What 21st century teaching is all about

Published by Emma Lee-Potter in on Monday 7th November 2011

“I wouldn’t last very long here,” admitted Sandy Nairne, director of London’s National Portrait Gallery after spending the morning at a primary school in Hackney, east London.

Nairne was visiting Jubilee Primary School as part of a “job swap” organised by the Cultural Learning Alliance, an initiative where senior staff working in education and the arts spend a day shadowing each other to see what different jobs entail and to discuss new ways of introducing children to culture.

The minute-by-minute demands of headteacher Jacqueline Bruton-Simmonds’ working day clearly made a huge impact on Nairne. As Lucy Kellaway wrote in her Financial Times piece about the swap (above), the head’s day began with an 8am staff meeting, then continued through a whirlwind of teaching, observing classes, discussing everything from teacher training to school heating and talking to parents. “Headteachers have two jobs,” she explained. “We are managers and we teach children. We have to squeeze it (all) in.”

I’ve long thought that if politicians, business leaders and celebrities tried their hand at teaching they’d soon discover that it’s an awful lot harder than it looks. I’ve taught in schools and colleges in the past and it’s the trickiest thing I’ve ever done. For a start, today’s children, the internet generation, are very demanding pupils. As a teacher, you can’t simply stand at the front and deliver a “chalk and talk” lesson – or you’ll bore your class to tears and they’ll switch off. You have to devise interesting lessons, keep the students’ attention and ensure they actually learn something along the way.

When I interviewed teacher Oenone Crossley-Holland about her book on the stresses and strains of working at an inner-city school, she told me: “When you’re working in a school in a challenging area there are no quick fix solutions. You have to have a whole toolbox of different methods you use every single day, every single lesson and every single minute.”

And as the brilliant Channel 4 series Educating Essex showed, teachers juggle so many different roles. As well as helping teenagers to achieve at least five A*-C GCSEs, teachers like the wonderful Mr Drew, deputy head at Passmores School in Harlow, Essex, also have to support them through problems like bullying, family breakdown, friendship issues, teenage pregnancy and many more.

Headteacher Vic Goddard stressed that his teachers refuse to give up on their pupils. “If we just permanently exclude students when the going gets tough, who is going to redirect these young people to avoid them becoming the underbelly of our society in the future?” he said. “Being a headteacher is about moral purpose and ensuring I can look myself in the eye in the morning when I do up my tie, knowing that we have done all we can to ensure that every student has a future that can contribute to society positively.”

It’s an approach that clearly works.

4 comments so far

  • This is terrific and I certainly identify with all here. I think when you are doing the job though that there is tremendous satisfaction. I loved teaching.

  • Thanks Carol. It’s great to hear that you loved teaching and how much satisfaction there is in doing a great job.

  • Thank you for commenting, Melanie. Vic Goddard came across in the TV series as such a kind, inspiring headteacher and it’s good to hear that you agree how rewarding teaching can be.

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