When I started to teach more than 30 years ago I ‘joined the profession’, I took the status seriously. No-one told me how to dress, what to do in the classroom, how to behave ‘off duty’, how to organise my classes, how to mark the pupils’ work or how I must address naughty children. There were no ‘non-negotiables’, few policies, one observation per term for the first year only, no ‘work scrutiny’, no drop- ins, no ‘learning walks’, no ‘support plans’ and no annual appraisal.
There was an expectation that you would dress appropriately, plan effective lessons according to the schools’ scheme of work (in your own style: pedagogy wasn’t a word that any teacher would recognise), behave in a “professional” manner as a leading member of your community and representative of your school, be able to justify your classroom organisation, mark the pupils books, ensure discipline and be accountable for the results of your classes. The Head and her or his deputies would enter your class at any time, usually after a brief knock on the door but this was usually to conduct some business with you or your pupils; the rare observations were pre-arranged. Your Head of Department would talk to you regularly (no e-mails) and departments, Tutors or staff would meet monthly.
In other words I had a large degree of autonomy whilst remaining accountable and being inducted into a framework of unspoken expectation. The only time I heard the word ‘consistency’ was in relation to the thickness of the school custard and the aim was to ’empower’ teachers to use their initiative and creativity to extend their effectiveness and impact.
It worked. Almost all teachers that I knew responded with their best efforts and high standards: I see no improvement in teachers today. For a brief period as an employer of teachers I found an improvement in the basic skills of what used to be called “probationers” in the early 2000s but that seems to have evaporated with ITT. There were dire colleagues who were eased out, there are as many today. There were colleagues of questionable effectiveness who escaped the classroom for ‘extra responsibly’ as fast as possible, there is so much more scope for this today. There were lazy teachers that didn’t mark, there still are. There were teachers that were scruffy, still happens.
Here is the point: I felt like I had achieved something worthy being appointed a teacher, it wasn’t just a job it was a profession with status and responsibility. And now? I am a minion guided in every respect by inscribed instruction with failure ‘not-an-option’ and the dark shadow of Damocles’ sword marking my neck. I feel worth less with a lowered inclination to do what I can for my school; I have to concentrate on hoop-jumping not considering how to deploy my experience to best benefit for my institution.
Leaders: if you truly value your teachers, set them free. Let them accept their responsibilities; don’t hold their noses in it. Have courage, they will respond (mostly).
Teachers: fight for your autonomy. Question the red tape whilst modelling professionality. Argue less over pedagogy: cats can be skinned in so many ways, argue that it is your informed professional choice. Argue less over pen colour, point out it is a teachers domain not leaders’. Be professional and rescue the profession from the madness of micromanagement.
And never use the word consistency!