So teaching is easy is it? Then why is there still a recruitment crisis in education?

It remains a popular second career choice among know-it-alls who like the sound of their own voices

Click to follow
The Independent Online

No need to worry about what Top Gear presenter James May will do next. He’s already got a plan: “[I might do] something outside of cars,” he informed the press last week. “I always wanted to be a teacher.” Sure, teaching, why not? It’s not like it’s hard or anything.

That much was demonstrated in the most recent series of HBO’s Girls, when Lena Dunham’s character Hannah, flunked out of her writing course and took up a post as a supply teacher instead. “I can’t do, so I’ll teach!” she announced to her fellow incompetents over brunch. Meanwhile in real-life Cornwall, a fake professor has been prosecuted, but only after running a bogus psychology course for 18 months and swindling thousands out of her student-victims.

Teaching remains a popular second career choice among know-it-alls who like the sound of their own voices and fantasists who have seen the 1995 film Dangerous Minds, starring Michelle Pfeiffer. Actually qualifying as a teacher and then surviving the reality of working in a classroom is a different matter. That’s why, despite all the wannabes, there’s still a recruitment crisis in education.

The profession is hugely respected in the abstract – teachers are so noble and self-sacrificing aren’t they? – yet in practice teachers are still underpaid, over-worked and blamed for everything that goes wrong in education. Would Alan Milburn’s new plan change that? The former Labour health secretary and current government social mobility tsar has proposed using a 25 per cent pay rise to encourage “the best teachers to work in challenging schools in the hardest-to-recruit areas”.

There is no word yet on how the “best” teachers will be selected, but if the scheme has anything in common with another government favourite, Teach First, “best” will mean those who graduated from the poshest universities, regardless of their ability to connect with pupils. Or, if it goes by the results of league tables “best” will mean those who have presided over the highest exam grades, regardless of how many other educational advantages their pupils had. The ability to inspire a young mind is, of course, a skill that’s much harder to measure.

Even once we’re settled on the definition, are bad teachers really the greatest challenge faced by schools in deprived areas? By suggesting that a financial incentive is all that’s needed to improve educational outcomes for this generation of cheated children, Milburn’s plan both insults professionals and underestimates the barriers to social mobility.

Our schools do need better paid teachers (unions have been campaigning for pay rises in line with inflation for years) – but they also need more out-of-school support for children whose home lives make it almost impossible to concentrate, an Education Secretary who makes changes based on evidence, not ideology, and a fair share of all those resources which have been diverted to free schools and private education. The list goes on, as May will perhaps one day discover.  

Fit flop

You go to work, you eat your five-a-day and exercise three times a week, yet still you’re falling short. New research by the British Heart Foundation says that even squeezing in the recommended number of gym sessions is not enough to undo the damage of our otherwise sedentary lifestyles. Honestly, why do we bother?

Lazy desk workers should exercise more at work, say the experts, none of whom can ever have worked in an office. Anyone who has, knows we can’t exercise during working hours because most of the time we’re busy, y’know, working. Performing jumping jacks by the photocopier might be healthy, but it’s hardly practical.

The solution? Some kind of “deskercise” routine which will keep you fit, without attracting the unwelcome attention of colleagues. Luckily, I’ve devised one. Step 1: Make sure your desk is so covered in crap that you have to lift 5lbs of weight to answer the telephone (no need to invest in special equipment; broken staplers, magazines dating from 2009 and a Sports Direct mug work just as well). Step 2: Get that heart pumping by leaving an offensive email about a colleague’s appearance open on your screen for as long as you dare. Step 3: Become so busy answering pointless emails you put off going to the toilet until you’re bursting. That way, when you do eventually go, it will be calorie-burning sprint.

Tears all over town

Last week’s Venn diagram features Jeremy Clarkson supporters in one circle and One Direction fans in the other. One contains mainly boorish oafs who wear blazers with jeans, while the other is weeping Year 9s who communicate entirely in emojis, and yet there appears to be far more overlap between these circles than we’d imagined.

Both have taken to social media to vent their distress, both have insisted that their favourite TV show/boyband will never survive this tragedy, and both have been inclined to lash out at innocent parties. For Directioners the target is Perrie Edwards, the fiancée of Zayn Malik, who has been labelled the band’s “Yoko Ono” by fans with an unexpectedly broad knowledge of music history. Meanwhile Clarksonites are directing abuse at Oisin Tymon, the BBC producer who had the audacity to block Clarkson’s sainted fist with his face.

There is one difference, however: when teenage girls behave in this manner it’s mass hysteria, but when grown men do it, it’s bravely standing up against the “culture of effeminacy” in modern Britain. Got it?

A catchphrase is born

“Am I tough enough? Hell yes, I’m tough enough.” It sounds like a misremembered Bruce Willis line from Die Hard 2: Die Harder, but by now you’ll probably recognise these as the words of Ed Miliband, delivered in Thursday’s TV non-debate. Analysis has so far focused on the word “tough”, but was there also a message to younger voters coded in his phrasing?

“Hell yeah!” was popularised as a catchphrase in the early 2000s by WWE wrestler “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and has since been used in the title of a song by Canadian rapper Drake and as the name of a heavy metal supergroup formed in 2006. By giving us the politer “Hell, yes”, does Miliband position himself within this pantheon of macho greats, while putting his own geek spin on it? Hell, yes.