Helen Parker says brilliant teachers of all ages are ground down by the numbers and by administrators who lack imagination, courage and leadership
As a recently retired head of department who taught English for years beyond retirement age, I wanted to agree with the idealism and conviction that emerged in many of the articles and letters published on teaching (‘Have I chosen the right career?’ Three new teachers reflect on their first year). But the reality is that brilliant teachers of all ages are ground down by the numbers and by administrators who lack imagination, courage and leadership.
Teachers are overwhelmed by class size and the marking, especially in the humanities, that follows. We read about studies showing that student results don’t improve in smaller classes. What ‘results’? Over how many years? An enlightened head at my school reduced class sizes from 25 to 20. Three years later we were to drop to 15 in a class. Under a new head, we spent money on computers for every student and a new building, which resulted in a gain of one classroom and computers that couldn’t enable critical thinking. With 20 students in a class, in a 40-minute lesson, each student might, perhaps, enjoy one-and-a-half minutes of individual attention, three times a week. The situation is even more impossible at upper levels.
It’s heart-breaking to know how much more you could enable a student to think about what writers are getting at, how they do it and why it matters, whatever the subject. Education needs more than new faces and minds. It needs a complete overhaul; only the brightest and best, selected from their speciality, apprenticed for a significant time to highly successful teachers, and remunerated accordingly.