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Dear Mr and Mrs Parent,
I’m sorry I have to write to you, but it is important you know that your daughter is not progressing as well as she could at school. This isn’t her fault, it is the school’s.
I only teach your daughter one subject, RE, which she is forced to do and she isn’t terribly interested in it. I see her once a week for 50 minutes. As there are 30 other students in the class this means that, if I did nothing else all lesson, I could spend about 100 seconds with her as an individual a week. To teach her, to get to know her, to understand her as a young person. But, as you well know, there are some children in her class who demand much more of my time. This inevitably means that some students will be left with nothing.
Unfortunately, that applies to your child. I’ll be honest, I haven’t held a proper conversation with her in weeks.
I teach 400 children. Slightly more, actually, but we’ll call it 400. That means your daughter counts for 0.25% of the children I teach. It is difficult for me to honestly and accurately tell you anything about her, so please forgive me if I speak in vague generalities at parents’ evening and try to avoid using your daughter’s name. I might have forgotten it.
I teach twenty five lessons a week. Despite my best intentions, some of these lessons are boring. To plan an outstanding lesson can take hours. I can’t do that for every lesson I teach. Sometimes I stand in class delivering a lesson I know isn’t as good as it could be. I know how to make it better. I just didn’t have the time to do it. I don’t think the children notice, they are used to this.
Schools are full of middle-management types. They like to take “learning walks” around the school and “quality control”. They sit at the back of my class and want to know if the students have been told their “learning objectives” and if they are sat in a “seating plan”. They believe that learning simply cannot take place if the students haven’t been told what to do and where to sit. What you might consider real work: comprehension, creative writing, silent reading or a class questioning the teacher about the topic being studied is considered hopelessly old-fashioned and slightly abusive by my superiors. Instead they like almost anything involving power-points, scissors and glue. All work for students needs to be scaffolded. That means be done for them. The very notion of giving a student a task they might fail is considered child abuse. Every task must be completable within about ten minutes.
The school needs to improve, but I’m not sure it can. Common sense and trust in human communication is being forced out of the profession. A lot of teachers seem to like being told exactly what to do and how to do it. The status quo is just fine for a lot of middle and senior management too. It allows them to wield power, justify inflated salaries and be recognised by their peers as being “outstanding” teachers. A recognition the children in their classes would never give them. Never mind. They never really liked teaching children that much anyway.
I’m sorry to have to write to you like this and tell you that your daughter is under-performing. But I’m part of this system. And I had to confess.
This article appeared in The Guardian