English teacher Edna Welthorpe explains why she's fighting against changes to the profession she loves.
Just over a month ago, a dear friend and fellow teacher sent me a link to comments made by Michael Gove about teachers. She was horrified by what she was reading and wanted to share her incredulity. The whole article left me flabbergasted but four things immediately stood out and I posted about them on my social media outlets. They were:
- “At the moment they are required to work 32.5 hours of which 10% of time is planning, preparation and assessment time, i.e. not in the classroom. I think the question is that teachers should work as long as is required to do the job."
- “Every child should expect that they should leave school with at least a C pass in English and maths.”
- “I would rather, for the sake of argument, that you had one teacher who was brilliant teaching sixteen children than two groups of eight with indifferent teaching for those two groups."
- “…an unexamined hypothesis which I would contest… is that there are children who can't get five A to Cs including English and maths. Show me those children."
Could he have done anything more to show how out of touch he is with the profession he is supposed to represent?
How could I respond?
My initial reaction was to contact Mr Gove and invite him to shadow me for a full week, at school and at home, working days and the weekend. This would demonstrate to him that teachers are already “working as long as is required to do the job”, not just the 32.5 hours he quoted. It would show him how far off the mark his 8 or 16 pupil class sizes really are. It would allow me to introduce him to children who, for a variety of reasons, simply are not capable of achieving five A* to Cs including English and maths. It would also allow me to show him that not being able to reach that level of formal education doesn’t mean those individuals can’t be of value to society.
What good would such an offer have done, though? Mr Gove would surely have politely turned me down. My next thought was to keep a timesheet and send it to him. I mentioned this in the staff room and it met with such positive responses that I decided to take it to a wider audience. That Saturday, I started a new account on Twitter, @TeachFightBack and the #sendGoveyourtimesheet hashtag were born.
Within a couple of hours @TeachFightBack was trending and by the end of the weekend it had over 600 followers. Over 1,100 people downloaded the timesheet template. The generic response from Gove's subordinate, which refers to teachers as a “workforce” rather than a “profession”, angered many. The popularity of the Twitter account grew.
Why are teachers so upset?
These comments were the straw that broke the camel’s back for many hard-working and dedicated teachers, who were insulted by the implications. As a profession, we have felt under attack from the coalition government: detrimental changes to pensions and working conditions; insecurity surrounding the creation of academies; mounting pressure to hit targets; changes to examination specifications; changes to the Ofsted framework, which seem to many to be making it harder and harder to be considered good at your job. The reputation of teachers already appears to be at an all-time low. Respect for the profession is diminished if the public have their perception of teachers tarnished by comments such as these, ultimately making teaching harder because parents don't trust us or back us up.
More than a job
I vividly remember my university interview for my teacher training course, despite it being more than a decade ago. I told the interviewer that teaching is “a vocation, not merely a job or a career” and I stand by that. As my aforementioned friend so eloquently put it, “teaching is not what I do for a living, rather a teacher is what I am - it defines me.” This is why comments such as Gove’s cut us so deeply. The vast majority of teachers are dedicated to their work and to the young people they encounter daily. They are passionate about both teaching and their subjects. They regularly go above and beyond the call of duty to support their charges. Instead of feeling valued, many of these professionals believe that their integrity is being called into question, their years of experience are devalued and their expertise goes unacknowledged.
Harder than ever
Like most seasoned teachers, I have a wealth of resources to draw upon and years of experience to support me. One would think this would make life easier, yet somehow I still find myself working more and more hours just to be able to “do the job”. The correspondence I’ve received since starting the @TeachFightBack account shows I am not alone. The work/life balance in teaching is constantly tilting, and not in the favour of life. Many who contacted me have either already left the profession or are seriously considering doing so. Some have gone part-time yet say their 0.4 timetable and salary do not equate to only working 0.4 of their evenings, weekends and holidays. The only truly happy teachers who have contacted me have been those who work overseas in international schools. One told me that, despite having 85% of pupils who are not native English speakers, the results at her school are just as good as results in the UK and her work/life balance is vastly superior to ours. So what are we doing wrong in this country?
Changes to pensions, fears over pay and conditions and constantly increasing pressures are doing nothing to entice new blood into schools. The goalposts are not just moving; they are shrinking. Britain is in danger of losing her best teachers and being unable to replace them. Comments such as those made by Mr Gove are not merely thoughtless or uninformed, they are dangerous. That’s why I started @TeachFightBack; that’s what we need to make the government and Mr Gove understand.
Edna Welthorpe, a 30-something English teacher from West Yorkshire, explains what motivated her to take to Twitter in the fight against changes to the teaching profession