8 April 2016

Don't bring me problems

Apparently, teaching in the UK is pretty tough at the moment. Who knew?

Anyway, t
he strap-line of last week's secret teacher piece in the Guardian tells us that in order to make changes to the 'huge problems' faced by teachers we need to start 'shouting about how great the profession is'.

I take issue with this: what have those two things got to do with each other? How is talking up teaching going to solve any of the problems? It isn't.

Not only this, but by providing 'positive thinking' as a solution (along with 'if you don't like it, then leave') the writer is essentially alleging that we teachers and lecturers have fomented this snowballing negativity. And, because of our bad attitudes and negative mindsets, we're bringing the profession down. The piece lays the blame for the profession's ills at your classroom door.

The secret teacher has personally chosen to deal with these by ignoring the negatives, perhaps in the hope that they will go away. Except they won't. Not unless they are addressed. 

The secret teacher piece is simply a paean to blissful ignorance.

But my (rather patronising though apparently needful) question is this: could it be that the negativity amongst so many teachers is a sensible response to things within education being broken?

Now I agree with the secret teacher that complaining for complaining's sake is tiresome and counter-productive, and I also agree that some teachers seem perennially determined to find the negatives and wallow in them, 
but the fact that there is a growing voice of dissent amongst teachers more broadly ought to tell us something. What it tells me is that the issue is not one of attitude or mindset, but that there are systemic problems which cannot be fixed by single individuals acting in isolation, least of all those of us at the chalk-face - the classroom practitioners. 

Broken things are not made whole by bowing down before the gods of mindset and positive thinking.

And if you're in leadership and your motto to your staff is “don’t ever bring me problems, bring me solutions”, then I pity them. I'm pretty sure you can't have solutions without problems, and there'll be no new solutions without actually facing up to the problems. Gloss over them all you like, pretend it's all good, but if that's your approach then frankly you're not helping anyone but yourself.

Complaining teachers do not need to be told that they are the problem, because they are not. Teachers who complain about white papers, and bureaucracy, and funding cuts, and marking overload, and burdensome testing are the ones who care. We want things to be better - and not just for ourselves.

Teachers who take to Twitter to vent their frustrations, or write posts like this, do so not because they're negative, but because they have great faith in the potency of proper education. Could it be that the so-called 'complainers' are actually the positive ones? They throw light on the problems, because they care about the kids and because they have an enduring hope that solutions are there to be found. 

So, I'm happy to talk up teaching. It is a noble and needful profession, filled with hope and despair and every emotion between. But let's be honest about it, there are things that could be better. And they wont get any better if we ignore them, or neglect to talk about them, or - without reference to reality - simply 'shout about how great the profession is'.

Thinking positively about broken things is a sure sign that your senses are on sabbatical.

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