Just as children are more than the sum of their grades, teachers are more than the performance data they present at pupil progress meetings; their impact runs so much deeper and the effects of their teaching will be seen and felt by their pupils long after they have left their care.
At this time of year, when the sum of a teacher’s work is viewed through the microscopic data lens and all their sterling efforts are translated into a percentage of pupils who met national standards, it is easy to think that it was only their measurable impact that counted. All the planning, worrying, caring, discussing, sharing, creating, innovating and chivvying along was all for this: a number.
But it wasn’t. Data has a habit of eclipsing the good stuff: the flashes of inspiration; the epiphanies; the motivational moments; the character-building and life-defining minutes when a child suddenly feels a little happier in their own skin; the rainy mornings spent cajoling and chivvying; the lunchtimes spent listening and sympathising; the afternoons spent stirring and inspiring; the evenings spent worrying and rewriting tomorrow’s lessons just so the children will grasp a concept they missed today; the guiding, the counselling, the entertaining and praising. These cherished crafts and skills form a teacher’s repertoire and though they may be hidden when the exam results come in, their impact stretches far into the future, all the way into a child’s adulthood.
We often tell children it is the deep-down-things that matter most: self-worth, confidence, pride, compassion. But as teachers we rarely tell ourselves this and seldom let the compliments stick. The attritional nature of the job can strip a teacher of her health and well-being, shrinking her spirit and narrowing her view of education, so that eventually all that matters are the numbers. When her performance management targets speak of pupil outcomes, this only confirms her impression that she is, when all said and done, only as good as her pupils’ measurable results.
When a person who doesn’t teach asks a teacher to explain the impact of what she does, and the answer must be given in percentage points, how is she to respond? Sadly, it can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy and the many reasons why she entered the profession – to move the dial, make a difference, build characters, grow aspirations, tell stories and inspire imaginations – all seem silly now. She has been measured and has not come up to standard.
So, in the remaining weeks of term, and the long and rocky descent to August, can I remind this teacher of the amazing moments she has had, as the Sherpa on the mountain for her young climbers. The data won’t tell her, so I will.
– when a child arrived late, in tears, and she cheered him up and settled him into class;
– when two boys fell out, and she heard each one’s stories, brought a peaceful resolution and watched them playing happily again in the playground;
– when an anxious parent barged uninvited into her classroom to tell her she didn’t care about her child, and she provided calm reassurance and understanding;
– when she worried all night before a lesson observation, and then absolutely smashed it on the day;
– when a child who just couldn’t get fractions finally did;
– when a little girl told her that her daddy was leaving home, and she cuddled her and helped her see that everything would be alright in the end because both her parents loved her very much;
– when a child who rarely smiled laughed out loud at her joke.
There were so many more golden moments along the way. And a million more from last year. I hope all teachers take time this summer to remember the reasons why they entered this amazing, inspiring and utterly essential vocation. The children’s lives just wouldn’t be the same without you. Whatever the numbers say.
You are making a world of difference – just like you said you would.