With the 2012 GCSE marking fiasco, and again recently in Dr Rory Fox's Daily Mail article, there've been a flood of comments regarding the teaching profession, and how supposedly lazy teachers are overpaid, given too much holiday, whilst also giving children a terrible education, in a calculated insult to taxpayers everywhere.
Now, this kind of talk irritates me greatly, since my parents have both had long careers in – wait for it – teaching. I’m now going to reflect on what I have seen as the son of a pair of teachers:
When I was younger, I remember going on holiday with my family. For most, a summer holiday is a time to forget about work, and to simply spend time with your family. A time of complete relaxation. What I remember distinctly from our long drives from Hertfordshire to Dover, then across the channel to Holland, Brittany or beyond, is that the entire time, whichever parent was taking a break from driving would be sitting in the passenger seat with their laptop out, working on a lesson plan, a child’s report, marking, or all three simultaneously.
Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but this doesn’t sound like the behaviour of someone with a huge amount of free time, but that of overworked teachers. Maybe my parents were just quite disorganised. Maybe like the sons they produced, they would always leave everything to the last minute.
That's all very well, but in addition to all those weeks off, a teacher’s normal day is only nine to three-thirty, right? Again, I can only go by my own experience, but my dad’s day was scheduled thus:
5.30: He’d go out for a run.
7.00: He’d leave for work.
8.00: He’d presumably be at work, although obviously I wouldn’t see him until he arrived home.
17.30: He’d arrive home and start doing paperwork.
19.00: We’d all have dinner together.
19.45: He’d continue his paperwork.
22.30ish: He’d go to bed.
This was the same schedule he would keep every weekday. On a Saturday he may or may not go into work to do extra admin. Maybe he'd have time to go shopping, and he would go to Tesco to do the weekly food shop every Sunday. But you can be almost certain that the rest of the weekend he would be working almost solidly too. I read a Times article that said that the official 35 hour working week, might end up at around 50 hours for overworked teachers. That is maybe an accurate estimate of hours that a teacher might spend in school, but not for their total number of working hours.
Being a teacher is not easy. Even seeing my parents slaving away at home only gave me a snapshot of what their job as 'lazy teachers' actually entailed. But apart from the long hours, the stress, the targets, the funding cuts, the Ofsted inspections and everything else besides; from my perspective, I think one of the most degrading things that a teacher has to endure is the constant implication that they are the least knowledgable about how to do their job.
The current government is trying to put more power in the hands of parents. First, they are ploughing forward with the academies scheme, with high achieving schools taking ownership of their own curriculum and letting parents have a say in it. But not just that, they have also decided that the best group of people to be setting up and running a school are groups of parents, as demonstrated by their ‘free schools’ policy. There could a problem with this – the group of people who have had years, maybe decades, of training and experience within education, are not the parents.
But we all know about school, right? Most of us have spent at least 11 years in one sort or another. We know about teaching because we’ve been taught. Well, then by extension we should all be excellent chefs if we’ve eaten at restaurants, or all be able to paint a masterpiece since we’ve been to the National Gallery. What children see in the classroom is the equivalent of going to a play. It is the end result of many years of training and many hours of preparation.
Looking back, we all remember the teachers we loved and the teachers we hated, the good ones and the bad. That counts for something, doesn’t it? Well, think about how good your judgement was when you were 15. I knew a guy who, at 15, ate a live spider for a dare. That’s the same judgement you used to measure your teacher’s skills. So no, unfortunately it doesn't count.
If only there were a group of people who had spent time in the classroom, seeing how everything works at the coalface. They'd be perfect to tell us how to run schools.