Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Is this your life?

Man in a suit

Teaching is all about adding value, achieving targets and respecting your superiors, says the gospel according to Mike Hodgkiss.

It's easy to write a book if it's on a topic that you think you know something about. That's certainly what I'm hoping. It would be a real let-down if I am proved wrong and my masterpiece never goes to print.

The book I'm writing is called A Teacher's Life Is... It is, of course, interactive. All of you, I am sure, remember the type of question from tests which ask you to "complete the sentence below". The same applies here. My learning objective is to enable you, the reader, to complete the sentence "a teacher's life is..." using the knowledge and understanding you have gained from reading my book.

Actually, what I thought I would do is simply write a lot, most of which will be superfluous padding, include some impressive sounding statistics (such as 50 per cent of pupils are now above average) and illustrate my magnum opus with some irrelevant pictures, charts and classical references. In educational terms this is called adding value.

My credentials

You might wonder what makes me think that I'm qualified to write this book. (If you are a teacher, you would not doubt my credentials openly because we know never to undermine the confidence of others.)

Here are some reasons I believe I am well-qualified:

  • I've managed to get a company to publish it. It took some doing; lots of begging letters, telephone appeals and meetings with people I didn't know - much like being a deputy head.

  • I have worked in schools for 29 years. I thought that this would have a novelty factor: a book about schools written by someone who has spent more than a few hours occasionally observing a lesson while peering over a clipboard (or, more likely now, a PDA) and then coming up with some new wonderful initiative. But, more about Ofsted inspectors later.

  • I am an expert on the use of statistics so I am able to support, with confidence, all of my assertions. Of course, if you are a normal person you will ignore them. If the figures themselves are not useless, the research on which they are based is. So this book is no different from all other educational studies you see on the bookshelves except that I do not underestimate your intelligence.

  • I don't know anything about anything else. Actually that's not true; I don't know much about education either. The difference is that when I talk (and write) about schools I can at least con... vince my audience that I am knowledgeable. For instance, who can doubt such statements as: "Out of those students who passed the exam, not one failed so there was a 100 per cent pass rate."

I don't believe it

Much of what goes on in schools is actually rather bizarre and comic. Much is also, of course, quite sad, such as seeing bright, young enthusiastic teachers turn into troll-like, down-heartened dishrags after the life force has been drained from their bodies. But, as I have promised, more on Ofsted later. Here are some examples:

  • Schools have replaced 'giving a child a good telling off' with giving them an individual educational and behavioural experiential action and support plan.

  • A school invested in 30 laptop computers to replace desktop machines so that students could complete work and access the internet for research purposes wherever they were in the school and at home. Unfortunately, some of the laptops soon went missing so the governors came up with a clever solution: permanently attaching the laptops to the desks with a chain.

  • A headteacher felt that the staff lacked team spirit so introduced the idea of a school jacket for the teachers. Staff reacted by shouting "hi-de-hi" whenever they met him in the corridor.

  • A teacher who wanted to introduce more self-assessment decided to use an incentive system for students when they marked their own work - 1 for spotting an error and 2 for correcting it. The teacher couldn't understand why standards of work dropped and only removed the system after one student had been paid 132 in a fortnight.

Coming up in A Teacher's Life Is...

A closer look at 'teacher types': cars used to have individual style and flair with an emphasis on high performance but now they are mass-produced and have to conform to reams of rules on environmental concerns and health and safety. Sound familiar?

Mike Hodgkiss is deputy head in Essex.


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The Last Word always welcomes contributions from members. If you'd like to share your humorous observations of school life, please email Sara Gadzik at leader@ascl.org.uk ASCL offers a modest honorarium.

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