Monday, 8 April 2013

A four hour day for teachers?

At their conference last week the  National Union of Teachers demanded that a daily maximum of four hours be placed on the amount of time their members are required to teach.  That must have  provoked snorts of derision from toilers in other occupations.  However, when it is analysed the demand is not all that far from what used to be the established norm.

For most of my teaching life I worked in schools which operated on timetables of eight  40 minute teaching periods per day.  That's 320 minues of teaching, compared with the 240 envisaged with the four hour maximum. However, in secondary schols (primnary school teachers  were often not so fortunate) it was the genreal asumption  that each teacher would average one "free period" a day, for marking, preparation or, more often thatn not in my case, staggering to the staff-room for a quiet smoke.*  That meant an average daily  teaching load (they now call it "contact time," I believe, )  of 280 minutes, still 40 minutes more than last week's demand, but not absurdly so.

The seven periods of teaching per day wasn't all we did, of course.  Most of us took registration twice a day, had minor pastoral responsibilities, attended assemblies and, in the later part of our careers, when these ceased to be a headmasterial monopoly, often contributed to them,  and took part in  innumerable "voluntary" activities: in my case mostly  running debating societies and contributing to choirs.

And then, of course,  there was the preparation and marking.

The greatest difference  between teaching "then" (for me, 1959 to 2003) and now is that for me 95% or more of what I did "outside the classroom" was for the direct benefit of my pupils. Only in my first year, then called a "probationary year,"  was I required to produce weekly lesson plans, with aims, objectives, methodology  and other abstractions, and hand them in to the head for perusal and comment (though I don't actually remember any comments.)  After that, it was up to me to do what I considered necessary to make my teaching effective.  For me, this  meant a huge amount of preparation when putting together a new course, after that not much except for the fun of keeping it up to date, but always lots and lots of marking.

Today I suspect teachers, and particularly in primary schools, spend hour upon hour, not on preparation necessary for their pupils, but on providing evidence to their superiors about what they're doing and how they're doing it, and supplying the raw data from which statistics can be prepared to assuage OFSTED. For all of that, poor things, they need more than an extra 40 minutes a day.

My friend Michael Meadowcroft once commented to me (originally, and perhaps unkindly, in relation to Working Men's clubs) that we have created a society in which it is more important to do things "correctly" than to do them  well.  Alas this mindset now dominates education and, sadly,  we are now producing teachers who believe all this mastering of jargon and collation  of evidence is not only the norm but is actually important.  Rather than provide and extra 40 minutes for doing it, we need to clear away  away this  climate of conformity and over-supervision and free teachers to have the time and energy to inspire the young.

* Until Leap Year Day, 1984, when I kicked the habit.

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