Blog: Just a teacher

Here are the descriptors of good teaching, learning and assessment, as published in the most recent edition of the Ofsted School Inspection Handbook:
Picture1 Blog

The verbs that I’ve highlighted in red suggest that teaching good lessons and creating a stable environment conducive to good quality learning, as defined by Ofsted, requires a broad range of skills:

challenge, support, review, tackle, expect, encourage, promote.

They also emphasise the importance of teacher knowledge and expertise in enabling this to happen:

help, reinforce, develop, consolidate, deepen, identify, intervene, plan, probe, build, set.

I don’t believe that any single element of the Ofsted framework, taken on its own merit, seems particularly unfair or unachievable.  In fact, I’d argue that, in many ways, the framework is rather pleasing because it goes some way to dispelling the myth that the ability to teach a good lesson is borne out of a mystical innate ability possessed only by a lucky few.  Equally, it’s notable that, mercifully, none of the descriptors suggest that teachers should strive to imitate John Keating or LouAnne Johnson in a clumsy and awkward attempt to inspire or engage.  However, beyond this, and above all, I think the verbs that I retrieved help to clarify the considerable amount of work that teachers are expected to do on a daily basis, lesson after lesson, inside and outside of the classroom.

Teaching a single good lesson, as defined by Ofsted, isn’t easy to do – but it’s clearly something that can be done.  Look down the checklist again: each bullet-point seems reasonable enough.  However, teaching five of those lessons to the same standard, on consecutive days, is clearly an entirely different prospect.  Consistency is draining, which is one of the reasons why I think it’s a great shame that there can be a tendency to dismiss the value and importance of teachers who have chosen not take on additional responsibilities (or who, it should be said, refrain from loudly proclaiming how very hard they are working).

It’s not uncommon to hear the adverb just used to qualify statements about full-time teaching jobs:  I’m just a teacher – I just teach – just a teaching job.  Whilst it’s clearly the case that teachers take on different roles for a wide variety of reasons, I think we should be cautious as a profession about fetishising management and leadership roles, and creating an unhealthy pressure to ‘progress’.

Teaching is a largely unglamorous pursuit, and one that bears very little resemblance to the heroic narratives offered up by Hollywood in the form of The Dead Poets Society and Dangerous Minds.  It’s bloody hard work, and this is one of the reasons why the value and status of classroom teachers should not be dismissed.  From a management or leadership perspective, whilst other gnarly pressures clearly exist, it can be easy to have a sort of sanitised view of the realities of teaching a full timetable.  This moment in time provides a decent snapshot of some of those realities: think of all the work that a teacher responsible for, say, two exam classes has done over the past six weeks.

So, back to the Ofsted framework…  Good quality teaching requires particular skills that can clearly be developed, but take time to fully emerge.  Teachers aren’t heroes, and it’s ridiculous to think they are.  However, despite how easy (and convenient) it might be to forget sometimes, we should value the work that teachers on a full timetable complete with quiet efficiency each and every day.  Schools are only ever as good as the teachers that teach in them, and it’s classroom teachers who do the vast majority of that teaching.

Thanks for reading –

Doug

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