The War on Mediocrity

It’s late and I can’t sleep. Need to get this out so I can clear my mind.

Its election season and I knew I shouldn’t have read the news on the way to work this morning.  It is full of stupid political announcements designed purely for winning votes rather than improving education. I was in a positive mood and looking forward to the week ahead. By the end of my train journey my mood soured. It had been tested over the weekend by utter drivel from people responsible for our Education System, but Mr Cameron, the leader of our country, sent me over the edge. So he is going to wage an ‘all out war on mediocrity’? I know he probably didn’t mean it, but in one misjudged comment about standards he has managed to upset me, and I guess a lot of my colleagues in the teaching profession. Does he think we as teachers aspire to mediocracy?

So how did my mediocre day shape up?

5.00am – Wake up

5.15am – Over coffee I review my lessons that I had planned the night before. Made a few tweaks to try and improve them.

5.45am – Spend 20 minutes talking to my partner, who is also a teacher. We discuss a boy who is having difficulty behaving in her Year 9 German class and discuss possible solutions to improve the behaviour.

6.30am – Make the worse mistake of the day by reading news on the train.

7.15am – Arrive at school and finish marking AS PE essays on processing models, trying to give detailed feedback in the process.

8.00am – Departmental Diary meeting to go through all fixtures and practices for the week ahead, PMR observations and any issues. Send out email of action points to non PE staff who teach in lessons or coach extra-curricular sport.

8.15am – Meet with S, a boy in Year 11, who has put on considerable weight. He wants me to help him plan a weight loss and training programme. I make an appointment for Wednesday lunchtime. That will give me some time to plan.

8.25am – Tutor Time – class debate on the political situation currently in Greece after giving them some background reading on Friday.

8.50am – Teach Year 8 Philosophy looking at absolute and relativist philosophy. Have an in-depth discussion about the Queen vs. Dudley and Stephens.

10.10am – Meeting with chair of local Lacrosse club to build school-club links.

11.00am – Meet with Sport England rep to set up table tennis satellite club at school.

11.30am – Breaktime – meet with HoD in Art, Music and teacher in charge of debating to discuss amalgamating our individual colours systems into a whole school programme with a Performing Arts Award night. Successful meeting with lots of action points.

12.00pm – Teach Year 7 Football – mediocre at best.

1.20pm – Lunch Time – Run Parkour Club for our group of young men with ‘anger management’ issues. Allow them to let off ‘some steam’.

2.00pm – Teach Year 9 Basketball – light bulb moment with bottom set. They move, they pass, they shoot, they enjoy!

3.25pm – Attend CPD session with Ed Psychologist on strategies on how to deal with children with Asperger’s. Write up notes and to share with my department.

4.30pm – Join U13 Football training for last 30 minutes and work with small group on defensive heading. Slip in the mud on a demo. Slapstick comedy is still popular with boys of a certain age, but they haven’t heard of Buster Keaton. Philistines.

5.00pm – Run a HIT training in the gym for 12 colleagues. We are looking to complete Tough Mudder together in May, so doing this for team building and our own health and wellbeing.

5.45pm – Leave school and on the train read a journal article on the use of mindfulness in preparing to coach or mentor, required reading for my Masters in Leadership

6.30pm – Cook for my partner

7.00pm – Partner arrives from work. We eat together and talk about work. Her about a Teaching and Learning session after school on feedback and team selection for the cross country team she runs, me about the strategies I learn about in CPD.

7.45pm – My partner settles down to German and French Marking. I finish planning my 5 minute Teach Eat session on Working Memory for tomorrow morning.

8.30pm – I mark my Philosophy books from this mornings lesson, respond to emails and check my lessons for tomorrow.

9.45pm – Curl up on the sofa by myself and watch an episode of Broadchurch.

10.30pm – I find myself wide awake lying in bed…..

I don’t write this for plaudits. I don’t write this because I’m a martyr. And no Mr Hunt I do not write this because I am a moaner.  I write because this is what many of my colleagues do on a day to day basis.  This is what in my experience is a typical day of a teacher, and compared to my partner it is light (she is still marking away next to me and has been since finishing dinner). If this is mediocracy then I don’t think I can do much more. At times when reflecting on my day I’m pleased that I’ve managed to reach that level in my lessons such is the relenting workload and the level of scrutiny we are under. My academic colleagues seem to spend as much time gaining evidence as they do preparing for lessons, teaching lessons and giving feedback to students. All in the name of quality assurance, accountability, target setting, PRP and excellence. No ‘revolution’ in education will come if workload is not addressed. By the way how is that going Mrs Morgan?

There is no quick fix in education. Things take time to change, to be implemented, to be refined. In trying to improve there is always going to be an element of risk. A risk that we might get things wrong or fail. Isn’t education in itself a risk? We don’t set out to deliberately fail as teachers, or to fail our students. I know its only anecdotal but 99% of the teachers I have worked with or know are conscientious and hardworking individuals with only their students best interests at heart. None of them ever strive for mediocracy, but much more. If they fail to achieve that they look critically at themselves. Are people in charge of our ‘mediocre’ education system also being that self reflective?

It is simply not realistic to try to create an environment where excellence and success must be achieved first time, every time, in everything we do. It puts all who work in education, including the children, under so much pressure. Even more so with the threat of being sacked over you. Who would want to work in an environment like that, let alone lead one? If there is any truth in the popularisation of the ‘10,000’ hour rule it means that we might not become expert practitioners for at least 5 to 7 years. Is it right then we have a system that pushes people to leave before they have a chance to practice and hone their craft? So what do politicians do to make this easier? A sweeping reform of curriculum and examination changes in primary and secondary. The goal posts change yet again. So the process of implementing and refining starts over again. With this in mind is it any wonder mediocracy is apparent? I’m actually surprised that level is even reached. I know I’m not an excellent or outstanding teacher. I probably never will be, especially with all the other responsibilities I have. However what I do, like many in the teaching profession, is try to be just a little bit better everyday. Now that can never be called mediocre.

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6 thoughts on “The War on Mediocrity

  1. As ever, a great post and crucial information for all of us to ponder and to reflect on. I don’t agree with you that Mr Cameron “…probably didn’t mean it…”. He meant it exactly because this type of statement and, more importantly, dominant cultural narrative allows the Government to shrink the state and shift public utility into the hand of private venture (vulture would be a better description) capitalists. Make no mistake whatsoever, this is a distinct shift in that direction. For anyone who thinks I am being extreme please leave this post and google “Lord Nash”. Read about our Academies Minister’s background, recent history and financial relationship with the Tory party. Read about how he has destroyed the governing bodies of academy schools so that he and his wife may dictatorially manage them. Read how he received £75,000,000 in funding to manage the academies project and read how he manipulates the Work Fare scheme to make more money.

    You make an optimistic assumption that our Government wishes to raise standards in education by squeezing teachers and managers – they don’t! For them the system is working perfectly. Young people are maligned, teachers are maligned, we all look at each other and blame uncontrollable variables rather than realising that we are at an inflection point in history. Instead we must unite and face the common enemy. The era when we could trust politicians is over! Politicians are not policy makers, nor public servants but the face of the corporate world and predatory capitalism. Let me be clear: The war on mediocrity is a war on state controlled education in England and Wales and Cameron’s statement is simply sewing the seeds of the inevitable lurch towards private management of public assets.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lord ‘do more with less’ Nash is someone I know of and in terms of his involvement in education I dislike immensely. I try to stay optimistic because I don’t think I could continue to work if I didn’t, even though I know I’m fortunate being in the school I am in. Perhaps my optimism is born out of naivety and a lack of real understanding of where education is going under the policy makers we have in charge currently. There does seem to be a lot of aggressive language being used in the press at the moment like ‘war’, ‘fight’,’battle and ‘warriors’ and this upsets me when used in conjunction with state education. Perhaps you are right and I just can’t see it, however when was the last time the whole teaching profession was united?

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  2. Reblogged this on KitAndrew and commented:
    This is, quite frankly, fabulous and a mirror on our daily existence as educators, be it secondary, primary, EYFS….the level of care extraordinary…as in put of the ordinary…except it isn’t in terms of it being the norm for a great many teachers…and THAT I’s EXTRAORDINARY.

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    1. Thank you commenting and reblogging Kit, I really appreciate that. I do feel that perception from the public and many policy makers is that we do very little, our holidays mean we have it easy and that anybody could rock up and do our job better than us. These perceptions are unhealthy and need to be challenged. We have enough on our plate with workload without others outside of the profession thinking we could be mediocre.

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      1. I have a bee in my bonnet regarding public perception of the profession…it’s caused by a perfect storm of factors…some you’ve covered…others we as a profession create and that includes our unions. but that’s a blog for another day!

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