This morning, I found out an excellent teacher, someone I respect and look up to, received a Requires Improvement from an Ofsted QA Inspection. Needless to say, she’s gutted. I’m furious for her. Not just because she blatantly does not Require Improvement (and any idiot who spent more than 20 minutes observing her would realise this), but because this is the reason I decided to take a break from teaching.
I loved being a teacher. I loved the buzz of the classroom, and teenagers are the most inspiring, frustrating, wonderful, bonkers, infuriating and downright excellent people I have ever had the pleasure to work with. The workload was hard, but a lot of the time it felt…, well, not fun, but certainly not boring. I loved designing lessons, trying to bring in new stuff as and when I could. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t, but I never once felt like I was wasting my time.
Then things changed.
All of a sudden, I wasn’t allowed to judge my own classes and make planning decisions on what I knew they would enjoy and engage with. Instead, I had to shoehorn in a load of gimmicky nonsense that they believed to be ‘outstanding practise’, like asking your class what would happen if the world ran out of coffee, or making them write down endless reams of feedback (written in red, or teacher is, yep, RI), or stopping them every ten minutes to ‘check their progress’ by asking them to stick their fingers up their noses if they understood or their thumbs up their arses if they didn’t. You also had to stop the lesson the minute anyone higher up the foodchain walked into your lesson and ‘go through the learning objectives’ no matter what they were doing, even if you’d just gone through them 2 minutes before and the kids were working brilliantly. Because teaching is now less about teaching and more about proving you’re not letting them doodle flowers in their books whilst you read Heat.
But I could have coped with all of that. What I couldn’t cope with was the toxic culture of fear that now pervades the whole profession. People no longer talk about ‘what this brilliant kid did’ – it’s always about who had a drop in and what grade they subsequently received. As a profession, we have been reduced from largely innovative, invested individuals to a bunch of approval-seeking junkies, because we know we’re only as good as our last Ofsted rating. Forget what the kids think of you; forget what the parents think of you, if Ofsted say ‘nope’, then that’s it. You’re not good enough (although in my case, Ofsted rated me Good, but that still wasn’t enough, but that’s another story for another time).
This culture of fear doesn’t just stop at the teachers, though. No, the trickle down effect on our kids is something that really, really scares me. Not only do kids pick up on stress when their teachers are stressed, but what does this constant climate of assessment and judgement teach them? Well, as a life-long member of the ‘Pathological Approval Seeker’ club who bases her entire self-worth in the opinions of others, I know exactly what it teaches them. It teaches them that nothing is worth doing unless you’re being judged. That being judged and the arbitrary approval of people you’ve never even fucking seen before is more important than your own instincts. Forget cultivating independence of thought; all this does is teach kids that unless that stranger says you’re Good, you’re a failure as a human being.
What happened to doing something for the sheer joy of doing it? Or discussing something because it’s important, or simply interesting? Or encouraging kids to take risks, where they very well may fail or make mistakes but that doesn’t matter because it’s better to have the guts to give it a go than be terrified of the failure that inevitably comes with constant and relentless assessment against an increasingly narrowed set of markers? Because THIS is what we’re teaching our children right now – that the grade is everything. Forget the journey, it’s all about the destination. You are nothing more than a number, a grade, a set of statistics – and if you EVER deviate from the path laid out for you by people who don’t know you, then you are a failure. And even if you’re not this time, you will be. Oh, you will be. Because you’re being assessed again tomorrow, and who knows what tomorrow brings?