As the new school term begins, many former secondary school pupils are preparing to take up their places to study at university. One of my own children is included in this cohort and as he prepared to pack and began saying his farewells to friends and family, I was struck by the fact that he and many of his circle took the time to go back to say thank you and to share the excitement of their A level successes with the teachers who had supported, inspired, cajoled and mentored them through their secondary education.
I recalled how I did the same all those years ago and I was touched (as I think the staff were) that these young people recognised the time, sweat and hard work of teachers. It was a clear demonstration of something that is seldom acknowledged in many sections of the media (and, therefore, the public) – namely that many young people respect and value their teachers.
Teachers change lives. Take the teachers who inspired you. Their lessons have stayed with you all this time. Do they know what you have gone on to achieve? Do they know that without them, you might not have got through college, that you might not have earned your teaching qualification, that you might not be able to ignite the curiosity of your students? Do they know that a part of them stays with you, motivating you to be a more inspirational teacher?
As individuals, and as a society, we ought to recognise that teachers are responsible for life-changing work and we should not shrink from expressing it in such bold terms.
While the people educating our children are precious, we must not forget that they are people. This means that, like all of us, they will flourish when they are offered support, training, acknowledgement and encouragement. Like all of us, they need praise and credit when it is due. As children we knew this. Our children realise it when, with exam results in their hands, they offer their excited thank you.
The recent issues with GCSE grading showed how the role of the teacher can be so easily undermined and served to remind of the direct impact of policy decisions. It is a disservice to teachers and their students to constantly say that standards are falling when in fact the system is complex and ever-changing. These teachers have worked hard to encourage and enable pupils from all backgrounds to realise their potential.
We should value what works and this means appreciating what is good about the people working in our schools. When instead we place conscious (and unconscious) political pressures upon those who are responsible for the education system, it is no wonder that teachers become demoralised. The support lines at Teacher Support Network see the direct impact of this every day.
As a society, do we risk putting people off teaching if we divert teachers’ energy into administering year-on-year change within the system itself? With new reports that the lack of control over decision-making and an overemphasis on managerial “control” increases the risk of health problems in the workplace, now is the time for politicians and policy-makers to recognise that punitive approaches seldom succeed.
Rather, teachers need to be involved in making the decisions that affect them. It must be through genuine engagement with teachers and their representative bodies that future educational initiatives are planned and implemented.
As a father, I want teachers to feel appreciated. World Teachers’ Day (next Friday, October 5) will be when many people make time to say thank you to the teacher in their life. However, as important as this is, the real challenge facing fathers, mothers, students and citizens is to change the way we value teachers within 21st century Britain.
We need teachers to be recognised more often as people. It is only then that they can truly be recognised as experts in the field of education.
Julian Stanley is chief executive of the Teacher Support Network. Visit www.teachersupport.info or call 08000 562 561 (England), 08000 855088 (Wales).