I got my knuckles mildly rapped on Friday for failing to provide the fortnightly data on my exam class. No matter that instead of setting a data-yielding past question, I had specifically directed them to spend an hour’s homework revising, in an attempt to bust their self-confessed reluctance to start preparing for their mocks (and had passed this information on). Apparently, this was insufficient reason for not providing the data; a rather rude word went through my head. I expect it will do so again tomorrow for my insufficient deployment of green pens.
A colleague has calculated that just to mark all his pupils’ work to the stipulated level requires in excess of sixteen hours’ work per week – in addition to all the other stuff he has to do. Knuckles can apparently get rapped for failing to achieve that, too.
I’ve just finished Tomsett’s book, with mixed feelings. I’m disappointed that he feels that the way to great learning is through great management; my experience suggests that overt management (at whatever level, including self) is as likely to make things worse as better. Better to remain nimble on one’s feet.
On the other hand, he clearly values his staff and knows that treating them well is the key to treating his pupils well – unlike a manager of another school who once told me that his attitude to his staff was “bullish”. To which one might as well add a ‘Y’. I’m afraid I simply don’t understand how anyone can think that antagonising people is the way to get the best from them. Quite apart from the inevitable psychological reaction, setting unachievable targets, for example, is a sure-fire way of corrupting the system.
Despite my tone, I don’t decry the ‘innovations’ that educational management has exposed us to; an awareness of, say, differentiation or effective feedback is a helpful addition to a teacher’s armoury. But these things largely happen all the time in classrooms anyway, in a thousand unobtrusive ways; the burden is proving it. The time taken doing this often detracts from just getting on with it.
Tomsett calls for an evidence-based profession, which is curious since much of the case he builds in his book is distinctly anecdotal. He cites healthcare as being evidence-based, despite the fact that many within it have big misgivings about this approach. Caring for people (as opposed to merely treating them) is distinctly heuristic, and ‘interventions’ are less cut-and-dried that it might seem. Judgment is still called for – and even in the Law, ‘evidence’ is often far from conclusive.
I wouldn’t have an issue with evidence if much had been forthcoming – for despite all the discussion, precious little has emerged that can be claimed as hard evidence for universally effective, specific practice. Even its proponents increasingly seem to be ring-fencing their findings with caveats. If hard evidence could indeed be produced, it would enable managers to direct teachers absolutely in what they should do – and there would be little argument to be had, for who could oppose ‘proven’ good practice? But would even that make for good teaching?
But the fact remains, much of what we are being directed to do is NOT proven. It is based on whim and managerial convenience and plain old petty, jumped-up bureaucracy. Where is the evidence that intensified written marking makes a substantive, universal difference to pupils? Where is the evidence that the colour of that marking improves their education? Where is the evidence that entering data on a spreadsheet makes a substantive difference to anyone except the bureaucrat whose job it is to check it?
From the current argument, teachers should not be required professionally to do anything except that which is proven to improve their pupils’ education, and perhaps some basic good housekeeping. (As always, I define that in opposition to the narrower (though sometimes necessary) objective of exam cramming).
On that basis I look forward to the forthcoming massive reduction in my workload.