At the chalkface: Teach like nobody is watching!

Written by: Ian Whitwham | Published:

We must be trusted. We must be allowed to teach like nobody’s watching. Maybe we’ve reached some kind of tipping point, maybe there’s nothing more to lose – maybe we can reclaim our classrooms...

“Teach like Nobody’s Watching!”

This is the title of a new and timely book by Mark Ensor. Absolutely. We need to stop pleasing and appeasing “outside observers”.

But is it quite that easy?

How can you teach like nobody’s watching, when a mean, malign Medusa gaze paralyses you more than ever? How can you pretend it’s not there? And keep your job?

Ah, for the golden age, when we were trusted to teach how and what we wanted. My PGCE year tumbled with thrilling ideas, a fierce and often countercultural pedagogy. We learned that good teaching was complex, tough, nuanced – and always political.

We learned that you had to find our own way of doing it. Then off we went to unleash our idealism on the inner city classrooms of Albion, gunslingers in the New Jerusalem, often a bit loony, utopian and daft. No matter, most of us became pretty good. The children seemed to like it. The classroom was dynamic. Dull it wasn’t. The only “outside observers” were inspectors – who were sussed, empathetic and wise.

My goodness, it’s changed.

The rot set in with the National Curriculum in 1988 and got more rotten with the dread Ofsted in 1992. For years we managed to duck and weave and fight them off. Sometimes literally. One chum locked a pernickety inspector in a cupboard. Another got a particularly clueless one in a headlock, while giving him a passionate and comprehensive defence of her pedagogy.

Both somehow survived. We still had some power.

Then we didn’t. Then Gove occurred with blizzards of rigorous edicts. We were trusted less and less and had little control over the syllabus.

We Taught to the Test. Or else. Most “outside observers” felt like the enemy. Our classrooms felt occupied.

Odd jargoned persons barged into our lessons – line managers, business gurus, hedge-funders, behaviour-management gurus, perky consultants, Feng Shui gurus and Tory politicians invaded our once inviolate space to check we were on-message, on-task.

We became ventriloquists for Ofsted, peddling a syllabus in which we couldn’t believe.

We had to be seen to teach it.

They had us by the modules.

Some teachers ploughed on regardless.

Others just jacked it in or went barmy or conked out.

So it went.

And so it goes…

Then the Svengali Dominic Cummings joined forces with Gove. It didn’t get better. Gavin Williamson is presently in charge, bullying teachers with his silly machismo and gunboat pedagogy.

So this book is important. We must be trusted. We must be allowed to teach like nobody’s watching. Maybe we’ve reached some kind of tipping point, maybe there’s nothing more to lose – maybe we can reclaim our classrooms...

  • Ian Whitwham is a teacher of English, now retired, who spent many years working in the state school system of inner city London. He has written for SecEd since 2003. Read his most recent articles at http://bit.ly/2UIMd1O



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