An Open Letter to Mr Tristram Hunt, Shadow Education Secretary.
Dear Mr Hunt,
I am not much given to writing letters to politicians. This is not to say that I am uninterested in politics, very much to the contrary; it is just that I have tended to express my politics through discussion, rather than letter writing, the personal rather than the public. In fact, rather to my shame, I have only ever before written to one politician. I wrote that letter in a spirit of hope that Things Might Change (or even actually get better) back in 1997. I wrote then, as I do now, to the Labour Party politician responsible for Education. Only back then, he was the new minister, rather than the Shadow Man, equally keen to make his mark, to make the headlines.
In those days I was a young, inexperienced teacher who had yet to find her first permanent job. Now I am anything but: I am old(er), I have taught children for a long time, and, more than that, I have babies of my own, babies who are, right this minute, going through our school system. Babies for whom I want the very best. But even though I hardly recognise myself when I compare the 1997 me to the now me, there are some things I believe about education that haven’t changed, and two things in particular that I want to communicate to you.
As a young teacher I was very much struck by the power of praise. I witnessed children change from listless, uncooperative and unwilling little beings to the kind who sat up straight, listened carefully and gave it their best shot – all because someone, their teacher, had encouraged them. With a consistent message of bigging up the good, acknowledging the bad, but not making it their defining characteristic, these children, the sort that were bowed down with constant difficulty and overwhelming challenge, changed, and it seemed to me that the education minister could learn something from this revelation.
Now, as an older teacher, someone who has seen a bit more of life, someone with children of her own, I do not simply ask you to recognise and celebrate the teaching profession for what it is: hard working, dedicated, selfless. I want to ask you to look again at the children.
When you make your decisions about future policy, rather than considering media-friendly soundbites, I want you to consider deeply the purpose of public education in our society. Are we really competing in a global race, with our children the competitors? And what kind of adults are we hoping for? The kind who docilely fill in the forms, complete the tests, know the right answers? Or the kind who can take those inspirational leaps, to innovate, to invent, just as their forbears did?
I have three children, each of whom is unimaginably different to each other. My eldest, a boy, has significant learning difficulties. He has Down Syndrome. He has benefitted from support through a mainstream education and a transition to a fantastic special school where the staff are providing for him a personally tailored school life. My younger two, despite their not having the added benefit of an extra chromosome, are equally deserving of an education that suits their needs. Children are not sausages, compliantly squeezed into uniform shapes, ready to do their duty for the nation, any more than teachers are automatons, mindlessly delivering Government Authorised Lessons.
When I started my first job I was taken under the wing of a hugely talented and experienced teacher. She was keen to pass on to me some of her skills, and one of the things she told me has stayed with me all these years. She said that one of the strengths of primary schooling in particular was the individuality of the teachers. Not simply in that each teacher has a different style, a different way of being with children, but also that inside each teacher exists their own enthusiasms, the individual skills and passions that have such a part to play in the broad and balanced education of a child.
But today, we seem trapped in an ever decreasing circle of standardisation. Our quest for fairness and accountability has led us up the garden path, on a fruitless search for categorisation, an endless search for the Truth About Teaching. If only we could find it, we think, if only we could bottle it, then every child would receive an appropriate education. But the real truth is there is no One Size Fits All model teacher, there is no One Size Fits All school, any more than there is a One Size child.
Mr Hunt, I don’t have any answers for how it should be organised. I shall leave that to far more experienced school leaders than me. For my part I’d like you to chase out corruption and sort out the bullies that bully our teachers and our children. I’d like you to start the journey of change from hectoring and frowns to celebration and support.
Mr Hunt, one of the greatest things about working in schools is the sense of shared purpose we have. We are not competing with each other. We are not motivated by money, or bonuses, league table points or lesson grades. We share a common purpose in working to make the world a better place by educating our young, by helping them to reach their potential and joining in with forming them into the adults of tomorrow. We are working together for the common good. I would like to invite you to join the team.
- Praise our teachers. You’ll be pleased with the results.
- Don’t ask us to all be the same. We’re not, and neither are our children.
I look forward to reading your reply,
http://blogsync.edutronic.net/ thank you @edutronic_net for inspiring me.