Watching the advert to attract new teachers that’s been broadcast lately you’d wonder why we have a teacher shortage crisis on our hands; it looks to be such an appealing and self fulfilling job where you have the satisfaction of making a real difference.
But the very fact that an advert is necessary, plus several reports about teacher shortage, or schools using budgets on supply teachers and finding it hard to recruit new staff, it’s perhaps not painting a complete picture.
Teaching always looked to be an attractive job; it was decently paid, it was a profession you could feel proud of and where you could put your personal and creative skills to good use, and although very demanding it wasn’t unbearably so. Fulfilling children’s learning needs was the greatest reward.
Clearly that is completely different now, as colleagues and heads agree, and many teachers now find that the demands far outweigh the benefits.
The administration levels have overtaken classroom time, the burden of curricular objectives has overtaken the priority of pupil needs, the back biting appraisal system destroys confidence and creates bad feeling, and the farce of meeting ridiculous and unrealistic Ofsted criteria, often unattainable despite the dedication of teachers, erodes any job satisfaction. And none of this includes the challenges of some children who are neither teachable in a school setting nor willing to tolerate the boredom and irrelevance of an outdated system. And why should they?
Is it any wonder that teachers are leaving and that new recruits are hard to find? A problem that the government is trying desperately hard to overlook, not wanting to face the fact that teaching is becoming unbearably hard for many and playing down the ‘crisis’.
A colleague working with training teachers tells me that students come to teacher training mostly with an open heart and mind, keen to teach, but many leave before the end of the course when they see the burden of the job, paperwork and preparation, not to mention experience of the poor morale.
Teaching today’s children in today’s system is not for the fainthearted. But army style approaches and business managers, as the government have tried, are not the answer either because teaching is about young human beings and the diversity of their individual needs which requires time and attention, not about the drilling of robots to meet predetermined targets decided by those who have no experience.
So what’s to be done?
Everyone; parents, voters, ministers, needs to acknowledge the huge challenge that teaching is and stop pretending that teachers are only in it for the holidays. Everyone needs to rebuild their understanding of the job and respect the personal strength it takes to be a teacher and support them.
And it really is time we had ministers and decision makers who had a first-hand experience of life as a teacher; the workload, the admin-load, and challenges of today’s young people. Let the people designing the education system and ministers making decisions serve several years in the classroom. Indeed, how could people who’ve no first hand experience possibly make good decisions based on what’s needed for schools, staff or pupils?
Then maybe conditions for teachers would improve, there’d be no need for an advert. And I’ve no doubt ministers would be making very different decisions!