Simon Carr: Give teachers a BMW (and let them teach)

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The Independent Online

What hell educational administrators and theorists and managers and consultants put teachers through. Those who can, teach, those who can't, tell teachers what to do.

I can't remember when a book has made me so angry. Anger is the only exercise I get these days, so Britannia Rules by Anna Cuffaro is an important addition to my health and wellbeing regime. It's a self-published book by an enterprising teacher detailing her experience of the British educational establishment, and I thoroughly recommend it as a remedy for low blood pressure.

The ethos she describes is precisely the opposite of one that encourages good teaching. I mean absolutely, directly, the upside-down opposite. The current target-driven, box-ticking system of 70 kinds of bollocks puts the managers, the measurers, the accountants in charge. And they, driven by imperatives from Parliament and Whitehall, subordinate and demoralise the very people who actually produce the goods.

Oh, the lesson plans, the equality, diversity and differentiation strategies. The health and safety implications. And for every learning outcome in the lesson plan there are the timings, the teaching point, the teaching method, the student activity and resources to fill in.

It all adds up to a way of dictating how teaching should be done to people who shouldn't be teachers at all.

The essence of teaching lies in the connection a teacher makes with the class. If there's no human connection, you might as well employ a computer programme. The entire trend of state education is towards dehumanising the experience, reducing teachers to the condition of press-button instructors. "If you require. The function of metaphor in Lycidas. Press button. One. Now."

This centralised, command and control system is at the heart of modern state administration. It's probably irreversible. It also produces very undesirable results. Here is our author on her literature exam class: "My vagueness was fast becoming famous. One day, the headteacher sat in my class. When revising a poem, I gave my interpretation of an image; some pupils didn't agree. In fact, they had seen a video the year before which gave a different interpretation. Therefore, the pupils and the headteacher saw me as incompetent because I had not given the same interpretation as the video. I could not possibly be right. The head teacher thought it a good idea for me to look at that video, so that I could find out what the prescribed interpretation was."

As Ms Cuffaro points out, great literature has many meanings, which is why it survives swings of fashion. This current method of teaching has more in common with manufacturing zero-defect circuit boards than literary understanding.

For better or worse, the teacher must be allowed the freedom to bring their own glamour to a classroom, to command the attention of the class. That's where teaching starts.

Here's my plan. Scrap the forms, diktats, and pathological reports. Sack 75 per cent of the theorists, consultants, managers and box-tickers. Increase teachers' pay by a third to attract people who are good at teaching. Give them a BMW (it'll help their materialistic pupils to admire them). And then let them teach. Oh, and send mediocre teachers on their way. The firing is as important as the hiring.

Grin and bear it - it's what your teeth are for

The Queen's is very different from Tony Blair's. It's a generational thing rather than rank, or class.

I've seen them both doing it several times, close up. (We're comparing smiles, by the way.)

The Prime Minister, admirably polite as he is, has such a targeted, directed, active smile it makes you wary. When he bares his teeth, you remember what teeth are really for.

The Queen smiles and you relax. Your republican instincts become a little less intense. You don't bow, of course, you resist any ancestral throb to lower your head, but her smile is so unexpected you might be surprised at what you find yourself doing. Part of her charm is that she's not trying to persuade you of anything. She's going to say, "What do you do?" or "Can you swim?"

Prime ministers do, heads of state are. Maybe that's the difference.

* It's hard to know how seriously to treat the idea of Restless Legs Syndrome, but it's got its own foundation, sponsors, advisors and a detailed list of donors topped by Boehringer Ingelheim, GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer.

The syndrome causes misery to millions of Americans, it is claimed. The website says it is an "often devastating" disease. Up to 15 per cent of adults suffer from Restless Legs Syndrome, apparently. In another victory for cynics and sceptics, 11 papers in the Public Library of Science Medicine journal accuse our leading pharmaceutical companies of "disease mongering", saying the drug companies invent a disease and then promote their cure for it.

This may be why 43 per cent of American women are said to be victims of Female Sexual Dysfunction Syndrome and all boys suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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