Tuesday, January 27, 2009

[teachers] love them or loathe them

When I met my first wife, she was hanging about in the company of engineers, an earthy bunch who generally called a spade a spade.

Let me tell an anecdote. She’d apparently been rabbiting on about me and how they’d now have to get a king sized bed in. I walked into the after work bar where she’d been holding forth and one of her colleagues proclaimed, ‘Nah, a double will be more than enough.’

One job group they didn’t have much time for was teachers, of which I was one. Their criticisms of teachers ranged from inflated sense of importance and being ‘lefties’ to teachers’ opinions so simplistic and amateurish that they weren’t worth heeding. And all those holidays!


In a society where the politics of envy is the prevailing philosophy, teachers’ holidays were a never ending bone of contention and reached ridiculous proportions when they were made to come in and ‘work’ during school holidays.

For a start, any teacher worth his [her] salt is going to spend a substantial portion of that time preparing for the new term, cleaning the classroom, arranging things, photocopying, ordering in and so forth. It doesn’t need a prescriptive regulation to achieve that.

For any forty minute lesson, a good teacher devotes another fifteen to twenty in preparation and this used to be drummed in to student teachers by their teacher trainers.

So, back to those holidays, what you had were staff sitting around creating work, to make them look occupied, when their preparation had already been done, they were substantially ready and for what? To assuage a section of the community with absolutely no idea, which perceived all teachers to be on a cushy number.

Usual criticisms

Don’t get me wrong – lazy teachers are the bane of any head teacher’s existence plus their habit of only being able to see the micro-world of their own classroom, rather than the big picture. Such people also tend to be squabblers over unimportant matters, not unlike the children they teach.

One of the greatest criticisms of teachers is that they’re not in the real world. It generally helps if they have families, IMHO but that’s no guarantee of realistic approaches to life which they pass on to children and the number of times my staff had parent-teacher interviews and were insisting on their classroom rules at the expense of common sense were too numerous to mention.

A lot of this came from the political views of the teaching profession. In a job where the key components in classroom management are compassion and good order, these dovetail neatly with the socialist view of the compassionate society, while free enterprise and initiative can be seen as dangerously subversive.

Preparation and example

The criticism that teachers are lazy because they work such short hours is total hogwash. In any profession you’re going to get the lazy who come to lessons on time or even a few minutes late, [a big no-no in teaching, when you should be there ten minutes early to set up].

One of the best tests of this was the use of cassette players. The teacher rushed in five minutes late, noisy children sitting around aimlessly and then started to cue the cassette to its place, nothing set up on screen, discs not in place and feeling under pressure.

On the other hand, walk into a good teacher’s room and she [he] is there when the first children arrive, probably setting things up round the room, notes are at hand and she can share a joke with the child and listen to his/her latest news.


At a seminar I once attended, one young teacher asked about discipline and my little contribution was that the best way to maintain discipline was firstly not to worry about it, to make it a low priority on your list. It also helped if you knew your material back to front, were well prepared, had set up the materials and you didn’t see the child or the parent as an adversary to be negotiated or contained.

At university, my best lessons were the speech practice topics where I had very little immediate control at all, everyone was deep in argument, gesticulating and haranguing and it would have taken ten minutes to quieten them all down. Better to let it run its course.

In the end, one of the most helpful things for discipline was simply to care. If the kid knew you really liked him, it made it so much easier but better was to only say no when it was absolutely necessary. How many people say no automatically without reasoning why? ‘Well, it’s the rule, isn’t it?’ Why is it the rule in the first place?

Saying no

There’s not a lot of difference between the home and the classroom in this.

A friend of mine has no problem with discipline at all but his wife has constant trouble.

Her approach is to threaten and say, ‘If you do that again ..’ Then next time she says, ‘If you do that again …’ When she does give punishments, she hasn’t the heart to carry them through and they know they can always get round her.

The result is ongoing discipline trouble and stress.

He has a different approach. If he says no, then it’s no. It never alters, even if he hasn’t the heart to impose the penalty. ‘You step across this line and you don’t get this treat.’ The kid steps across the line and she doesn’t get the treat. Never has, never will.

He has no discipline trouble at all and he compensates for that with good humour and treats, within certain boundaries.

In teaching, the golden rule is never to threaten anything, never employ the term “if”, unless you’re prepared to go through with it.

Example: One girl who hardly ever attended at university turned up one day and from the beginning, she showed not the slightest intention of getting into the topic. Instead, she sat there, looking down at her feet and making little dance movements with them.

That was one thing but the moment she started trying to engage the attention of those in the group with the lowest attention spans, I stepped in. ‘Go,’ I said. ‘What? What have I done?’ she appealed to the group as a whole. I opened the door and waited five to seven minutes till she’d gone, her last words threats to sue me.

Then I got back to the lesson, apologizing to the group for the scene.

Educational fads

This one has been saved for last and it’s my pet hate.

There’s a staff of teachers discussing which English textbook to use next year – Streetwise, Opportunities, Knockout? For better or worse, a book is adopted and immediately half those teachers appear in the staffroom at breaks, muttering out loud, hands flailing, ‘Oh I can’t use this text – it’s impossible.’

Still, it’s adopted and the parents are slugged for the cost of the textbook, the workbook, the exam maximizer, the cassettes and the study guide. They’re told it’s the latest thing in education, the ants’ pants.

For two years, all is well but then a new intake of staff doesn’t like this book imposed on them and the rumblings become a chorus of dissent so the whole process begins again in the name of progress and hey presto, a brand new textbook is now adopted and parents are slugged yet again.

Next year it starts all over again when some new educational fad comes into vogue, some academic from Canada or Australia having written in a journal that the latest research indicates that children should learn a different way.

Welcome to the prevailing state of education.



Excellent post. In my personal life I have known a few teachers and was astounded to learn of all the time consuming work at home, unpaid ,they had to put into their profession.
I recall helping a friend mark papers when he was swamped.
Anyone who thinks teachers are not underpaid,underappreciated and overworked has never known a teacher personally.

The best teacher I ever had was an old cretin in his 60's who lived to teach. He commanded respect from all, even the teachers were afraid of him. But he was born to teach.I have never met such a dedicated teacher as him.

Anonymous said...

And yet you show him no respect by calling him an "Old Cretin?"


Or is that a "modern" compliment these days?


I called him an old cretin, if you are SO interested, because he was tough, very old school and brooked no nonsense-so many would see him as an 'old cretin'type. Clearly, ALL my other comments would lead one to believe that I was very fond of him, despite is 'old cretin' status.
Why don't YOU show some respect by:
1. Obey James' rules on his blog.
2. Having the courtesy to comment on the quality of the post, and issues raised, instead of scrutinizing and commenting on my every word and
3. Bleed your misogeny onto someone else ,buster!

Sackerson said...

Don't get me started!

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Agree about the holidays - a lot of them are spent preparing and it's a lot more than your classroom you worry about! If you're a secondary school head of department there are schemes of work to be prepared and all teachers have to get about a term's lesson plans in in advance. I think you're a little idealistic about discipline, James - things have changed. But the best schools have a whole-school approach which is clear to parents and pupils. It's only in private schools where the parents are directly charged for the resources, of course. Here in Italy text books do have to be bought by the families in state schools and I think this is better as the students can make notes on them,be set homework that depends on referring to them and they value them. - Have you ever tried to set realistic homework when you've only one set of textbooks for 5 classes and you daren't let these books go out of the school as if you do you will never see them again? Sometimes you have to spend ages illegally photocopying from the textbook, over and over again. Yes, before anyone says it, the cost of this would pay for more textbooks eventually but a department's capitation for one school year will not run to buying more sets. I could go on and on but as I usually get slated here
I won't.

Anonymous said...


I'm trying to do you a favour.

Why do you object to me pointing out when you place your foot in your mouth?

Andrew Allison said...

After enduring a governors' meeting last night, where we were bombarded by statistics and more government initiatives, I am even more convinced the less the state interferes with the running of schools, the more enjoyable experience it will be for pupils, teachers and governors alike.


When I put my foot in your mouth,then get back to me. :)

jams o donnell said...

My sister has just celebrated her 30th year as a teacher. The amount of work she has to put in outside of school hours in amazing.

What annoyse her is that there is simply not enough hours in the school year to do what is wanted by Government (Tory or Labour). Basically it's a quart in a pint pot

CherryPie said...

What an excellent post. It explains the trials and tribulations of the teaching profession.

Over the years I have had many friends who have been teachers. Some because I was in their class and later we became friends. Others I have met just because our paths have crossed.

I wouldn't change places to be in a teacher's shoes. I know how hard they work and the difficulties they face!

BobG said...

Like any other profession, I have met good teachers and bad teachers. It depends on the character of the individual; some people take their job seriously, others do as little as possible and bide their time until retirement.
If a person is running into a lot of bad teachers at a particular institution, then I would say the problem is in the administration, which would appear to be failing in its job by hiring and keeping them.
Just my opinion.

ProfSeeman said...

You make some good points above.
However, I also think that this can be helpful to you:
The book and Training Video: PREVENTING Classroom Discipline Problems

If you can get this book and video: [they are in many libraries, so you don't have to buy them] email me and I can refer you to the sections of the book and video [that demonstrates the effective vs. the ineffective teacher] that can help you.

If your library does not have them, you can get them at:


that are also used at this online course:

See: Reviews at: http://classroommanagementonline.com/comteach.html

If you cannot get the book or video, email me anyway, and I will try to help.

Best regards,


Howard Seeman, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus,
City Univ. of New York

Prof. Seeman

LordSomber said...

As a teacher, what is your opinion on homeschooling?

Jonathan said...

Nice post - A couple of observations.

Like many other things, teaching is now "just another job" - when in the past, it was right up there with bank manager (snigger) and minister of religion.

Now its common to hear of teachers getting a teaching degree, teaching for a couple of years while they work out what they actually want to do.

Fortunately, teachers where our kids go to school are very good - BUT they often change posts at christmas/easter and even half term - which was practically unheard of previously.

Oh - and the holidays - I know for a fact that most of them were at school helping with decorating after a refit...

Jonathan said...

edit - I also agree with Andrew Allison. I know a couple of school governors who often remark that if parents went along as a fly on the wall to a governors meeting, they would wonder if they are talking about the same thing...

Fortunately, the teachers get on and just teach

buster said...

You couldn't reach high enough, and I won't descend.

James Higham said...

Uber and anon, I left it on this time because it was mostly harmless. :)

Sackers, Cherie, Jams, Andrew, bob, thanks for those contributions.

WCL, Profseeman, Jonathan, good point s made and thanks for the links.

M'lord - home schooling - a curly one, yes? I never could decide on this one. The child needs peers as far as I can see.

Buster - ?

Michael said...

In a former life for nearly 25 years, I was a teacher, curriculum co-ordinator subject specialist,project co-ordinator,deputy and principal.(so much for the CV!)
I pretty much heard it all from anyone and everyone and found the best way to silence the critics of teaching was to engage in this type of conversation:
Teachers! How lazy are they, with ALL those holidays?

I know, 13 weeks holiday PLUS public holidays, pupil free days, marking days, exams, and swot vac. Not only that but you don't start till nine, finish at three, and have an hour of non-contact(preparation) time in the middle of the day,and then when you're in the classroom, play games, paint, sing, watch TV,and sit around drinking cups of coffee.
Actually I reckon you're a mug for not being a teacher, its so slack!We hardly do any work at all.

What me? There's no way you'd get me in a room with thirty little snotty nose so and sos all day.That would drive me crazy.

Enough said?