Sunday, 10 January 2016

A teacher from the UK has a different idea of success than the government

Measuring up: base success on your students, not on mundane data
This term I had the most soul destroying conversation of my career. I was told by my ever supportive line manager that although the school wanted to award my pay rise, based on the hard work I had put in last year, the policy would not allow them to because the results in my department were not good enough. Instead, I would have to submit additional evidence, on top of the documents I’d already put forward to showcase the hours of work I had put in.

I understand performance-related pay is being rolled out across the country and, to a certain extent, I agree that any salary raise I get needs to be based on the fact that I do my job properly. So much rides on me doing a good job and there are a very small number of teachers who aren’t and are being unfair to their students.

I wasn’t despairing for my own career progression or bank balance; it just made me feel like the job was endless and that success was not a possibility. I was at a loss as to how I could work even harder than I did last year to improve student results. I can count on one hand the number of evenings I did not take work home in the whole of last year. It was such standard practice, my partner imposed a “work ban” on at least one evening every week. I always said no to plans in the week and shied away from weekend events as they would eat into my planning/marking time. The sad thing is that this is normal for many teachers today. But what can we do if giving everything we have still isn’t enough?

In the week after the conversation with my line manager, I was watching an episode from Channel 4’s Educating Cardiff (I clearly cannot get enough of our educational system) when I found the solution to my problem. Mr Hennessy, a male teacher in the show, stole my teacher heart. It was not because he can roll out outstanding lessons all day every day, or because he gets the best results in the school, but because of the time, effort and compassion he gives to the students. Don’t get me wrong, he’s not unusual – every day I see exhausted, overworked and disillusioned teachers doing everything they can to enrich, support and challenge their pupils. But he reminded me of what’s important in the job – the students.

It was then I realised I needed to find my own measures of success to bring back my faith in my own capability and restore my love for my work. I will always fail to understand the measures of success that our government and schools use because they do not take into account some of the most important aspects of my job. So, here is my criteria. I am successful at my job when:

My students understand the complex material that I present to them in class.
I can excite students about a topic they have never given a second thought to before.
Students question what I am telling them.
Students leave my classroom discussing what they have learned with me.
Students in my classroom are happy and laughing together, not at each other.
A student feels safe to express themselves freely in my classroom.
I see my students supporting one another with their work.
A student is proud of the progress they have made.
I can comfort, support and get a smile out of a student going through the most traumatic of life experiences at too young an age.
I instil confidence and self-esteem in the most fragile and vulnerable of my students.
My students feel successful.
My own measures of success are based on my students because they are why I do this job and why I still love it. These measures are difficult to remember in an environment consumed by data, paperwork, observations, inspections and unrealistic expectations, but they were well worth writing down. I would encourage any teacher to do the same.

On the last day of the Christmas term I found a letter in my pigeon hole informing me that I was being granted my pay rise after all (the additional evidence must have made the difference). But even that cannot make me forget the conversation and the impact it had on my career enjoyment and aspirations. I now know I am working in a sector where the systems and expectations mean I will always be seen to be “failing” in some respect. But when I look at my own measures of success, I know I am damn good at my job and that is why I will show up at work every day.

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