Explaining probability to Y6? Explaining to 4-yearolds that those black squiggles on white paper can be read? ‘Make learning fun?’ Nothing is more likely to induce me to reject an application than the applicant blithely asserting what fun they are. Reader, they’re always the least fun people possible!
Had their replies mentioned excellent subject knowledge, having the stamina to engage in hundreds of one-to-one interactions in a working week and the ability to pose questions that enable understanding, I’d have been impressed.
Instead, the DfE simply colludes in perpetuating the fallacy that teaching is about explaining things in a fun way while relating to the kids. As teaching unions noted, the DfE, not for the first time, has asked the wrong questions. How about, ‘What puts you off training to be a teacher?’ The £9,000-plus fees for a teaching qualification might be a bit of a barrier. The teacher-bashing by DfE ministers another. Ofsted, stagnant wages – I could go on, but I actually love the job despite the downsides.
A spokeswoman said the survey results had been published to launch the DfE’s teacher recruitment and retention strategy, and that it hoped to encourage more of those who think they have what it takes to be a teacher to give it a try. It’s this misrepresentation of the job – all fluffy rewards, no stubborn reality – that leads to people forking out £9,000 plus a year’s missed wages to train, only to leave the profession after five years because they’ve been sold a false prospectus.
Recruitment involves PR, of course, and I can see the DfE’s logic, but it’s misleading. To boost recruitment, how about 50% fee bursaries for all teacher training and 100% for shortage subjects for suitably qualified applicants, with 0% interest on any associated loans? Maybe a ‘golden hello’ after successful completion of the probationary year, or better still, an across-the-board pay rise to make teaching, if not a financially attractive prospect, at least financially viable? If you value education and the skilled professionals providing it, put your money where your mouth is. Alternatively, do next to nothing and watch the problem get even worse.
For the right person – clear-sighted rather than misty-eyed, and qualified to teach their subject instead of simply possessing a tedious capacity to have fun – teaching is an immensely gratifying career. Giving people the impression that it’s merely explaining things and being good at relationships isn’t going to attract the right stuff. It is those things, but also much, much more.
Consider the following tweet posted by someone called Mr Primary Data: “I love my job. I’m not an NQT or fresh out of uni. I’ve taught for 10 years and I genuinely enjoy every day. Yes, it can be rubbish at times and the workload is high BUT I love it. Sadly I know this is not true for everyone but wanted to share some positivity.” DfE – recruit that tweeter.
Kevin Harcombe is a Teaching Awards winner and headteacher at Redlands Primary School, Fareham