Peter Flack: Teachers must be valued for what they do
Teaching is an unusual job. It involves taking responsibility for the education of other people's children. It is also a daunting one. You enter your classroom and are normally out-numbered 30 to one. You are expected to control and manage the class, ensure their safety, address their individual needs and at the same time stimulate and enthuse them about learning.
To do so requires skill, knowledge and the ability to capture and retain the attention of children of varying abilities who may be ill-fed, tired, abused, or living in squalor.
To do so requires belief in what you are teaching, belief in the importance of learning and a huge amount of self-belief in your abilities as a communicator. That is why morale is important. If you lose that self-belief and start to doubt what you are doing then you cannot teach well.
Despite the impression often given, teachers face long working hours, often up to 11 or 12 hours a day, constant changes in what and how they must teach, the emotional pressure of managing challenging pupils, the stress of meeting externally-imposed targets that take no account of the actual class in front of you and a top-down culture of blame.
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According to the Health and Safety Executive, teaching is the most stressful occupation in England. Teachers increasingly fall ill with mental health problems. There are now more qualified teachers working outside of teaching than there are in schools.
In May last year, former chief inspector Christine Gilbert said: "Morale among state school teachers is at 'rock bottom'."
She noted there was evidence of widespread disillusionment in schools despite teacher professionalism being "better than ever".
A new report commissioned by the NUT confirms this – "teacher morale is dangerously low and has declined dramatically in recent months".
The reason for this is simple. Teachers do not feel valued. Those in charge of education nationally spend much of their time criticising teachers and undermining their status as professionals. Michael Gove has frozen teachers' pay, decimated the pensions structure, devalued the worth of GCSEs, encouraged schools to use unqualified staff to "teach" and demonstrated he does not trust teachers or head teachers.
Chief Inspector of Schools Michael Wilshaw said: "If anyone says to you that 'staff morale is at an all-time low' you know you are doing something right."
How can teachers feeling beaten down and unvalued be creative, innovative and dynamic in the classroom? How can they inspire a class?
Teachers do a vital job for the nation. Education is our investment in the future of our young people. We should value our teachers as they do elsewhere, not make them scapegoats for society's problems.
Peter Flack is assistant secretary of Leicester NUT.