Stories of classroom woe in vogue

ASK any adult about their experiences of school and almost all will have a story to tell about uninspiring teachers and boring lessons.

My own involves a history teacher who would turn up for her 40-minute classes with a text book from which she would read in a flat monotone while her unfortunate pupils (of whom I was one) took note after note after tedious note. My husband has similar stories of woe, which he never actually manages to relate because he’s too busy spitting vitriol about the teachers involved to detail their classroom crimes.

Of course, that was in the days before Ofsted inspections. Once teachers were let loose in the classroom no-one apart from their pupils ever monitored or even witnessed what they were actually up to.

But it seems, despite the steely gaze of the Ofsted inspector, teaching standards are still often inadequate. In Ofsted’s recently-published annual report the chief inspector of schools warns that children are still being subjected to “dull” lessons and says that poor teachers should be removed from the classroom.

This is something of a novelty. We’re forever hearing about unruly children being expelled, but the teachers? That’s almost revolutionary.

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We’re not talking about isolated incidents of poor teaching either. According to the report, the quality of teaching is not good enough in half of England’s secondary schools and more than two-fifths of primaries.

I suppose the fundamental truth this exposes is that having all the qualifications and being a whizz in your subject area does not necessarily mean you are a good teacher. Good teachers are people who can inspire with their passion for a subject, who can find new and interesting ways of engaging their pupils and who, above all else, are committed to education.

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It’s easy to criticise. I don’t think any of us should lose sight of just how difficult a job teaching is. I spend an hour or so a week helping out in my son’s primary school class and at the end of those 60 minutes I am exhausted. I used to think I might like to be a teacher. Now I know I would not. It’s just too hard, so I have nothing but admiration for most teachers and their dedication to the job.

Perhaps those who are struggling to keep pupils’ interest should follow the examples of a couple of teachers I encountered when I was visiting local schools to select one for my son. In one class the teacher had a hand bell to ring when she wanted pupils’ attention. At the sound of the bell all of them stood to attention like little Pavlov’s dogs. I quickly discounted that school, along with another where the teacher wore a Madonna-style headpiece and microphone to deliver her lessons to four and five-year- olds.

Come to think of it, such a thing might have improved my history teacher’s lessons, especially if she’d added a few ‘Vogue’ moves too.

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