Vincenzo Foppa, The Young Cicero Reading, c.1464
The September teacher recruitment season is underway and Heads are competing in the trade papers for the prize of Most Risible Claim Made for the Greater Good. Schools are not merely outstanding but exceptional, innovative or (suddenly) traditional; scrubbed and comely children grin to order from photographs artily taken in gorgeous new buildings and tidy sixth-formers pose with dapper Head Teachers under the loveliest of trees. Inspection reports are filleted and dramatic assertions made about career progression. Who wouldn’t want to be a teacher?
I know about recruitment. I’ve been interviewed in schools where I’ve been stuffed with rich foods and allowed to wander freely, or where we got a jug of water and couldn’t go to the loo without a minder; in town halls or over the phone miles away from the school; after journeys of hundreds of miles or 50 yards from my own classroom; with panels clued up and challenging or sleepy and tetchy.
If you’ve got a good degree and you want to be a maths or science teacher there are bursaries up to £25k. Our schools are good and the work rewarding - but there were 81 September science posts advertised in a single week for schools in London alone. The people I work with are a pleasant and urbane bunch, educated, effective and Oscar-quality actors every one. They can hold a crowd in the palm of the hand and make it look effortless. Our science department are particularly chirpy. So why are science teachers hard to find? Is it that scientists (unlike historians or artists?) all get better paid work elsewhere? Or that no-one short of a hedge fund can live in London? Or does a combination of Educating Essex, Yorkshire or Waterloo Road by Tough Young Teachers just make the job look too damn scary? Who’d want to be that teacher?
It’s not too much to say that we have a national crisis of understanding about teaching. Teachers are too diffident about why we do what we do, and politicians use us shamelessly. Nationally, we don’t care enough about young people to be idealistic and articulate about the formation of our young. The best education systems in the world really value education and teaching. Training posts are extremely competitive and involve postgraduate theoretical pedagogy as an essential adjunct to excellent subject knowledge. PISA winners don’t scorn education’s thinkers as The Enemy Within and they keep politics out of our children’s futures. Most of all, they don’t denigrate teachers in public discourse with fatuous misquotings: ‘those who can, do…’
So this recruitment season let’s talk up Cicero’s gift, starting with these 10 things.
- Children and young people deserve the best a nation can give them
- Knowledge is worthwhile in itself and teachers share it on behalf of society
- Children need teachers so they may understand and change the world
- Powerful knowledge liberates children from their daily experience
- Shared and powerful knowledge enables children to grow into useful citizens
- Shared knowledge is a foundation for a just and sustainable democracy
- It is fair and just that all children should have access to transforming education
- The teacher’s authority to do this is given and valued by society
- Society trusts teachers to model our shared values
- We need the best possible teachers to achieve all this for all our children.
If you’re not already a teacher, why not think about becoming one? Look at the Department for Education’s website and the range of routes you can take, not all of which involve penury. Ask if you can shadow a teacher in a school you know, or come to us. Come and talk to some young people. They’ll blow your socks off.
If you like the sound of any of this you know where to find me. We’ll have very few vacancies this year, but we can help you look. Who wouldn’t want to be a teacher?