Inconstancy to Purpose, by @sing0utsing

Thoughts on Why Teacher Recruitment and Retention Are Failing

A teacher shortage crisis has arrived.  It’s hardly surprising.  Teaching is exhausting, relentless and consuming.  It doesn’t make us rich and things keep changing. These aspects have long been associated with teaching.  Most trainee and newly qualified teachers anticipate some of these hurdles and accept that they are part of the job.  What they perhaps do not anticipate is the frightening rate of change that exists in the teaching profession.

This is a re-blog post originally posted by @sing0utsing and published with kind permission.

The original post can be found here.

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I qualified as a primary teacher seven years ago and have been a leader for two years.   I have taught in two schools which have not jumped onto every bandwagon.  On the whole, the changes that have been made have been carefully considered before being implemented.

Nevertheless, in just seven years within primary education and in the geographical area that I work, I have seen many initiatives come and quite often, go.  Here are some of the messages that have been shared via training (both private and county training), school improvement partner visits, Ofsted and teacher training institutions in seven short years.

There have been changes in the world of assessment.  Once upon a time there were levels.  Then APP arrived with differing advice given to how to actually use it and now, no levels.  Baseline assessment tools change on a regular basis for Foundation stage. Key Stage 1 and 2 tests are changing. The arrival of the dreaded Year 1 Phonics test and the advent of nonsense words are now in place.

Planning expectations seem to change like the wind.  Some Ofsted inspectors have scrutinised a lesson plan, others have not.  Now you can plan as you like.   And what about having a starter and plenary?  That is no longer required.  Cross curricular lessons were encouraged.  Now, the emphasis is on more discrete teaching.  And should teaching be related to topics? And shouldn’t our curriculum focus on knowledge or skills or both?   It used to be breadth, now it is depth.  How much of our teaching should be direct instruction?  To what extent should our children learn collaboratively?  To what extent should there be free flow in Foundation Stage?

Grouping is yet another nightmare.  I recall one colleague telling me that an Ofsted inspector had checked her groups to make sure that Pupil Premium children were mixed with children who were not Pupil Premium.  Then she was told that children of similar abilities should be grouped together.  But now, with the research on setting showing little impact, it has all changed.   Growth mind-set has completely changed the way that we approach learning and give feedback. Praise has disappeared. There is more confusion in the realms of EAL.  As a new EAL Co-ordinator, and in an attempt to skill myself up, I attended several courses. They gave me conflicting information on best practise in such important and far-reaching areas such as how and when to teach phonics.

And there are more indecisions that cause teachers sleepless nights.  Hands up or no hands up?  Display the learning objective or not?   Differentiate or personalise learning?  Differentiate the learning objective or teach to the top?   Change talking partners on a regular basis or keep the same?   Use green pen for next steps or general comments?   Teach handwriting straight away or wait?  Start homework in Key Stage 1 as is sometimes advocated or wait until Key Stage 2?

And those personal yet exceedingly prominent concerns as a teacher which can seem completely out of our control; the Ofsted framework has changed yet again – am I totally up to speed with it?  Will my lessons be graded?  When are they due to come next and how many days will they spend at my school? Changes within performance management, changes linked to the disappearance of county support, changes to the organisation of schools, changes within clusters; the list goes on and on.  Changes to other educational provisions such as Specialist Resources Bases; these are disappearing before our eyes thus having a major impact on the expected practice of a classroom teacher.  Drastic cuts in the professions of social work and educational psychology means that teachers are fast becoming the professionals that deals with virtually every aspect of a child’s life.

It does not end there.  There are changes that just cannot be helped on top of all the others causing some teachers to reach breaking point.  There are timetabling changes, staffing changes, changes in leadership, changes as we move to the teaching of different year groups, sometimes more rapidly than we perhaps feel ready for.   As a teacher mentor I have noticed changes and conflicting ideas about pedagogy in the requirements of many teacher training schemes.  And quite worryingly, these can conflict with the latest change that has been introduced in a school.

Now I for one believe that change – when carefully considered – is absolutely necessary for all of us, particularly as educators.   It is what our children deserve.  After all, some changes can be quite small yet have maximum impact. And other big changes are absolutely necessary.  The world of education is forever evolving and that is what makes it such an exciting prospect.  Teachers should be able to make informed choices about different areas of their teaching.  After all, we are professionals and must take responsibility for many aspects of our practice.  In fact teachers by their very natures are often perfectionists and have a deep sense of conscientiousness.  We feel it is our duty to make sure that the latest initiative might work even better for our children than the one we are currently using.

However for some schools (those with changing leadership or high staff turnover or schools without clear visions or confidence in their beliefs of what their children need), are treading a dangerous line.   Leaders that do not listen to teachers and ensure they have the capacity at that point to undertake more change are negating any positive impact upon learning that might come about.  Leaders that do not consider the impact of frequent changes in policy find that what they are doing for the children loses purpose.  Teachers become exhausted and workload increases.  They become disheartened as they invest wholeheartedly into one thing, only to be told at the beginning of the next term that “we are no longer doing that.”

So who is to blame?   It is difficult to pinpoint one particular factor as we are continuously bombarded with ideas for change from so many different angles.  But one thing is for sure; it is essential that leaders consciously monitor the impact of change upon teachers and therefore children, at all times.  We should always ask the following questions: will this change improve learning?  Does it fit in with our vision and what our children need?  How long will it take to implement?  How far does it complement or contradict what is currently happening?   But alongside this, leaders must also remember to check: do teachers currently have the skills to make this change effectively? If not, why not?  How will we empower them to do so?  Do we have the capacity to keep this change going?  And is the change always necessary?

Sometimes change will be necessary and will lead to successful outcomes for our children and continued development of teachers.  But at other times, constancy is good.   In the words of Benjamin Disraeli, “the secret of success is constancy to purpose.”   At a time when we have intelligent, passionate and energetic teachers leaving in droves, that is something worth remembering.

 Featured Image: Via Paul Bence on Flickr under (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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