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Speaking ‘for Teachers’? At Least Know What the Inside of a Classroom Looks Like

Anyone who claims to be speaking on behalf of educators should at a bare minimum be able to remember what it's like at the chalkface, says Tom Starkey...

  • Speaking ‘for Teachers’? At Least Know What the Inside of a Classroom Looks Like

Authentic teacher voice is something that I’ve become more and more interested in as my career has progressed, then regressed, then stopped for a bit of a coffee and a sausage roll before setting off again.

I think it might be down to the fact that I’ve never really felt part of any of the established organisations that represent teachers; never felt my views and concerns aired or reflected by unions, lobbying groups, or individuals who purport to talk for me.

That isn’t to say that those institutions aren’t important (if you’re working in education and you’re not part of a union, for example, what are you playing at? Legal representation people! Seriously. Get on it. Stop reading this and get on it right now. I’ll be here when you get back) – but even so, being unable to recognise myself, my situation, or those that I teach, in the words of those who are prominent in the wider discourse, has ultimately gone towards making me feel a little like an outsider.

It’s probably one of the reasons that I’m a tad more active on social media than is completely necessary.

Although most of the time it’s me tweeting bad jokes and telling folk what a disaster my last GCSE revision class was, it’s also me searching for affirmation that I’m not an aberration, that I’m not unique, and I’m not going crazy in thinking and working in the way that I do.

For me, social media has opened a world of wider professional communication, where those who have previously not had a voice have gained one, and the narratives that surround teaching have become far more diverse than they ever have been previously.

Yes, it’s messy, and can become heated – but it means that established hierarchies are easily circumvented and and I am able to find solace and comradeship, sharing recognition of the things that we face daily without filter, and with far less of an agenda.

“Ah, now Tom…” I hear you thinking, “...do you really mean ‘authentic’ teacher voice – or do you just mean ‘teachers that think like you do?’”

It’s an astute question, that. I’m lucky to have such intelligent and undeniably gorgeous readers as yourself. And the answer is, “I don’t know”.

I’m not such a massive egotist to think that everyone should be similar to me (I mean, the world would be a much better place an’ all, but even so…) however, when it comes to my working life and career, I’ve never really felt the same, huge disconnect in outlook and philosophy between me and my colleagues that I have between me and mouthpiece institutions.

Does that suggest something is amiss? Not necessarily – I could just be a bit of a weirdo.

But that would mean that a very large percentage of teachers I’ve worked with are as well, and while it’s a pretty fair assessment when it comes to this here columnist, it’s not when it comes to them.

Some of them are quite, quite sane. Even after working with me.

Is this just a self-indulgent quest to ‘find my tribe’? Not completely. It’s nice to know that you’re not on your own in this incredibly demanding job, for sure, but that’s not at the heart of what I’m looking for.

Central to my interest in the ‘authentic voice’ of the teacher is that of true representation.

If that’s not there, then teacher voice will most likely be co-opted by folk who are a world away from the teaching community, or may have very different priorities.

As much as we are busy, our professional voice is incredibly important – too important to give to proxies who may well misrepresent it.

Even within the secondary sector, there’s huge variation when it comes to the job, so perhaps authentic teacher voice means taking that into consideration – but primarily, it should be the voice of teachers.

Not former teachers, not consultants, not educationalists (whatever they are), not academics, not those who reportedly speak for teachers but are, in fact, salespeople, not politicians, not even this here columnist (as much as it pains me to say it).

It has to come from you. Current, practising teachers who see the reality of classrooms day in and day out.

Your voice matters because it will illustrate what is real in the job, rather than what people want to be real.

And as a profession, we deserve to have that reality portrayed by the teachers that live it.

Anything else just isn’t good enough.

Tom Starkey is a teacher and writer who blogs at stackofmarking.wordpress.com.

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