EDUCATION:Don’t put your daughter in the staffroom
Posted: 02 Nov 2006 @ 00:00
IMAGINE this scene in a secondary-school classroom. Tom, a young, newlqualified teacher (NQT), has just begun his lesson with a class o13-year-olds. A mobile phone rings. A girl at the back answers, and begins conversation. Tom tells the girl to put the phone away. "Fuck off cant yosee Im busy?" is the response.
Tom repeats his instruction; the girl repeats her response. So he backs ofto avoid a confrontation in the lesson. The girl ends her conversation, anputs her phone away. The lesson continues. Subsequently, a letter goes homasking the parents to ensure that the girl does not bring her phone to school
The Times Education Supplement recently ran a feature othe experience of two NQTs. For both, a typical working day ran from 8 a.m.when they arrived in school, to 9.30 p.m., when they finish marking anpreparation. The days main break was an evening meal and half an hour in fronof the TV on arriving home at 6 p.m.
Anyone who has ever worked in a high-pressure environment like a school wilappreciate that this is a punishing schedule to maintain. It is estimated thamost teachers experience several hundred interactions a day, and that if fivper cent of those are negative it will feel like a bad day. As the mobile-phonincident illustrates, bad days can be frequent in teaching. And exhaustion annegativity are a bruising combination.
The Radio 4 psychiatrist Dr Raj Persaud recognises that the early days of teaching career can seem like an overwhelming experience. His advice to younteachers is to take a long view: time invested in learning a difficult job iits early stages will pay dividends in the future. Observing more experienceteachers who have learnt to manage the demands can provide a reservoir of hopfor younger teachers that they, too, will eventually emerge from what can seea very long tunnel. But is it a realistic one?
Research from the London School of Economics has shown that between 40 an50 per cent of trainee teachers leave the profession within three years. Threasons given are excessive workload and poor pupil behaviour. These twfactors sap the will to persevere.
Teacher feedback indicates that, as a profession, teaching gets mordemanding as the years go by. "If junior doctors saw the old hands, thconsultants, after years of experience, appearing as hassled and overwhelmed athey are, that would be totally off-putting," said Dr Persaud. One NQcommented to me: "I cant live like this for the next 15 years."
It is particularly sad that committed and caring teachers suffer most frostress. Those with a strong sense of vocation, a vision for the difference thateachers can make to pupils lives, are more likely to be frustrated than thoswho are happy to tick the boxes on the forms without investing the emotionaand physical energy made by really good teachers.
I suspect, therefore, that the 40-50 per cent who leave includes a higheproportion of committed teachers than of those who manage to get by and donlet the pressure get to them.
Some Christian parents actively discourage their own children from goininto teaching. They love them too much to want to see them exposed to sucstress.
In the face of negative headlines, its easy to forget the other side of thstory. Every week the TES runs a feature where a celebrity talks about one ohis or her teachers. The other week, it was the turn of the actor Timothy Spalof Auf Wiedersehen, Pet fame, whose contribution was typical. Of the teachewho suggested he take up drama, he said: "She was one of the most influentiapeople in my life."
Mr Spalls affection for her is shown by his search to make contact agaithrough Friends Reunited, so that he could say "thank you". The feature itestimony to the fact that good teachers can transform peoples lives.
The Church currently has unique opportunities in education, both througincreasing provision of church schools and through inspiring Christians to worin community schools. The influential report Mission-shaped Church made thpoint that we are in a cross-cultural mission situation as the culture osociety moves away from its Christian roots.
Professor Terence Copley from Exeter University describes the situation achildren growing up in a "me" culture where personal fulfilment rather thaservice is the core motivation in life. In such an environment, it iabsolutely vital that Christian teachers are available to show that there ianother way. They are on the leading edge of the Churchs mission task. As thhighly-regarded educator, the late Professor Ted Wragg said: "There is nhigher calling."
This raises an important challenge for the Church. How can we ensure thaChristians are not among the 40 to 50 per cent of trainees who leave withithree years? The answer is quite simple: we need to embrace the vocation oteaching as the front-line mission task it is, and offer support anencouragement to those who have this calling.
One practical and effective way of supporting Christian teachers in thearly stages of their career is for their churches to link them with a personamentor who could be a sympathetic and insightful sounding board. It would havmade a huge difference to Tom to have a coffee with his mentor and talk throughis sense of humiliation over the mobile-phone incident, before settling to hievenings work.
To recruit Christians with a strong sense of vocation, only for them to joithe 40 to 50 per cent of disheartened leavers, is a gross squandering of aimportant resource.
Trevor Cooling is director of Transforming Lives, a project based at thStapleford Centre in Nottingham, with the remit to promote teaching as Christian vocation.