Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Any happy primary school teachers out there?

This discussion on the TES Staffroom just about sums up the situation concerning morale in primary schools. Some teachers are slogging their guts out and wanting out, others still love the job and are full of praise for their head teachers.

The post was started by –

Complaining about working 65 hours a week, with fortnightly work scrutinies in a school that is just out of special measures.

‘Deep Thought’
Also works 65 hours a week and has been off school for three weeks, two with ‘flu and one due to stress.

Teaches in a school with a high staff turnover, finds the paper work exhausting and wouldn’t go into teaching if she had her time again.

Had a new headteacher that the staff liked, but four terms in the school was put into special measures. There are continual observations from the Local Authority, they’ve lost a third of the children and still don’t have a permanent head or deputy.

By contrast…

Has been teaching for thirty years and has loved every minute of it.

Has taught for 17 years and loves the job, bins the unnecessary, knows when to say no and won’t back down.

Calls on teachers to have faith in themselves and that the best part of the job is the kids.

Is an NQT who has taught for two terms, has supportive colleagues and goes tap dancing twice a week.

Has a head that is HUMAN and believes that good leadership is the key.

On that last point the head teacher in primary can make or break a school. However, when I visited Germany there was a much more collegiate tradition. The head taught a class and was allowed some time for admin, but she was very much part of the teaching team. Decisions about the school were taken at the staff meetings and it wasn’t unknown for the head to be in a minority. In England many head teachers consider it to be “their” school.

It would certainly take a courageous or even foolish head to swim against the current tide. SATs and league tables are everything, that’s all that Ofsted are really interested in. Most head teachers are chained and bound hand and feet to the testing juggernaut. Why do so few teachers want to become heads?

Paper work has become the bane of teacher’s lives. My advice is – Keep it to the Minimum. What is planning for? It should be a working document that you can actually use in the lessons not some kind of ‘War and Peace’ document that is completely unintelligible and verbose. What matters most is preparing interesting lessons.

Special measures are a living hell (thankfully it only affects a small percentage of schools, there but for the grace…) but the Ofsted culture affects every school. In particular there is the culture of failure, my advice is - don’t internalise failure, no one should be expected to work 65 hours a week. Some NQTs have the youth and energy to cope, the problem is that when they start a family they can’t do it.

The other side of the coin is the ‘super-teacher’ syndrome, this is reinforced by the Teacher Training Institutions where the expectation is that you will be on the verge of a nervous breakdown, working an 80-hour week and filling every form out in triplicate. In most jobs it takes you 5 or 6 years before you really understand what and how to do it. We seem to expect that student teachers will fly as soon as they leave the nest.

How have I survived? By doing projects with the children that have interested them and me. ‘What’s in it for the children?’ Is always my first question.

The best advice comes from ‘shell43’ and this should be given to every NQT and posted up in every staffroom in the land – ‘FORGET ALL THE CRAP AND ENJOY THE CHILDREN YOU TEACH’.


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