Regular readers of this column will know that much of my focus is on how to improve the status of teachers. Indeed, over the years that I have written for SecEd, we have discussed everything from the portrayal of teachers in the media to the public’s perception of them, from morale to pay.
These themes have usually been chosen in response to ever-increasing evidence that teachers feel undervalued in their role. Morale among teachers is “dangerously low” and has “declined dramatically in recent months”, an NUT survey revealed in January.
In June this year, Sir Michael Wilshaw talked about the “indifferent teaching” that pupils were being “consigned” to, as he raised the notion of a network of “national service teachers” that would improve standards. In 2012, the Ofsted chief also suggested teachers and headteachers “too often make excuses for poor performance – it’s just too hard, the children are too difficult, the families are too unsupportive, this job is far too stressful”.
A year earlier, 79 per cent of the teachers who responded to a Teacher Support Network survey felt that the media did not present a positive image of teachers. Just over a quarter (26 per cent) believed that more positive media coverage could help to improve the public perception of teachers.
Of course, work is being done to redress the balance. The work of the unions, the Teaching Awards and reality TV shows are highlighting what really happens in schools. There are some positive signs: 83 per cent of teachers said they “loved their job” in May 2013. The survey of 2,000 professionals, commissioned by Surbiton High School, showed that teachers beat secretaries, engineers, accountants, lawyers and tradesmen, among others, claim to the top spot.
As you may recall from my last column, research from the Education and Employers’ Taskforce found that teaching was still one of the top professions that 15 to 16-year-olds aspire to.
So what else can be done to improve the status of teachers? I was recently directed to a YouTube video of an American boy calling himself Kid President. In the four-minute “pep-talk to teachers and students”, the 10-year-old explains the importance of teachers and teaching, or in his words how “it’s time to get our learn on”.
If you have not seen the video – and I strongly urge you to watch it, particularly if you are one of those teachers struggling to remember the positive sides of teaching – the Kid President asks the question: what are you teaching the world?
He gives his own examples: “Don’t be a bully. Don’t even be a bully to the bullies. It just makes more bullies”; “life’s a school, but you gotta show up”; and “what if Shakespeare didn’t go to school? His plays would be even more confusing!”
Towards the end of his talk, the Kid President explains the importance of teachers: “Teachers see things. They can see when you are running down the hall, when you are passing notes, but can also see what you might become.”
It is a cute video and one that will bring a smile to even the most hardened of teachers, but it raises an interesting question in itself.
If like Kid President, our pupils and young people already have huge respect for teachers – then when do we start to lose respect for teachers? Is it when we leave school? Is it when we start work? Is it when we have our own children at school? Or do we just forget the respect we had during our time as students?
In his video, Kid President suggests “it is time to be more awesome”. Perhaps he is right. There is, of course, always room for improvement, growth and professional development. For the rest of us, perhaps it is time to remember just how awesome our teachers were – and still are.
Further informationYou can watch the Kid President's pep talk for teachers on YouTube at www.youtube.com/watch?v=RwlhUcSGqgs
Julian Stanley is chief executive of the Teacher Support Network. Visit www.teachersupport.info or call 08000 562 561 (England), 08000 855088 (Wales).