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If Teachers Aren’t Feeling Respected, Perhaps The Profession Should Take A Good, Hard Look At Itself

What is it about education in our country that values our teachers so poorly, asks Vic Goddard

  • If Teachers Aren’t Feeling Respected, Perhaps The Profession Should Take A Good, Hard Look At Itself

Someone recently asked me whether the current recruitment difficulties in our schools might be an indication that as a profession, teaching is not really respected in our country.

It reminded me of a trip I took to America with my family, not so long ago. An immigration officer checked what I do for a living – and when I said I was a teacher, her behaviour towards me changed considerably.

It was instant and very obvious: “Wow, that’s a tough call these days, I don’t know how you do it”.

It certainly looked and felt like respect for the job I love doing.

I contacted the wonderful Ben Page at Ipsos MORI for the latest information he had about attitudes towards different career choices; he kindly sent me data from November 2016, specifically about how much certain professions are trusted by the public (a good indicator of respect, I’d say).

Out of the 24 types listed teachers came 3rd, just behind doctors and nurses, with an 88% ‘trust rating’ (politicians, I noticed with little surprise, came 24th – ie, last – with a rating of 15%).

Even more interestingly, teachers’ ratings have increased gradually over the last 30 years whilst politicians’ have steadily decreased.

A PR problem

So, when we talk about a ‘lack of respect’ for teachers I feel we are actually concerned with a very small minority of parents/carers; whose attitude was probably shaped by their own poor experience of education when they were younger.

As has been quite obvious over recent months those that feel aggrieved are normally the most vocal; but we must not forget the significant numbers that are happy – just quietly so!

The respect issue is seemingly not with parents/carers, then, but rather, with some louder and more prominent voices.

One of the big reasons given for Finland’s educational success has been the manner in which the job of being a teacher is ‘respected’ there. So why is it different here?

I am certain that politicians in Finland wouldn’t be saying negative things about educators as it would make them unpopular amongst voters, so why does it feel like we are fair game in the UK?

I’d suggest that a great deal of that is down to how the written media portray us and choose to behave; but we also need to look a bit closer to home, and consider how we portray ourselves publicly through our unions and the other organisations that represent us.

As @nickcorston said to me on Twitter last week, what teaching needs is a really good PR company – and maybe he’s right.

Smartening up our act

It feels like the Chartered College of Teaching is being launched not a minute too soon. Our unions remain in competition with each other for members (although the likely amalgamation of NUT and ATL looks positive) – and we generally use the platforms given at conferences to moan about decisions made by headteachers, rather than focusing on how to achieve long term change.

I really hope that the Chartered College gains enough support, from all levels of our profession, to make it a voice representing the profession, without an axe to grind. An organisation that can’t simply be ignored or pushed aside with stories of political bias etc.

Ultimately, it’s my hope that the Chartered College can provide the PR the profession obviously needs, to encourage graduates to join us and politicians to listen to us – alongside those professional learning opportunities that make classroom practitioners feel valued, but also challenge us all to improve.

It’s so important to support staff who wish to remain in the classroom whilst continuing to work on their knowledge and skills.

The appreciation I feel, as a headteacher, for those who tell me how much they love their subject, and that they just want to keep on being the best classroom teacher they can be, is immense; but I’m not sure that this choice is given the respect it deserves generally.

Vic Goddard is headteacher at Passmores Academy, as seen on Channel 4’s Educating Essex, and is the author of The Best Job in the World; you can follow him at @vicgoddard

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