A couple of weeks ago I got it both barrels from a colleague.
Bob is an experienced member of staff. I approached him whilst he was at the photocopier preparing for his lesson. I wished him a Happy New Year and asked how the start of his term was going.
‘Have you come to fit your tongue in my groove? I’m surprised your doing that with me as I can’t give you a promotion.’ I didn’t have a response to this and went silent. Inside I was fuming and I wanted to snap. I wanted to scream in his face, but my upbringing kicked in. I still call my father ‘Sir’. He is that sort of man.
Trembling with anger I calmly asked what was up. The issue it seemed was a lot of things. Many deep rooted and have been troubling me since we finished our ‘conversation’. But I suppose the thing that set him off was a recent email regarding ‘observation fortnight.’ A voluntary initiative for staff to engage in observing each other for PD over the upcoming weeks.
This had upset him and he mockingly quoted parts of my email back to me. He questioned the point of observation at all, explaining very kindly to me that only a real subject specialist could tell him how to teach his subject. A fair point which I agreed with. He also didn’t want someone coming in and watching him teach. He had enough of that over the last 5 years. A languages teacher, a historian and a drama studies teacher all telling him if his students had made expected progress in his lessons. Whether his teaching methods were the best suited suited to his subject. Basically telling him what to do. This because his teaching methods weren’t considered ‘modern’, although his grades were respectable year on year.
He then proceeded to explain to me that CPD was a waste of time. He’s spent countless hours in after school CPD, being lectured to about this and that new thing which would revolutionise his teaching. There was no follow up afterwards. No one offering him support. Just as he put it ‘a young teacher showing off ideas that really had no place in his classroom’, all so that they could place their tongue in the groove of the next person up the chain. Where was the CPD and support on behavioural management when he needed it in his career? If he couldn’t control a class, then it was the quality of his teaching to blame. Where was the CPD on subject knowledge? Reading books and attending lectures on his subject, to deepen and strengthen his knowledge have never been considered CPD, but without it he wouldn’t be a teacher of his subject. He would be SLT!
I should interrupt. I should stop him. But the honesty I’m getting is incredible. My anger has turned to fascination and worry. How could a school system get things so wrong, that it could make an experienced member of staff feel like this; unappreciated, undervalued and distrusted.
Bob then turned his attention to the re telling of five colleagues who had left the school or the profession in the last three years due to capability. He kindly explained, to a layman like myself, that the mentor-coach system I’ve been trying to implement was going to go no where, and was considered a ‘joke’. His response when I asked him why was ‘well in the last decade, if you got a mentor, you were basically in the shit and were next on the hit list’. The use of coaching or mentoring has, because of capability, been seen as the teacher having a deficit in their teaching. It has become a stick to beat a teacher with, in Bob’s eyes, along with many other experienced colleagues. So a possible model of improvement and professional development has lost any importance or power because of its negative uses.
I’ve reflected on this conversation many times in the last few weeks. When I got involved in CPD provision and Teaching and Learning I thought I was going to be a solution to the problems that many staff had with the system of provision. I clearly see now that is was a hugely naive and a presumptuous thought. Perhaps I’m just another step in continuation of the issues? Changing PD to more become more flexible, allow choice and staff to be recognised for what they already do to improve themselves does not fix the underlying issues, which are not systematic but cultural. Accountability and quality assurance is important, as my SLT say ‘the child has only one chance at school’. That shouldn’t be seen as a way of getting rid of teachers by making their working lives unmanageable. If a teacher has reached that point, surely we first need to be more self-reflective and ask ourselves how have we failed and allowed this to happen before fingers are pointed. The issue is that no matter what system is in place, if it is bankrupt of kindness, understanding, empathy and a touch of humanity then it will never succeed in its ultimate aim – that of teacher improvement.
How do you change a professional development culture that has been turned toxic, by the very system that was put in place to promote it?