You might have come across the ‘boiling frog’ model of how people cope with change.
The idea is that if you put a frog in a deep pan of water, it sits around doing happy frog stuff and saying ‘it’s not so bad once you’re in’. Then the pan is put on to heat. The frog adjusts to the gradual rise in temperature – sending out for the odd Ben and Jerry’s perhaps, but basically staying put. It adjusts and adjusts. Then it can adjust no more but, by then, it is no longer physically able to jump out of the pan. And so it goes to the great lily pad in the sky.
No frogs were actually harmed in the making of this metaphor. Hold that thought.
If you were in my first class, I owe you an apology. 1990 was possibly one of the worst of times to have a teacher who didn’t know what they were doing. Classes were between 32 and 36 children. In my first school, reading schemes, maths schemes and text books had been junked in a Cultural-Revolution style fervour. Phonics were out: in my entire year’s training, no-one once mentioned the Ph‑ word.
Now is not the blog to debate pedagogical theories. Enough to say that I worked with some very experienced teachers and some immensely talented teachers and their classes flourished. I was neither. No idea what to teach; no idea how to teach it.
As we floundered along, my class and I, a colleague reassured me that the children would make some sort of progress, whatever I did, by virtue of the fact that they were getting older. On that basis, we could have just gone round the park.
It was a miserable few years; knowing that I was so bad at my dream career. There were days, as I drove sobbing into school, when I hoped for a small car crash that might legitimately prevent me from arriving.
Luckily for the children lumbered with me as a teacher, things changed. Schemes of work with associated resources appeared. Training on how to actually teach reading, writing and ‘rithmetic: doubtless annoying for those who’d figured it out years ago, but just what I needed. Requirements to plan, coupled with planning time in which to do it. Above all, Teaching Assistants to share the burden of the class.
I moved to my dream school. I figured out how to teach and I’ve had the best of times.
I have blogged before about the new pressures that schools are under, with impossible targets aiming to get all children to be above average. And linked to pay, forsooth. If this has slipped your mind, check it out here.
InfantPhenomenon tells me that at her school (open till nine every night) one teacher simply didn’t turn up in the morning. Eventually, she was tracked down to the car-park – too miserable and exhausted to get out of her car and face the day ahead. A talented and enthusiastic teacher with the potential to improve the lives generations of children – and she has now given in her notice.
There are teachers weeping in classrooms and corridors across the country because the workload has become impossible and is getting worse. I know skilled and dedicated young teachers who are anxious and exhausted because they can’t get their young children to jump through all the hoops. It is fruitless to argue that some of the hoops are just too high or not fit for jumping through. Mr Gove has said it must be done, so it must.
Many of our teachers are in school with the lark and leave in the dark. They stay up late, assessing and re-planning and re-preparing for the next day. They work weekends and holidays, and when they are not working they feel guilty. No-one can stay bright and enthusiastic for their classes in these circumstances; and the young teachers have the prospect of keeping going until they are sixty-eight.
And in the background, moves are being made to chip away at the budget available for Teaching Assistants, the entitlement to non-contact time, the limit on class-sizes. We all try to protect the children from being at the receiving end of this nonsense; but exhausted teachers cannot give of their best.
Which is why I’m going to join the teachers’ strike on 26th March, even though the outcome won’t affect me personally because my helicopter out of the pan has been booked for 31st August. I’m not looking forward to facing the parents: having been a working mum myself I know how difficult it will be for them. I don’t relish losing a day’s pay.
But unless us frogs shout loudly enough, no-one will realise that it’s mighty hot in here. We are slowly boiling to death; and what makes it worse is that the tadpoles are in with us.