The world of educational academia seems so distant from the humble classroom teacher that at times it could be from a different planet. There can be little doubt that there is a vast tsunami of great research being undertaken at University level, and much of it fascinating I’ve no doubt, but I never read it unless I have to and I very rarely have to. The tragedy is that there is clearly a lot of fabulous work being done in education which is having very little impact. And surely our time and resources – human or otherwise – could be put to better use.
The rise of the teacher conference has brought this to my attention. I look down the Twitter feeds of those in attendance and very rarely see a classroom teacher. Okay, they might be there and not tweeting but it seems that more and more take place during the week and those that happen on a Saturday come and go without even registering. And believe me if I haven’t heard about them then the vast majority of my colleagues won’t have heard of them either. However, there’s a bigger problem with teachers not getting out of school for important conferences than me getting annoyed about it.
A passive acceptance that there is no cover available to allow us out of school is not only unacceptable but standing as a block to our own professional development. I know of very few teachers who get out of school to attend the ‘bigger picture’ conferences and certainly none who bring back ideas and thoughts which they are then given time to share and develop. The lack of resources available to provide that space is not something we should merely accept. We are being deprived of the opportunity to access the very research and information which could radically change the educational experiences of the children we teach. Being told that ‘we know you’re busy but…’ isn’t good enough. Recognition of time constraints should never have ‘but’ as an addition.
So it seems to me that a sensible approach to real educational improvement would be to genuinely invest in our teachers: investment in time rather than empty but shiny initiatives imposed from who knows where; investment in genuine engagement with current research, not merely reading it; investment in proper and effective peer observation and collaboration. It’s not a selfish stance. I’m not complaining about my workload here. Teaching is a difficult but important job and the workload comes with it. I’d simply prefer that if I have to have that excessive workload then it should involve things that are helpful and important; not tedious box-ticking tasks which deflect me from the very thing I’m good at.
There are many teachers who do their best to access current research as much as possible, quite happy to do the extra when appropriate. However, it’s a soul destroying and dispiriting task when you realise that nothing is changing.; when you realise that, probably, teaching hasn’t changed much in the last ten years; when you realise that time is a valuable resource both in terms of school and life. The opportunity to change our educational system is here. I won’t get another chance in my career. And the financial resources required would indeed be an investment, not merely additional waste on a profligate profession. The gains could be immense; the impact on our classrooms huge. All it would take is bravery. From all of us.