A teacher I hold in high regard once told me that he'd given up on trying to give quality education in return for giving quality "edutainment" in order to pass his classroom observations. "This is what they are really asking for" he laughed, uncomfortably.
My role as a classroom "entertainer" has developed somewhat over the last few years and my lessons are more entertaining than they used to be. But I can't help but feel cynical having ticked the box on my observation form (which of course comes under some other name like "engaging" or "interesting"). Most of my students may have been engaged during the lesson, most of them probably enjoyed it in some way, shape or form, but to create such an entertaining and engaging lesson requires hours of preparation. Hours and hours that can only be "used up" for this purpose every once in a while, because it takes so much out of you, your time and your family life.
I once attended a wonderful course called "Outstanding teaching" and low and behold, over the course of the day, I was taught how to become an outstanding teacher by an outstanding Teacher. She was unmistakably a wonderful teacher with some great ideas, but at the end she explained that outstanding lessons are impossible to teach all of the time because of the amount of preparation required to create them.
So the "outstanding" lessons that we fabricate to pass our observations are not true reflections of our everyday teaching at all.
If this is the case then what is the point of observations? Why does ofsted implement such an impossible, unreasonable criteria for us to "pass" the teacher test? The test is not reflective of our everyday teaching; we would have to burn ourselves out to achieve such consistent standards so why does it exist in the first place?
My daily classroom battles consist mainly of challenging low level disruptive behaviour: twiddling with the blinds on the window, pen tapping, book bashing, nail painting with marker pens, note passing, fidgeting, demands for attention such as needless questioning, shouting out, chatter and lack of focus. Getting a child to sit still and straight for any length of time is a challenge, whilst taming the energy of 30 children to focus and control themselves in the modern day is draining.
During a time where travel opportunities are endless, where children are constantly entertained by ever-changing modern technological advances, where children live in a graphics infused world of make-believe and screens, how is a Teacher supposed to compete with this, entertain and engage them? Some of these children have travelled to places I can only ever dream about and experienced things that I've never even heard of. Yet within the 4 walls of my uninspired classroom I put every child down the same conveyer belt of education, following the syllabus, marking their written work and yet the world gives them and cries out for so much more.
I find it ironic that in the many modern advances of technology and of living, I am still expected to educated over-stimulated children within the confines of 4 walls, expecting all of my identically clad students to sit still, to focus, to pay attention. Outside of the classroom, family and modern-society demands freedom, individuality and self-expression; how do teachers compete with this in the ethos of the classroom today?
Every year we receive a fresh intake of faces from the nearby primary schools and every year the restlessness that sits before me grows and strengthens. It is not their fault as children are only acclimatised to what they know and how they live. What is the answer? Do children need to learn self control or is it time that education evolved to fulfill the hyper-stimulating needs of the current generation?
Ofsted are aware of this higher need in the classroom, but they lay this burden at the feet of teachers who already have huge mountains to climb. They lay unreasonable expectations in our paths, knowing that they are not achievable, knowing that we will only be able to meet the criteria in order to pass the test. So what happens to the children? The restless future generations of children that require more stimulation and engagement than ever? Many of them become disengaged, bored, tired and uninspired.
Now and then, I flip a 'lesson' on it's head and we opt for something a little more reflective of real life; we talk about relationships, politics, government, managing a budget, family life or nature. For a time, I see them engage with a lesson that has had little preparation and added entertainment, because we speak about real things and we all open up. These life affirming lessons are the ones I'm sure they'll go on to remember as they make their way through life and it's challenges; these are the lessons I remember from my own time at school.
Taming the young to sit still, to concentrate, to exhibit self control, for me is the hardest battle of the classroom. There is one of me and 30 of them, 30 individuals full of super-charged modern energy craving high-level stimulation. Modern advances that accompany their 'real' lives just don't coincide with the calm, focused behaviours required in a class room environment. Taming the young is hard work; our methods of education are out of date and our children are generations ahead of it.
Is it then acceptable to expect our teachers to tame our children to adapt to the confines of a classroom environment? Or are teachers destined for a career of further "edutainment" to adapt to the ever-changing needs of the young?