Outstanding teacher or outstanding actor – which do you prefer for your son/daughter?

In the mid to late 1990’s, I moved schools twice – meaning that within four years I taught in three different schools and the three schools that I taught in were inspected four times over that period.  By the way they were all very good schools and the inspections were not due to any negative reasons but for positive reasons, which I will not necessarily be explaining here. After my first inspection, I stopped making any special preparations for an inspection and did what I normally did when the school was not being inspected. I arrived at my usual time in the morning – which was always before 7am, taught the way I would normally teach and I was calm and ignored the presence of the inspectors as I taught my lessons.

Outstanding or Good?

During the inspection, whenever there was eye contact between an inspector and I or when they spoke to me, I was calm, I had a smile on my face most of the time and I answered the questions they asked me when prompted. I went through the entire inspections fine and all my lessons were rated as ‘good’. What about outstanding? No, none of the lessons inspected were rated as outstanding … It was just ‘good’ and I was content with that. I am not a good actor and I never tried or pretended to be one. If one can be consistently good and occasionally brilliant, that is good enough for me. People use words differently and what some people perceive as excellent, other people perceive it as good so there is always an element of subjectivity in making judgement under all circumstances.

I think I had the best job in the world as a teacher. I was fortunate to teach in a so-called good comprehensive school at the start of my teaching career – after which I moved to a grammar school and then spent the remainder of my mainstream teaching career in the independent sector. In my teaching I faced enthusiastic young people each day and for me every day was a new challenge, which I looked forward to, always learning alongside as I taught those young people, whom I had the privilege of leading.

Making a real difference is what matters most

I will tell you a little story of an experience that I had of a so-called ‘outstanding teacher.  There was a teacher whom I appointed to teach A-level and GCSE in one of the Science Subjects at Excel in Key Subjects about four years ago. For the purpose of this article, I will call him Mr X. There is no doubt that this teacher was a very knowledgeable and experienced colleague. However, in terms of being an outstanding teacher that would make a real difference to a student’s performance or examination grade, I had doubts. The teacher in question liked his subjects and he also liked to talk a lot – not only about the subject he taught but about other things. Many of the things he spoke about were often irrelevant and a complete and utter distraction to his students.  It is important for a teacher to engage students and to occasionally speak about some of his life experiences, provided what he is saying will enrich students’ lives, but it is something else to keep drifting away and wasting valuable lesson time regularly and then put up a big show for an OFSTED inspection.

It is very nice to win an award as an outstanding teacher and I believe the majority of teachers who do are brilliant colleagues, for whom I have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration. However, it would be wrong to assume that all teachers who are deemed to be outstanding by OFSTED are good enough to make a significant difference to your child’s academic progress. Many of those young people are just interested in mastering the subject they are being taught and achieving top grades in their A-levels.

Mr X was quite a good teacher but in terms of the difference that he made to the students’ understanding of his subject and their exam results, the outcome was not what I expected. Now, in the grammar school where he taught as a teacher he was judged to be outstanding by OFSTED. I spoke to many of the students that he taught at this grammar school and also judging by the exam results of the department that he led things were just alright at the best. Now this teacher obviously burned the candle to prepare for the one week of inspection by OFSTED and he was a good actor in that week. The ‘outstanding’ grade he received from OFSTED, in my view does not say very much about how good he was on a regular basis and if he is likely to inspire his students and get the most out of them. What it does say is that he is a good actor – who is perhaps capable of teaching a lesson or two.

Embrace an outstanding teacher – and good ones too

In my opinion, the skills, passion and enthusiasm that are demonstrated by a teacher when he or she is standing in front of the class is vital but is not everything. I have met many excellent teaching colleagues who are amazing at their teaching – they put a lot of effort into it and they are utterly devoted and fully committed to their students. Sadly many of these teachers will never be judged as outstanding by an OFSTED inspector but the value they add to the lives of the young people they teach will surpass that added by many of those who are rated as outstanding teachers.

There is an element of acting in teaching and it is a good thing – just like being a barrister or a politician. However, there are many other aspects that help a good teacher to inspire his students. Attributes such as: having high expectations, setting them the right level of tasks, following up with assignments set for them and providing a meaningful feedback to students are all very important in getting the most out of young people. On the whole I would urge you to embrace a teacher that is judged as outstanding by inspectors – but not without looking deeper and asking questions.

Your comments on this blog are welcome and are highly appreciated.