Just in case you were wondering why anyone might quit their twelve year teaching career with its regular income and place in a private school for their child...
It all started with an inspection. I think it often does. My lesson was inspected and I went, trembling, to receive my feedback. The enormous blob of an inspector asked me to enter and sit. I gulped, sweated and bumbled my way over. He informed me I was 'good', told me how to do better; I breathed a sigh of relief. He curtly asked where the assessment data was. How could he possibly make any judgements about the value of what I was doing without data? Where are your grades? Where are your target grades? Come on, come on! Three years of departmental data - where is it? He wheezed. I fumbled. In theend, I was relieved to get out alive and put the whole harrowing experience behind me. The school, overall, did well. We celebrated our success, I felt really great about it all, particularly that it was over, then it was back to work. Things returned to normal.
But something niggled me about that inspection.
For one, the inspectorcentric build up: to tick all the boxes, you need to do this, this and this, then a bit more of that. Obviously, schools want to do well - they want to pass their 'exam' but it becomes homogenised in the process and is about pleasing officialdom and following their method with no room for individuality.
Also, the impersonality of the process: this hungerfor data above all else. I suppose it makes sense, the inspection lasts three days and you are seen (maybe) for a lesson. The numbers and letters marked on graphs and spreadsheets provide them with a wider picture of what is going on - as how can value and skills be thoroughly judged in so little time?
And the fear of failure: what if I mess up? I have one lesson to prove my worth, what if I fall to pieces? The entire process reminded me, awfully, of the students sitting their end of school exams - you know - the exams that will (so we tell them) impact on what they will do for the rest of their lives; that mean life is over if they fail (me Mam'll kill me, sometimes - horribly - me Dad'll beat me). I've witnessed tears and tantrums over the years, the stresses of exams; seen glazed, pale faces in exam halls; a drooped head here and there, defeat personified; occasionally, eyes flashing at me (by default, the enemy) seething with anger and defiance; they know that 'failure' is just around the corner. Imagine the awareness: you've failed in the eyes of society. You are sixteen. How soul destroying that must be.
We teach to the exam. That is our job. We do not want our students to be failures; we get attached to our students and we are rooting for them; we want them to be successful. To make sure we are doing our job properly, exams or assessments or tests are rolled out regularly, across the subjects, across theyear. Exam, assessment, test, exam, assessment, test on and on. In the UK this starts when the child is 4 or 5 years old. This is the system that we must follow and maintain. To deviate from this path risks not keeping up with the curriculum and not keeping up with what is needed in the exam or assessment or test. We march our students through this and it is, quite frankly, draining at times, for teacher and student alike. It is like a 'McDonald's production line'.
Creativity is stifled. Leading educator Sir Ken Robinson points out that the education system follows an industrial model. Students are being drilled: test questions and their answers are decided for them; subjects are decided for them; uniforms are decided for them; when the lesson and learning ends is decided for them; what, if any studies they should pursue at home is decided for them; whether they can use their phones; when to go to the toilet, what they have done well, when their behaviour is bad... And then we are incredulous when we ask them to make decisions for themselves but they are unable to. Thishas been noted by the tech industry and a core of Silicon Valley kids are being homeschooled so that their parents can guarantee that their children are able to think for themselves and have creativity nurtured, not conditioned out of them. They will have skills in place, ready for the unforeseen jobs of the future.
All students are expected to achieve in the traditional subjects: English, Maths, Science in particular. But, let's face it, some people simply are not academic. Their skills and passion lie elsewhere. What of the student who is unable to sit still in a Physics theory lesson but can dismantle a phone and put it back together in under five minutes? If a student cannot sit and pass a test they are doomed to fail from the outset and the system doesn't just allow this, it actively encourages it.
This needs to change. We need to stop hammering the self-esteem of these kids into the ground. Education needs to get down off its high horse and start celebrating difference. How can we expect compassion and creativity from people in society who have received the message (directly or indirectly) that they are not worth shit if they do not conform to someone else's ideal? In the most vulnerable years of life - the teenage years - this is how they feel if they 'fail', the damage is done.
We do not adequately allow students to explore or express their feelings or emotions. Happiness needs to be nurtured and cultivated in the same way we teach other skills; happiness does not always come naturally, sometimes it is not modelled at home. It is a crying shame that subjects that encourage freedom of expression and attunement with emotional wellbeing are low down on the pecking order in schools, or not provided at all. The idea of teaching yoga and meditation would be scoffed at by many, but figuring out who you are and loving yourself - the goal of traditional yoga - could help those teens who are losing their way, who are losing themselves to peer pressure, to school and its social hierarchies, to low self-esteem. The students who are susceptible to negative behaviour are labelled and a downward spiral forms as they become more isolated from the school community. These are the students who need the most help but they are ostracized and turned away because they do not fit 'the model', the one size fits all. Then we wonder where all these disaffected youths have sprung from.