One of the most worrying trends I’m observing in the Conservative education drive is the increasing movement of responsibility from parents to teachers. While I applaud the discussion and raised profile of FGM and of mental health issues (among others), it seems that the government and media are identifying these as yet more additions to the teacher’s job role. Where do they fit?
For example, my sister teaches Early Years in a London primary. They do have a breakfast club, but a significant proportion of the students in her school are not brought in in time for this and have not had breakfast at all. It is of course impossible for children (or adults) to concentrate while hungry, so that is half an hour out of the school day to feed them, while still aiming for implausible targets. On a similar level, the school also runs a get fit club for the students that need more exercise. Again, many teachers run a club – it’s a great way to interact with students on a less formal level, so that is not unreasonable. However, this get fit club (and obtaining the funding) requires that each teacher assesses each child for levels of fitness and exercise. I’ve rang several parents in the past to request that they make sure their children go to bed earlier as they were falling asleep in class. While every member of staff at school has regular safeguarding training, how far are teachers responsible for nutrition, exercise and sleep? Given the amount of training and CPD teachers already undergo, where do we fit in what basically amounts to medical training? I don’t know any teacher that would neglect any student needs on any level of the Maslow hierarchy (or beyond). However, the responsibility for meeting physiological needs for 400-odd students is a Herculean task. The basic caregiving responsibility is not that of teachers and nor should it be.
Vince Cable tells us that teachers know nothing of the world of work (as exemplified by our selfless and hard-working politicians). Teachers should, we are informed, be able to give detailed career advice for all walks of life and not just about university choices. This is, frankly, ridiculous. Teachers come from all paths of life, not just university and stereotyping teachers in this way is incredibly insulting. Anyway, although I might not be able to give advice from personal experience about being a hairdresser or politician or many career fields, we can certainly direct students to the appropriate person or resource to learn what they need. Rather than learning reams about every career pathway, this seems a far more sensible approach. No more than politicians can teachers specialise in every career.
Many, if not most, teachers are absolutely heroic in terms of attitude, effort and time given for their students well-being, development and education. Personally, I’ve always felt that the only reason Batman was a superhero is that he knew when to take the help of Albert, Gordon and the others. Instead of burying teachers under a mound of responsibilities and paperwork, including those of parent, social worker, doctor, psychologist and counsellor, they should be encouraged to get the help they need to get the best for students.