You will no doubt have heard the claim that the average pupil only gets one minute a day of personal attention from a teacher. I’ve quoted it often enough, but have long-since lost touch with the original reference. Time to hit Google. Embarrassingly, I couldn’t find it. What I did find, however, was anecdotal but far more interesting.
The English Teachers Network in Israel has a fantastic page for its members called The Best Teacher Ever. It’s some 30-odd anecdotes, mainly from their members, about the teachers they recall as being the most important in their own education.
Some favourite quotes:
He was the one person who really understood me and he changed my life dramatically and i forever thank him for that.
He was respectful of us as pupils, he knew how to listen,
I felt most confortable in the environment he set up and it was fun every day. I had hated math up until that point, but he taught me to love it!
and one that I suspect may be from a current student:
My best teacher is funny and makes learning fun, she has black curly hair and wears cool boots.
While I was reading and enjoying these (do read them yourself!) it occurred to me that in any other service industry it is standard practise to follow-up former customers and solicit feedback. I’ve never before seen this done in Education.
A few themes leaped right out as I was reading. “Fun” is without doubt the most oft-cited criterion. There’s a more diffuse set of criteria around individual contact; ability to explain, to listen and to empathise all seemed to be highly valued. Notable by its absence was any mention of exam or test results, yet this is what the government insists on measuring teachers by.
Take a moment, if you will, to imagine how you might organise a school to maximise fun, listening, empathising and explaining so that students really understood. How about a clapometer in assemblies? Or rewarding teachers according to how much laughter is heard in their classrooms? Or polling parents about which subject their offspring talk most enthusiastically about?
All very well, I heasr you say, but to maximise one thing, you must first minimise another. On my hitlist are curriculum and marking.
I’d junk a good two-thirds of the curriculum. It’s fair that basic literacy and numeracy should be mandatory, but let’s allow the rest to arise from teachers’ desire to teach and students’ desire to learn. If the goal is to inspire, the choice of content is not critical, but personal commitment to it is.
Equally importantly, I would also ban or automate tasks that numb teachers’ minds like marking tests or filling in meaningless forms. You can’t be expected to exude fun and inspiration if your own brain is fogged by tedium.
And there would need to be a fair bit of retraining at Ofsted. What are the chances, do you think, of an Ofsted report praising a teacher for her cool boots?