We all remember our best teacher. My best teacher was Miss Elizabeth Cross, Head of History, at Palmer’s Sixth Form College in Essex. As a teenager back in the late 1970s I thought she was quite old but, with the benefit of my own advancing age, I suspect she was probably younger than I am now. Teenagers can be very unforgiving.
Miss Cross was a fearless teacher. She was unfazed by the size of the class and the less than focused approach of certain of my class mates. Given she had taught in the College when it had been a grammar school, Miss Cross had to make real adjustments in her pedagogy to engage the interest of her new cohort of students. And the topic of the French Revolution was not to everyone’s taste. For me, Miss Cross’s passion for the period was infectious, her ability to empower her students was extraordinary and her genuine interest in her students’ well-being shone through.
Clearly Miss Cross was an inspirational teacher who made a real and meaningful difference. She certainly transformed my life. Yet how often today do we reflect on the teacher who makes a difference? It was with interest that I read Professor Chris Husbands’ blog on “Ofsted, school accountability and the most able students”. Chris Husbands is Director of the Institute of Education and an educator whose opinion carries some clout. His most recent post, in response to the cacophonous noise coming from Ofsted about schools failing the most able, is an insightful analysis into the progress of the most able in comprehensive and selective schools. It points to the difference a teacher can make in a school:
‘“Successful” schools are often no more successful in meeting the needs of very high attaining pupils than less successful schools. And, for all the difference between comprehensive schools and grammar schools, if grammar schools are not securing the highest grades for two-fifths of their highest attainers, the observation holds there: they, too are just not doing well enough with higher attainers… it does not matter much which school you go to, but it may matter a great deal who teaches you when you get there. In English education, within-school variations in pupil attainment are more significant than between-school variations.” (@director_IOE )
Chris’s observations about teachers are clearly contextualised in the latest Ofsted whipping boy. However, it is a point well made that the role of the teacher has become subsumed into the macro debate about schools.
It matters that teachers have personalities. You only have to take a cursory glance at Twitter to observe teacher individuality @HeyMissSmith @tombennett71 @Bob_the_teach to name but three. The educational debate rages around such individuals who in their own way rage against the machine.
So why does this all matter in our micro world? Because ultimately when a pupil tips up at school they know little and care less about the “machine”. What they care about is whether the lesson today is engaging, whether the teacher is interested in them and (probably) will there be homework. Life is about the everyday and teachers engage with everyday life.