Saturday, 22 August 2015

Secret Teacher - a response.

I rarely write political or commentary blogs, preferring to stick to talking about what I know (i.e. teaching maths and leading a maths department). However after becoming involved in a discussion with @siobhanorb and @andylutwyche on twitter about the latest Secret Teacher article I felt the need to expand on the problems some people are finding with the articles and also the responses to them.

First off let me say I at least partially agree with @andylutwyche in particular; the secret teacher is giving us one view of education based on their personal experience and we shouldn't try to invalidate their experience just because we don't agree with it. The problem that I, and many others, have with the articles is that they always seem to support a negative view of the profession and there is a real danger that the public will take these individual and sometimes isolated experiences as indicative of the profession itself. Unfortunately too many of the responses, particularly online, are negative themselves, attacking the writer for their view even when they do only speak from their own experience. I would much rather see us as a profession acknowledge these experiences, and use our response to paint the different picture of the profession that many of us see. So here is my response to the Secret Teacher.

Dear Secret Teacher,

I am really sorry to hear that you are not looking forward to the start of the new term; and I can understand why that may be the case if you have felt under-supported in the last year. I do hope you choose to stick with it for a bit longer; you will find these things easier as time goes on and hopefully it will mean that in a few years time you will be in a position to use your negative experience to ensure that new entrants to the profession get a more positive one, by supporting them in the ways that you know you needed the support yourself.

It was really nice to see that you didn't blame others for not supporting you, but rather that you recognised that people had a huge amount on their own agenda and that was limiting their opportunities to help you. I know it can seem that everybody around you is too busy to help, and speaking as a Head of Maths of a few years experience I can tell you that you can approach your department lead and experienced team members at any time. We know that the success of our pupils and our teams is dependent on you developing well and feeling confident in your work (as well as retaining your expertise to create a consistent experience for our pupils). I have 3 NQTs joining my department next year and will make sure that I am holding sessions to support marking, report writing etc but my new staff will be clear that they should approach me or their assigned department mentor at any time if things are difficult. If you find that you are asking for support and not getting it, can I then suggest you try another school before giving it all up; you may find that a new environment will suit you better.

As a new teacher you may not have a wider awareness yet, but can I suggest you take care over comments that can paint a profession that many people love and are heavily invested in a negative light. In recent years the profession has taken a lot of stick from the government and the media in particular, and for teachers to validate this view doesn't help us change things for the positive. For example you talk about people you trained with leaving the profession, but don't speak about all those hundreds of people who would have been in your overall cohort (taking all subjects training into account) that will be continuing in the profession and have had a very positive experience. My suggestion is that if you have (completely valid I might add) points to make that your experience has not been ideal, that you try and give the balanced view and also that you reflect a little more and suggest ways you might have improved your own experience. This way your writing will become more about advising other people that may be struggling rather than simply expounding your own woes to the world.

If you do choose to stay this year then I hope that you find the experience better and that you find yourself more supported and more confident. If you continue to struggle I hope you will reflect on your experiences of the first year and use any insights to support yourself and others through the difficulties.

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