Saturday, April 07, 2007
That’s it then. According to the latest Times Educational Supplement survey we’re all deliriously happy. Well not quite.
The online survey asked teachers to rate their well being and contentment on a scale of 1 to 10. 73% rated themselves as a six or above, with 26% placing themselves at level eight. There was a clear divided between secondary and primary – 57% thought they worked in a happy school, compared to 70%. A full 92% of head teachers thought they commanded a happy ship, no surprise there because even if the crew are on the verge of mutiny most head teachers sail on blissfully unaware of the impending crisis, “you mean there were weevils in the bread?” 67% were happier than they were ten years ago, but then when you’ve experienced absolute zero anything will feel warmer.
As with any survey there are some notes of caution, the poll results were based on only 500 replies and maybe there’s a suspicion that readers of the TES are more likely to view teaching in a positive light, others just want to escape from teaching at weekends.
The General Teaching Council carried out the largest survey on teacher morale in 2002 – over 70,000 responded. The key findings were-
· One in three teachers expected to leave within five years
· 56% said their morale was lower than when they started teaching
· One third would not go into teaching if they had their time again
It’s probably hard to define what you mean by “happiness”, if you asked Prince Charles you’d get a Delphic and elliptical reply. Just as work can make you unhappy so can chronic under-employment, symptoms – talking to plants, writing letters in green ink to ‘important people’ and trying to sell over-priced biscuits.
Some teachers can sit in a staff meeting with a serene smile and say nothing as a proposal to test children every six weeks sails through. That left me raging for weeks (see previous posts ‘The Line in the Sand’ and ‘The Silence of the Lambs’) and I’ve boycotted the staff room ever since.
The timing of any survey would be another key factor, the most depressing day in the year is the fourth Monday in January, it’s perpetually dark, wet playtimes children cooped up all day, paying off those Christmas bills. Come July the sun is shining, there’s the prospect of the long summer break and a new class to look forward to in September.
Teaching does have its fair share of moaners, usually men of a certain age with an elbows patch mentality, favourite phrases – ‘We’ve always done it like that’, ‘I’ve been here xxxx years’ and ‘Nobody told me about that’. My iron law of moaners is that whenever it comes to speaking out at staff meetings they suddenly become mute and if there is ever a ballot for action over something they don’t bother, ‘It won’t change anything anyway’.
We’re not helped by books on teaching they tend to fall into the ‘misery lit’ category – The Ranting Teacher’s ‘Everything You Need to Know to Survive Teaching’, Francis Gilbert’s ‘I’m a Teacher Get Me Out of Here!’ and Frank Chalk’s ‘It’s Your Time You’re Wasting’. The premise of all these books is that teachers’ enemies are pupils, parents and senior management – in that order. The problem with ‘view from the trenches’ books is that they never ask the question why war started in the first place. The prognosis is always unremittingly bleak, with desertion the only option.
I tried to write something different with ‘How Not To Teach’ there’s plenty of gallows humour but I also included some of the best things I’ve accomplished with the children, the film we made, the trips to Ireland and London. The other side of the equation however, is the Panglossian world projected in magazines like the DfES’s ‘Teacher’, where there are glowing articles featuring the kind of teachers who really believe that everyone should be working a sixteen hour day.
Longitudinal surveys on morale amongst public sector workers (Andrew Oswald’s) have shown a significant decline over the last twenty years. There’s also the continual haemorrhage of newly qualified teachers – up to half leave within the first five years.
Am I happy? Ask me at the end of July.