Education, education, education

A third of all newly qualified teachers leave after the first year. Matthew Reeves thinks he knows why

A third of all newly qualified teachers leave after the first year. The biggest mystery is why they last that long. Teaching is the worst job on the planet. The days of nurturing a child into a vivid world of reading, writing and 'rithmatic are many sweaty miles away on the treadmill of time. All you have now are kids with just enough ability to know how to be abusive, and it's your job to paint a brighter future for them than the one that made you take up the profession, all the while trying to squeeze out of them how tall Sam's ladder needs to be if he wants to hold it 50cm away from a wall and break into the top window of JJB Sports three metres up.

Every job, from binman to barman, has a solid goal. Rid Berwick-on-Tweed of all the black bags by 12pm every day so the residents can enjoy a clean and sanitary retirement. Maximise drinks sold per hour, per staff member. Upsell to more expensive drinks. Create an environment that panders to as many of most people's insecurities as possible, and charge them for the pleasure. Worried you're ugly, loveless, and look stupid dancing? Come on down to Dr. Wetherspoon's Wonder Emporium where the lights are dim and our potion's cool.

There's no such goal for the teaching business. Even if you wanted to become the best teacher in the world, you couldn't. There is no way of rating teachers on their quality, apart from RateMyTeachers.com, which doesn't count. As long as teachers don't operate badly enough to be fired, they are safe. If you were in a job that secure but targetless, how would you incentivise yourself? Aside from firing up MS Publisher and printing off your own rainbow-titled certificates as a futile attempt at encouragement, there's little to drive a teacher to do their job any better, or even any differently.

Teachers are stuck in a rut slowly grinding away at the National Curriculum. Yes, that old faithful which sounds like a huge great tablet sent down from on high, like that thing the guy in the Bible got hold of, or the Asda pledge. It seems to me that whoever is bestowed with the power of carving the curriculum should have the predictive ability of the best Wall Street speculator, but the reality is that they're likely to be someone who thinks living just outside Wall Street in a tent in winter is a good plan for the future. They should be the most incredible, forward-looking thinkers, people who analyse, hypothesise and dream about where each sector of the economy is heading. What skills will students need? What knowledge will make it easiest for them to become billionaires? But that isn't the thinking in education. Education doesn't work on how to add value. It works on looking at what things we used to teach because at some point someone thought they might be useful. Like oxbow lakes. There is no need for me to know what one is. I've never seen one.

Think of your whole life as about adding value to yourself, and about what you're doing each day to do so. Should I teach myself what I want to learn because it's what I see as useful, or should I just keep paddling round and round the same old river like everyone else?

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