Are you the teacher you wanted to be?

I left teaching partly due to a hearing loss a few years ago, but also due to a conviction that we had lost our education system and had replaced it with a qualification system. We were pushing our young people through increasingly irrelevant hoops just to show we could.

How often in the real world does anyone have to sit in a room in silence, isolated from all others and any referencing tools to answer a set of questions?  How often in a work situation are people tested on  their ability to show how they can communicate their understanding through handwritten notes alone?

Which is more important, what you can do, or what you can get done?

To be able to decode an exam paper is a skill, but our young people leave eleven years of school with only a dozen or so letters that are supposed to define them. We judge simply how well they can perform and we take no account as to whether they were prepared perfectly with everything on their side, or strode their own route through massive personal hardship,abuse and poor quality schooling. Is this fair?.

If you were having to explain to an alien who landed in an exam hall (after you had evicted them obviously) what we were doing, what would you say and would they be convinced we were sophisticated beings?

As teachers this is what we were judged on, so that is what we do. The worry is is that performance related pay will push us even further down the road. I rail against the assumption that teachers will put more effort into inspiring young people because they will financially benefit.The ones who don’t care about the kids might put some more effort in, but these are in the minority.  On my final assembly, my year group  who I had looked after for four years of trauma, tears and laughter, spontaneously gave me a standing ovation. One hundred and ninety two teenagers stood up and cheered. I was gone, emotionally unable to speak. Would I swap that moment for any amount of money? No. Anyone who suggests otherwise knows nothing of why we teach.

The simplistic notion that money is the only motivator is simply wrong. A terrific RSA Animate by Dan Pink is here that evidences that money can actually reduce performance and what motivates are mastery, autonomy and purpose. Which brings me back to the title of this article. When delivering CPD to teachers I usually ask ‘Are you the teacher you wanted to be?’ Less than one percent say yes.

We all went into teaching to inspire, to transform lives but we find the system constrains us. It makes a mockery of our desires simplifying everything to exam performance.

I am a huge fan of Ben Goldacre and his Bad Science and was happy to hear that he had been asked by the Government to investigate Evidence Based Practice here . I’m all for scientific evaluation, but what are we measuring?

On the same day I taught a class of year 11 students electromagnetism in a way that had them really enjoying the realism and problem solving “Make me an electric motor from a magnet, screw, battery and wire”  “How can your electric toothbrush charge on it’s cradle when there are no electrical connections?” Their reviews were really positive, ‘physics is cool (yes really!) understand it much better etc, but I probably added very little value to their exam performance.  I then spent two hours with a student who failed his AS physics exam miserably. At the end of the time he was on a B/C borderline, but I had taught him virtually no physics. All I had done was teach him how to decode an exam paper and to apply a set of processes in order to come up with the ‘right’ answer.

How is my performance to be judged, the latter is extremely easy to evaluate, the former impossible to quantify. Medicine is perfect for Evidence Based Practice as there are very clear physical markers we can measure to improve the health . Blood pressure, hormone levels etc.

If we are going to have evidence based approach what are our success criteria, how do we measure it in ways other than using an ancient anachronistic exam based system?

Answers on a postcard to …

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