Is it a bird? Is it a plane? by @sing0utsue

Thoughts on Super Teachers saving the world.

On Tuesday morning I awoke to my radio alarm.  The first two words I heard were ‘vital ingredient’. As I continued to listen I learned that this is what, according to our government, was missing in weak and failing schools in coastal areas.  However, these schools, which face a variety of difficult factors, were to be saved with what for just one moment I hoped would be a carefully considered plan.   The moment did not last long.  As the words ‘elite teachers’ hung in the air, I realised that the missing ‘vital ingredient’ in our government’s opinion was that these teachers were not quite good enough.   For one moment I had foolishly anticipated that the government had formulated a plan likely to work.

This is a re-blog post originally posted by @sing0utsue and published with kind permission.

The original post can be found here.

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On my drive to work to a school in one of the areas where that vital ingredient is likely to go amiss, I briefly felt relieved.  After all, I teach at a ‘good’ school with ‘outstanding’ features.  Believe it or not, they do exist next to the sea.  But then several questions swam around my mind. This plan could have huge ramifications for others not far from our door.  According to what criteria will a teacher be judged as elite?   Who will monitor them to ensure they remain elite? Where are they actually going to come from?  Will they have already proved that they are elite in areas of teaching in a similar demographic?  The questions grew.  How would they be able to form a considerable professional relationship with the children?  After all, the government surely knows that in such areas, there are often a significant number of children who need nurturing in order to be emotionally ready to learn.

How would the arrival of an elite teacher (who I imagined to wear some kind of special superhero outfit – let’s call him or her Super Teacher) affect existing teams?  Would existing teachers be categorised in relation to the ‘elite’ status prior to Super Teacher’s arrival?  What if some schools in these areas already had some fantastic teachers?  Would they be paid a bonus for already doing a job that Super Teacher had arrived to do?  Would children and parents be told that Super Teacher had arrived?  If so, how would they be told?  How would their reactions  be dealt with? On a broader scale, how would this manifest itself within our society?  What was the message being given across the country about the supposed inadequacy in some of our schools in these areas?  How were teachers in these areas currently feeling?  And most importantly – would this plan actually have any chance of working?

To consider any potential success, I reminded myself of some of the reasons for weaker results in some schools in coastal areas.  There is high unemployment, sometimes lasting several generations.  There are higher levels of children qualifying for Pupil Premium.  Government initiatives for promoting levels of achievement have not focussed on these areas in recent years. There is often a higher incidence of health issues, including mental health and of adults claiming benefits related to this.  Parents can sometimes be more difficult to engage for a multitude of reasons.  There can be a greater number of safeguarding cases at such schools.  There can also be a higher number of children with special educational needs.  Would Super Teacher be able to combat all of this?

The answer is no.  It is frightening how much needs to be done.  I am not a politician but a few things make sense to me which might at least begin to address these issues.  It would help if the government did roll out some of their initiatives (which do not include Super Teachers) towards our coastlines.  Initiatives which must be strategically planned, wholeheartedly committed to and which must focus on specifics such as raising aspiration.  Join forces with schools to make this message louder.  We would welcome this support with open arms.  It would help if the government considered how parents in such areas could be reached and informed well before their child even started school.

Health visitors and nurseries need more support in terms of resources and training to actively inform parents about the importance of education so that by the time their children start school, the teachers can concentrate more of their energies on teaching.  The push to make all adults literate needs to be harder.   The number of social workers must be increased.  The means of obtaining extra funding for children with SEN has become so complex and time consuming for schools.  Simplify it.  Increase the number of housing and finance officers so that there is somebody available to advise families on housing and financial issues.  Give incentives for other professionals such as Educational Psychologists to work in these areas who seem to be becoming extinct.  It can be completely demoralising to call a Family Support Meeting and end up being the one professional managing every area of a family’s life.

And here comes a revelation.  How about if our existing teachers within these areas were given extra training to tackle the issues?  How about if they were given extra strategies and support to deal with the many, many hats that they are having to wear?  After all, considering that these teachers are expending so much energy dealing with issues related to poverty, illiteracy and deprivation, it would be so useful for them to have extra investment in terms of managing it.  It would help for example, if it were acknowledged that some of these teachers spend so much of their week on the fringes of safeguarding issues.

They would benefit hugely from specific training aimed at dealing with this at an emotional and practical level within their roles.  It would also help if it were acknowledged by the government that some of these teachers are lifelines for families. Again, extra support and training aimed at existing teachers to enable them to feel more empowered to meet the demands of the magnitude of this role would not go amiss.  These teachers might even start to feel valued rather than ignored behind the cape of the Super Teacher.   In many of these schools I would imagine that leadership teams are trying their utmost to meet these needs but parallel support from the government is sorely needed.

I understand that the issues in these areas are deep rooted and difficult to improve.  My brief suggestions are the icing on the cake and changes will take a considerable amount of time to have an impact.  However, the suggestion of investing in our existing teachers in these areas is paramount and would have an impact over a far shorter time frame.  These teachers already know the area and issues that it brings.  They have most definitely built up strong relationships with the children.

They will be working to build or will have already built strong, trusting relationships with parents.  They will have established a consistency for a child which may be less likely to be in place at home.  These teachers are the children’s familiarity and security.  They know that their children need this foundation before they are able to learn successfully. They are likely to already be at least good teachers, although this may have been negated through their energies being spread so thinly.  As educators they deserve the best to give the best to our children in such challenging circumstances.

I find it incredibly sad that the government believes they can raise standards using the notion of Super Teachers.  Instead of tackling the reasons behind this problem in the first place and taking the time to consider how to bolster and better equip those already in these areas, they are seeking to address the symptoms with a weak plan.  And in doing so, it has dangerous and widespread repercussions.

It flattens the morale and enthusiasm of so many communities of teachers.  And yet again, we have a discourse of inferiority and hopelessness surrounding such areas circling around society having profoundly negative effects. Let’s remind ourselves of something that the government has forgotten; so many already are Super Teachers.   Join forces with school leaders and empower them to fly even higher.

 Featured image adapted from: David Ingram on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

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The Editorial Account of UKEdChat, managed by editor-in-chief Colin Hill, with support from Martin Burrett from the UKEd Magazine. Pedagogy, Resources, Community.

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