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Primary Education News
News Secret Teacher: I'd rather leave the job I love than teach Gove's propaganda
Draft curriculum changes are forcing Secret Teacher to consider their teaching future
I was once the sort of graduate that Teach First now aims to entice into teaching. Having studied history at Oxford and considered academic research I decided to teach instead. People's reactions were sadly reflective of the status of teaching. One tutor sneeringly asked why I was "intent on pedagogy?" Plenty wondered whether it would be sufficiently intellectually challenging; some praised my supposed altruism or churned out the words "wasted as a teacher" while others put a positive spin on it saying: "at least you'll have long holidays". This is the situation Teach First aims to address; although the thought of a sponsorship scheme to substitute the former me, 21 and straight from my ivory tower, for someone with real experience and training, is excruciating.
Now, some 17 years on, I know hardly anyone with greater job satisfaction than me. Rather than teaching 'first' I want to go on teaching until I retire. Certainly there are frustrations; inset days spent sticking up Post-it notes on how to teach outstanding lessons, the tyranny of levels and prescriptive mark schemes, cosmetic and time-consuming initiatives from senior managers intent on enhancing their CVs. Increasing evidence of the unreliable marking of public exam scripts is harder to stomach, as is the annual round of advising victims of inexplicable marking whether to 'twist or stick' in the roulette game of remarking.
Yet none of these frustrations threaten the essence of the job. I still consider myself fortunate compared with friends who went into the city, law or academia. I see the humanising effect of studying history on teenagers every day. I see them slowly transformed by understanding different perspectives and debating with one another using evidence and rational argument. When I teach them the Russian Revolution I see them contemplating, for the first time, alternative ways in which societies can be organised, the gulf between ideals and realities and the relative impact of human agency and impersonal forces. I see them engaging with the big questions at an age when their outlook is being formed. When Sunday night despondency strikes family and friends, I keep quiet about the fact that I'm actually looking forward, say, to re-enacting the Lincoln-Douglas debates with my sixth-formers the next day.
My pupils are a constant source of intellectual challenge, especially now the information revolution has democratised history. Resourceful 14 year-olds can easily find counter-examples to challenge their history teacher's points, scary but invigorating for me and exhilarating for them. Pupils' questions and observations have been more instrumental in shaping my own views than the input of that Oxford tutor who sneeringly questioned my decision to teach. Whereas friends look back wistfully on the days spent contemplating history rather than share price movements, I'm paid to discuss the subject I love every day and to witness how it helps form young people's minds and personalities. I'll put up with most things to carry on with that.
But I won't put up with what's happening now. This time the changes proposed aren't easy to circumvent and go to the very heart of my job. I would be embarrassed to call myself a history teacher in a country where teaching history meant relating "our island's story in all its glory".
Gove wants me to jettison academic integrity, to exchange teaching a serious subject with civilising, democratising and humanising potential, for the imparting of nationalist propaganda. I'd rather no history were taught than Gove's history. Just as history taught properly is food for young minds, bad history – biased history, government-appropriated history - can be, and has in some contexts been, poison.
Clever, free thinking pupils will have some immunity; they will see through it and give up history. None of my former pupils who have gone on to read history at the sort universities that Teach First targets would have persisted with studying history if subjected to Gove's syllabus, let alone considered teaching it. Sponsorship schemes will not come close to resolving this. Gove claims to have a passion for history and respect for teachers but is about to drive me, many history teachers like me, and many future history teachers out of the job.
Today's Secret Teacher works at a school in the south of England.