There is never a dull moment for teachers these days! No sooner have we adjusted (or not) to the ramifications of Gove’s new knowledge-based curriculum and its bounteous feast of learning opportunities, but now the menacing spectre of the dreaded ‘performance-related pay’ has loomed upon us like The Ghost of Christmas yet to come.
On the surface, this sounds like a reasonable plan. Reward the best teachers, pay the best more. Seems perfectly sensible and logical. The trouble is that it’ll be down to human beings to judge who is worthy and who is not. Human beings are a notoriously subjective bunch. For example, I think that David Bowie is crap. I note that many of my species disagree.
On Thursday 18th April The Guardian published the results of their ‘Teacher Network Survey’ which was carried out last month. One participant (unnamed) had this to say:
“Performance-related pay has encouraged further discrimination and bullying to the system. Some heads of departments could give themselves ‘easy’ groups that are expected to over perform and give difficult under performing groups to teachers they dislike..”
A couple of months ago, I wrote here about the myriad of factors that make up an effective teacher. I argued that teaching was about so much more than sound subject knowledge. Some disagreed, but the elephant in the room remains: Behaviour.
I came across a tweet the other night, as part of a discussion I was following on PRP:
‘The teaching staff are all very very good teachers, just less good at behaviour‘
The advice from The DfE on how teachers’ performance might be measured says this:
‘..Improvements in specific elements of practice, such as behaviour management’
Is it possible to be a good teacher if behaviour management is an issue? As I have said before, there simply is no lesson if anarchy is raging all around. If teachers are going to have any recognition at all of their subject knowledge and expertise, lesson planning and content they’d better be sure, more than ever before, that they’ve got the behaviour thing cracked.
I won’t go into a lot of detail, but, as it happens, I do have a fair amount of experience in this area. Over the years, I have taught some of the most difficult kids, observed some of the very best teachers and generally worked out a ‘way of being’ that works for me. Having said that, that hasn’t made it any easier for me to decide what makes an effective teacher. I have racked my brains for three days. However, I think I’ve come up with rough guide to some effective practice. It’s not exhaustive and it’s not perfect (Be warned: contains anecdotes for colour!):
The line is invisible, barely perceptible. We are their teachers, not their friends, councillors, family, social workers or any other group you care to mention. It is important that that line remains. If that line is breached, in any way..chances are you’ll be aware of it. Listen.
Respect is a two way street. If you’re dissing them, they’ll be dissing you. Guaranteed. Be prepared to apologise if you’re in the wrong.
It isn’t a bad idea to show the pupils that you’re human. I have a great deal of difficulty avoiding this as I’m still writing 2012 on the board. On Tuesday I walked into a desk that I knew was there..I looked at pupils: “I knew that desk was there. Why have I just walked into it?”
Arguably our greatest tool. Use it wisely. This does not necessarily mean ‘sparingly’. I am a great advocate of teachers being allowed to stand up and deliver a lesson. I would suggest keeping the volume low and the tone light. Silence also has its place. Never, ever, talk until the whole class is listening; just wait.
Several years ago, I remember trying to deliver Macbeth to a particularly horrendous group of Y9 boys. To be blunt, they didn’t want to know. After several false starts, much to the obvious horror of the teaching assistant, I gave up and went and sat on my desk. I waited , and waited…gradually things began to improve.
The ‘top dog’ of the group went and threw his gum in the bin. “Nah, man”, he said “I’m gonna listen now” and that was it. It was as if magical fairy dust had been sprinkled on the group to induce cooperation. Mark was listening; the rest were too. I stayed silent for a while and then (quietly) said, “You know, I’m not the Police, I can’t do much about it if you don’t want to work..I rely on your being here because you want to learn. I hope I’m right” I then continued with the lesson, as planned.
It’s difficult, I know, but don’t ever shout. I have only shouted once in the last 11 years, and then I didn’t mean it. On that occasion several of my colleagues came out of their classrooms to see if I was okay. If you ever feel like shouting, whisper, or say nothing. If you shout, you’ve got nowhere to go and the pupil will probably ‘rear up’, thereby compounding the whole issue.
The End Game:
Don’t ever make a threat that you’re not fully prepared to carry-out. Similarly, always try to know where you’re going when you embark on a course of action. The midst and mist of behaviour problems can make it difficult to think ahead, but try to formulate a plan. I swear I would have sat on that desk all lesson if I’d needed to and then made sure that every one of them knew they owed me an hour’s time. Speaking of which…
Teachers have got very little remaining in their arsenal of unpleasant sanctions. PUPIL’S TIME is one. Very few of them, in my experience, want to miss their social time. Bingo!
In December I had a lesson observation, to be carried-out by the HT! All was going okay until one girl in the group decided to graffiti the sheet on her desk with felt-tip pens. I saw a look of ‘she hasn’t noticed’ on the boss’s face. ‘she’s going to ignore it because I’m here’. I allowed it to continue whilst I thought about the end game:
I walk over to pupil and say, in a stage whisper, “You can carry on doing that, but every single second of my lesson that you spend colouring in that sheet is coming off your break time. Three minutes and twenty-five seconds, so far” I gesture to the clock and a flicker of a smile flutters across the boss’s face. The student replaces the pen with the sullen grace of resignation and lo, the lesson continues.
Perhaps it goes without saying, but always expect excellence and anything less: be shocked! I have absolutely no compunction about making pupils do work again if scruffy or of a poor standard. If we don’t encourage standards no one will. The same goes for the level of the lesson content, itself. Aim high. Behaviour, also. Make it clear that you expect the best.
Don’t be defeated:
None of my posturing (above) assisted me much in January when a Y10 boy said (to me) “I’m gonna put you in A&E!” Well, as the song goes, ‘You’ve got to pick yourself up, dust yourself down and start all over again’. There will always be individuals that you just can’t crack. It’s not right, but it’s rarely truly personal. This is where SLT really need to step in and show their mettle. It’s serious. Young people can’t speak that way to people on the street without consequences. They shouldn’t be saying it in school…to anyone.
Now, maintaining the above standard requires quite a lot of mental energy. An average five session teaching day is a bit like memorising lines and performing five different plays, to a, sometimes, most unappreciative, heckling, audience, often with very little chance to switch off (or interval time!).If anyone was to suggest increasing this ‘stage’ time much more, without factoring in the extra marking and preparation time involved. That could be problematic, to say the least.
Never one to miss a cue, Michael Gove swept on, stage right, last Thursday 18 April. This summary is from Stephen Exley writing in the TES’ BigEdBlog on Friday:
“Speaking at the Spectator Education Conference in London yesterday, the education secretary argued that a longer school day would be more family-friendly and “consistent with the pressures of a modern society” – and added that a shorter summer holiday would help the UK keep up with high-performing East Asian nations.
To hear teachers welcoming the idea of the school day being extended and the summer holidays cut is about as likely as turkeys having a whip-round for a bottle of port and a box of Christmas crackers.”
Amusing, and, no doubt, truthful as that statement is, Gove is actually making some very sensible points. However, we need some clarification, here. Are we extending the school day and shortening the holidays in order to provide more quality education time? Or is it so we can be a glorified baby sitting service, assisting working parents? Either way, there are staffing issues to be considered. Teachers are not automatons. There are only so many hours in the day that it’s possible to be on tip top, sparkling form, as I allude to, above . Stephen Exley quotes the concerned words of a fellow teacher:
“And when am I meant to plan for the extra lessons?” asks secretsiren. “Or do my marking? More time in school means more planning, more prep, more resources, more marking. I wouldn’t actually be able to fit this into the day if I wanted to sleep, eat or perhaps see my own children occasionally!”
If teachers are required to deliver more lessons each day, somewhat inevitably, standards will be diluted. Ironically, none of that will assist in the delivery of the new curriculum, or help teachers to achieve their PRP required standards.
So what is the answer? Maybe one possible solution could be to employ more teachers? Any takers?
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