Listening to Teachers

We ignore the feelings and opinions of our teachers at our peril. Teachers, and their ability to inform and educate this current generation of children and young people, are the nation’s most valuable resource. If teachers get it wrong, then everybody suffers in some way; not least the children.

On today’s Guardian website (teachernetwork professional blog) there’s another extremely interesting and stimulating article by The Secret Teacher. Here’s a brief resume:

We’re all getting bogged down in directives, jargon and reforms

Imagine if we could all stop stressing about how to filter down nonsensical jargon from above and get back to enjoying great teaching

This week I decided to disentangle the agglomeration of emails that landed in my inbox since the start of term . . . One such email (out of the 300 received) was from the deputy head teacher and included 16 attachments. Eight of them focused on the Ofsted inspection due this year.

The problem is threefold. Firstly, changes in government tend to result in short-term thinking that seeks to criticise whatever has gone before generating new versions of the old principles. Secondly, management teams are under so much pressure to disseminate this information from above that simple changes are often presented as mammoth projects producing vast amounts of stress and extra work. Added to this is the fact that there is rarely a quiet work area to consider/discuss these changes so everything takes much longer than it should – I actually have a whole other rant on the inefficiency of schools but I shall spare you that for the moment.

I know this: great teachers who inspired me to join the profession and mentored me during my first years, as well as those I trained with 10 years ago, are fed up. They want out and it’s not just the jargon. It’s the jargon on top of the pressure to be consistently outstanding, lack of administrative support for teachers, frequent changes to curriculums and a culture that blames teachers for low achievement. I loved teaching, but I’m tired of reading abstract jargon that makes me feel like an idiot.

One of the comments ‘below the line’ on this article, by consideratecyclist, says,

Wonderfully well-expressed. This could, of course, have been written in 2002, 1992 or 1982 with equal fervour . . . Government dramatically over-simplifies the real difficulties of education, while finding it relatively easy to impose ill-informed and frequently unhelpful changes. Banks fight back; schools do as they are told.

Whilst it’s true that most schools have caved in to government pressure instead of joining together to fight back, we disagree that teachers have always been this pressurised and demoralised. 20 years ago there were few personal computers, no intranets, no broadband and effectively no Internet. There was no email. There were no arbitrary targets, no league tables, and no inspections by teams of contractors armed with laptops loaded with contentious data. There was nothing like the pressure there is on schools and teachers today. It’s this unreasonable, unwarranted and counterproductive pressure and stress that the writer of this article rightly resents. Sure, ‘standards’ have risen, but who’s to say they wouldn’t have anyway through the use of more enlightened approaches to school improvement?

There never was a golden age, it’s true. Teaching has always been, and will always be, an extremely challenging, as well as potentially enjoyable and rewarding, profession. The systemic problem we now face is that more and more of our best teachers (and headteachers) are considering leaving because of the ludicrous levels of non-teaching related stress they’re now subjected to. Articles like this one are extremely valuable in offering an account as to what it actually feels like to suffer that stress on a day to day basis. Another extremely moving and powerful account can be read here – We would urge you to read it if/when you have the time:

I refuse to be led by a top-down hierarchy that is completely detached from the classrooms for which it is supposed to be responsible.

I will not spend another day under the expectations that I prepare every student for the increasing numbers of meaningless tests.

I will not spend another day wondering what menial, administrative task I will hear that I forgot to do next. I’m far enough behind in my own work.

The best education systems offer their teachers an appropriate amount of non-contact time. If teachers are expected to spend large amounts of time dealing with emails and other admin tasks then they’re given that time. If they’re expected to respond to new initiatives, new regulations, new legislation, etc, then they’re given that time. If they’re expected to prepare thoroughly for visitations and inspections then they’re given that time.

On the other hand, we could do what the Finns have done, which is to let the teaching profession itself take responsibility for raising achievement and attainment, give it the resources with which to do it, give it the freedom to work in the best interests of children and young people by implementing a pedagogy fit for the 21st Century, and get rid of all government-imposed external inspections. Other high-performing countries are following Finland’s lead, and so should we if we care about the morale of our teaching force and the wellbeing, happiness and all-round achievement and attainment of our children and young people.

About 3D Eye

Gary Foskett and Clare Blackhall are educationalists, writers and consultants. We work with schools and other organisations who share our vision of how schools, businesses, etc should work in the 21st Century. We also run courses and contribute to conferences - speaking about our three dimensional model of intelligences and how schools, colleges and universities can develop the full potential of all their staff and students. We also offer consultancy for businesses and public sector organisations to support staff training and organisational change and development. For more detailed information read our blog at or see our website at
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3 Responses to Listening to Teachers

  1. beeseeker says:

    Spectacular statement with every valid argument for treating the profession that, essentially takes care of our future, with respect and courtesy.
    teaching has never been easy, most people cannot imagine the trials a committed teacher faces by the day, if not by the hour – and does not need to do so, as long as there is trust.
    The present system undermines all that is worthwhile about genuine education and replaces it with arbitrary systems and judgements, which are unfair and unsustainable -and subject to change at whim.


  2. 4c3d says:

    I feel as though I being saying this for ages and probably have been! In fact I have just written a response to discussion in LinkedIn concerning a symptom of the same problem. It concerned cheating in schools and in many ways it is an outcome of the toxic environment teachers are suffering. Over two years ago I developed what I called the ‘Learning Responsibility Ratio’, you can find a simple representation of it here:

    I have copied my comments from LinkedIn which go some way to describing what the diagram means and the consequences of applying the wrong pressures to this critical learning relationship.

    “I think the crux of the problem is linked to accountability. In my early years as a teacher I was expected to do the best professional job I could in terms of engaging, motivating and teaching students. It was expected of me to plan and prepare materials that were interesting, of the appropriate level and difficulty, monitor and report on progress and assess accurately. Nothing has changed in this respect.

    What has changed is the consequences linked to a student who does not make progress or fails to achieve a ‘predicted’ outcome. I call this the ‘learning relationship and responsibility ratio’. At the start of any course I would expect the teacher to hold the greatest proportion of responsibility and for this to pass to the student as the course progresses. You may say they, the students, take ownership of their learning and have responsibility for the outcome they achieve. The problem we have is that this transition is corrupted because of the expectation and pressure applied to the teacher and the way they feel they have to respond to avoid some rather unpleasant consequences. Teachers are by nature mostly compliant, this is not a criticism just an observation, and are naturally ‘responsible’ people. It is easy therefore to apply pressure to which they respond. Leadership and management in schools know this and instead of considering their role as protectors of the teaching relationship actually pass on the pressures they receive leading to the corruption. This can be seen in the giving and re claiming responsibility by teachers as they respond to pressures to produce results. Students get to experience this first hand and quickly learn how to adapt it for their own benefit. (If you don’t believe children understand this watch a baby being fed or a child shopping with mum.) They learn if they wait then the teacher will step in and re take the responsibility, especially at critical times (near coursework completion dates for example). So instead of a steady transition at an appropriate pace we see a ‘saw tooth’ profile with a much slower overall rate of transition, indeed the learning relationship may never achieve the desired ratio of responsibility.”

    I am concerned about the unhealthy conditions this leads to, not only for the teacher but for the learner too. The question is when will the lessons be learnt and the voices heard for what they are and not what they are perverted to represent?



    • Well said Kev! I’ve seen and felt this pressure myself and am pleased that I currently work in an environment where I am respected as a teacher.
      What also frustrates me about this is that achievement for students becomes all about exams – not about other great things they do as human beings. I’ve just written a blog myself about the need to celebrate the great things that happen in schools – not just in terms of exams (which are devalued now in the eyes of many) but in other areas – charity, research, genuine learning outside the classroom. (see


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