Monday, 8 February 2016
The Measure of Success
In response to this.
I came back from my grandmother's funeral in Scotland, rather earlier than I wanted. Before I even got on the plane to go, I got a phone call.
"JL, I'm sorry to disturb you, but we've had the call from Ofsted and they're coming Monday and Tuesday. I've been asked to call you to find out if there's any chance you can come back early."
I travelled back Monday night, feeling like a traitor to my family, especially my grandad.
Tuesday morning, period 1, and the most challenging class of children the school had to offer: The inspector walks in. I had the lesson plan, the 'learning file' with all the data, the objectives on the board. He stayed 30 minutes. He went. If there's a set number of times your heart's going to beat in your lifetime, that half hour will have knocked two or three hours off at the other end.
"How do you think it went?"
"Well, I know Rhys wasn't engaged. You'll have seen from the learning file that I've tried everything and I'm still struggling with him. At least he wasn't disruptive today, and he actually seemed attentive. Joe called out a couple of times, but it was relevant to the lesson and ..."
He stopped me. He proceeded to read his notes to me. Four pages of them. It wasn't until the fourth page that it dawned on me what he was saying. He told me he thought the lesson was outstanding, that it was the best evidence of language acquisition he'd seen in 41 school inspections he'd carried out. That he ...
He stopped again. I was crying. (How proud my gran would've been.) He asked why. I explained. He was appalled. He told me he'd been directed to my lesson by SLT, when evidently they ought to have done the opposite to protect me. I didn't care at that point. I was walking on air.
Later it dawned on me that the very same managers who consistently rated me 'poor' or 'satisfactory' were directing Ofsted inspectors to my lessons. Not just once, but every single time. If you don't know what Special Measures is like, you get HMI monitoring inspections at least once per term. We were in Special Measures four years. Every inspection, it was my lesson period 1 on the first day, no matter what subject I taught.
A week later in our team meeting, the Head of Department congratulates everyone and gives me a special mention for the excellent feedback SLT received about my teaching. All of the school's 'Coaching Team' are in my department, the very same who repeatedly tell me how poor I am.
"So JL, it would be really good to see your lesson plan for that lesson."
"Ummm... Well, you can, but you won't find what made it good on the lesson plan."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, it wasn't about the learning activities, really. It was about the rapport."
"You mean the differentiation?"
"No. I did that. There's support and challenge for each activity on the plan, but that's not what he was interested in. It was about more than the lesson. It was about... Rapport, y'know"
"You mean the way you got the lesson started and linked to prior learning?"
"No. He missed the starter, but the kids were referring to prior learning in the lesson. As I say, I don't think it was about that, though. I think it was about... Rapport."
"Maybe you can explain to us what you mean by rapport?"
"Well, I care about them, and they care back. Most of the time they have me ripping my hair out, but they know I care, and when they know I'm being judged, they rally round. I was amazed at how much they remembered and had taken on, to be honest."
"So how do you measure that care, JL? Do you use student surveys? Questionnaires?"
"Measure? No. I give it out and I don't count it back in. I call home. I speak to them in the corridors and in the playground. I ask them about their lives and their families. I remember stuff, and I'm always there when they need me. There was no expectation it would ever come back to me, and they knew that."
"You give stuff out? Like resources? Rewards?"
"Only when they really need it or have really deserved it, but that's not what I meant."
"Maybe we haven't got time for it in this meeting, JL, but it would be great if you could still email us the lesson plan for that lesson."
I can't help but think that given the time, they'd have got together a research project to fire me and another teacher hurtling in opposite directions through the tunnels of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, in the hope that by fragmenting the matter of the thing, they might find the God Particle, The Higgs Boson of teaching, what gives teaching mass and makes it matter.
They never got the time. And they never did fire me, down a tunnel or otherwise.
It's taken all the willpower I have to fight back from that and to stay in the profession. I've long since stopped looking for the Boson. That way lie only black holes and 'spooky action at a distance'. I get that it's important to measure and to parcel out and to make sense of things out there in the world, but it's also important to remember that we have an inner world without which the outer world can make no sense.
That doesn't make for great politics, but it does make for great teaching.