Good Teachers are Worth their Weight in Gold!

A Good Teacher is Worth their Weight in Gold!

There is a saying that goes “a good teacher is like a candle, it consumes itself to light the way of others” – a quote from Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. The difference a teacher can make to the life of a child cannot be overemphasised. Every adult can remember at least one or two teachers who made a real difference to them during their school days.

In my blogpost, I highlighted the more recent positive events in the education of young people, showing that, despite the damaging effect of coronavirus, there are things that are moving in the right direction. I also told a couple or so stories about why the increase in the number of state school pupils gaining admission to Oxbridge is not exactly a complete reflection of diversity in the way most of us may think it is. I will try to look a little more into the effect of the pandemic on education in this week’s blogpost.

We all know the reason why there has been a substantial increase in the number of teenagers who achieved top grades at GCSE and A-level: teacher assessment as opposed traditional examination. I’m not necessarily arguing here about the merits and demerits of teacher assessment, as the pandemic is an unprecedented event. One main reason why people have more confidence in the proper, traditional examination is uniformity.

With teacher assessment and the way it has been carried out in 2021 and also 2020 to a degree, every school decides on what it assesses in terms of the content, the nature and the conditions under which the assessment is conducted and the grades it awards. Some schools conducted examinations that were very rigorous whilst some did very little in terms of testing but depended on assignments completed, like homework, classwork and so on. 

No reasonable human being can argue there is consistency in that system. I will not speak about whether this is fair or not in this particular discussion, as a global pandemic is an unprecedented event, and it is very difficult for decision-makers to decide on what is best under those circumstances.

For fairness, no one should rubbish the efforts of young people who worked hard and were able to convince their teachers to award them good GCSE and A-level grades, even if some of them would not have achieved those grades had they taken a proper, traditional exam. There is little the young people can do, almost all responsibility lies in the hands of we adults – government institutions, examination authorities, schools and teachers. Even parents are largely bystanders in this equation.

One of the things I really like in the British education system is the pastoral element, which is very strong and has a big impact on the overall development of a child. I love teaching Physics to pupils, and I have very little tolerance for crowd controlling in the classroom. However, teaching a particular subject to teenagers and playing a small role in the overall development of those teenagers are not mutually exclusive, but in fact an enhancing experience for any teacher. The way schools are set up in England, in terms of how it combines the curriculum side of things with the pastoral element is excellent. This is why many teachers enjoy teaching so much and consider it to be the best job. I agree with that, and I will even go as far as saying that it is not a job but perhaps a mission. A mission with not one end but many; it’s more about the process…

Going back to the issues of the effect of lockdown on children’s learning and mental health. I am not a psychologist and I’m not at all qualified to make any judgement or comment about the mental health of young people. My area is education and I feel strongly that, although it is a huge task, loss in learning can be rectified if there is the will to do so. The bitter truth of life is that there will always be losers and winners in life. I accept that this is a strong phrase to use when it comes to children, as no one wants their child to be called a loser.

I will tell you two short stories and this time I will start with the positive one.

Last week, I was speaking to one of my colleagues, Sameera, whom I have not spoken to for over two years. Until I talked to her, what I was  told each time I spoke  to a teacher about lockdown was never positive. I was pleasantly surprised that she told me that the children at her college lost zero teaching time during the pandemic. Yes, she teaches at a state college in East London and children are from a diverse background, and one would not necessarily classify most parts of East London as necessarily affluent. Sameera informed me that it took only two weeks for teachers at her school to train and start a full timetable of teaching remotely. Very refreshing news to hear. What I did not ask was the proportion of students who were engaged in that online teaching. Those who actually responded positively by attending all the classes and completing and handing in the assignment they were set. On the whole, I take what Sameera has told me as positive, as I found it extremely difficult to comprehend why it took so many schools in Britain so long to start providing a reasonable quality of teaching to their students after the lockdown in March 2020.

On the not-so-positive side, I was having a chat with another colleague, Gordon, a few weeks ago. He is one of the teachers employed by the NTP – National Tutoring Programme. This is part of the £1b government catch-up programme, to provide tutoring to children who have missed out following lockdown. Gordon told me that, most of the time, the students never turn up for the lesson. The government and the schools these children attend are paying for the tutoring and the students are not turning up.

Like in most areas, whenever we speak about education standards, the first thing many mention is a lack of funding. Perhaps more money may help, but the first issue to address is to make sure that taxpayers are getting value from whatever amount is being spent. I do not know the proportion of students who fail to turn up for catch-up lessons each week. What I know is that not all families put the same value on education, and no matter how much is spent some will never appreciate or make the effort so they can derive maximum benefit from it.

Too many people look at education as a bother, and not as something they should be grateful for the opportunity to make the best of and ensure their children get the most out of it. On the other hand, I see so many young people who are thriving and doing well in the education system. What I have seen are so many young people who have done very well  in the last couple of years, despite the pandemic. For many of them, it seems as if the disruption caused to education has either not had any adverse effect whatsoever or has had a positive impact on their academic progress.

The last couple of blogposts in the four-part series highlight more success stories in the education of young people and what to watch out for. In the last part, I will be making practical suggestions on what can be done to make the best of the opportunities out there.