In the autumn of 1969, I was in my final year (second year sixth form) of secondary school, I had been persuaded to apply for university (I knew nobody who had ever been to one). Some of my friends were also applying to ‘Teacher Training Colleges’, which I considered to be a bizarre decision since I felt most teachers were unpleasant and useless. My view of teachers had been greatly influenced by my inability to fit into a secondary school that put so much importance on academia, exams and discipline (conforming). However, in the autumn of 1973 I was doing my first teaching practice, as a post-graduate P.E. teacher, at Carnegie College in Leeds!
In September 1974, I began my teaching career, as a P.E. teacher back at my ‘old secondary school’ in Romford, following invitations from the Head of P.E., Head of Science and Head teacher. The school had actually merged with a local secondary modern to form a comprehensive school and there was a drastic shortage of teachers. Although my main subject at the time, was P.E. my degree was in Chemistry, and I was very much a scientific, analytical thinker, very keen (almost obsessed) on experimenting and research. Until I went to Carnegie College in 1973, I knew absolutely no teachers apart from those that had taught me, since then my younger brother became a teacher, I married one, both my daughters now teach, virtually all my friends are/were teachers. Furthermore, I’ve spent 40 years studying, surveying, researching, interviewing and having discussions with many hundreds of teachers, which has provided some very important and useful insight into teachers and teaching, demonstrating why there are persistent concerns and how they can be resolved.
I discovered quite a lot of reports and surveys focused on ‘why people choose to go into teaching’, the most recent and useful is “Why Teach?”, available at whyteach.lkmco.org released on Friday 23rd October 2015. It explores why people choose to go into teaching and remain there, compiled in partnership by ‘think and action-tank’ LKMco and education company Pearson. The findings are based on a YouGov survey of over 1000 current teachers in England (including those from Early Years through to Further Education), focus groups and interviews with over 40 teachers and school leaders and an international literature review of existing research on the topic. The report provided some extremely useful evidence and statistics to support my own 40 year research.
I also discovered many decades ago the wide range of reasons for people choosing to become teachers and my curiosity (obsession to explain) meant I researched this much deeper. As a result in 1989, my M.Ed. focused on Staff Appraisal and Development by which time I had already arrived at this important conclusion:
“Teaching involves a huge diversity of people, with a variety of objectives, interests, skills and backgrounds, but they tend to be treated as a homogeneous group”
The “Why Teach?” research very much supported this conclusion, it even states “Policies that target the teacher labour market should take into account the fact that the profession is not homogenous.”
In order to convey the huge diversity of teachers I used Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator, and the “Why Teach?” report identifies four broad and overlapping teacher types aimed to help policy makers, educationalists and school leaders better understand the school workforce:
- Idealists- Idealists joined the teaching profession because they want to make a difference to their pupils, community and society. Their social mission is the driving force behind their work, and although they report being good at teaching and well qualified to teach, these factors are secondary to their desire to change the world. They are more likely to teach in local authority and community schools than other types of teachers, and tend to be slightly younger, although idealists can be found in all demographic groups. They are committed to education, would recommend it to others and are less likely to want to leave the profession.
- Moderates- Moderates are your everyday, middle of the road, teachers. They are defined by their non-extreme positions, but that doesn’t mean that they are indifferent or apathetic. Rather, they are neutral, open-minded and flexible, working hard and enjoying their jobs. They like their subject and working with children and young people, but they aren’t necessarily driven to be at the top of their field. For the most part, moderates are happy with things as they are and will take things as they come. They tend to be younger people, who might not have always wanted to be teachers, but have found themselves in the profession and are reasonably likely to want to stay in it.
- Practitioners-Practitioners are the ones who always wanted to be teachers. They love their subject, working with children and young people, and being in school. They are very engaged with teaching and education, and want to be great at what they do. They are often middle or senior leaders, and tend to work in the primary sector (although there are plenty of secondary and FE practitioners too). The vast majority are women and they are very likely to recommend teaching to everyone from their brightest student to their younger selves. They are the most vocationally driven and the ones who are most likely to want to stay in the profession.
- Rationalists-Rationalists are people who have made pragmatic decisions about being teachers. After weighing up the pros and cons, they feel that teaching is pretty favourable to them and so they stay in the profession. They make careful decisions about where they teach and what sorts of roles they taken on, and they don’t automatically prioritise teaching over the rest of their lives. They don’t seem to enjoy teaching as much as the other groups and sometimes they feel frustrated about education. They are less likely to recommend teaching to others, and often think about leaving the profession. Perhaps if they made their choice again, they would not have been teachers after all.
The ENFJ of the Myers-Briggs Personality Type is considered to be very common in teachers.
The “Why Teach?” report does not attempt to analyse the consequences (conclusion) of this research, it has huge repercussions in understanding the school workforce. It does make a very important observation that “Practitioners are very engaged with teaching and education, and want to be great at what they do. They are the most vocationally driven and the ones who are most likely to want to stay in the profession.”
Promotion in teaching can occur by chance, need or design but unless the teacher is a ‘practitioner’, motivated by promotion and increased responsibility they are unlikely to seek it and even possibly avoid it. Therefore, it is probable that the most important factor in becoming a Head teacher or senior leader is the desire to become one. The infrastructure and hierarchy in schools means that many potential effective leaders may be overlooked, whilst many Heads and senior leaders lack the skills to be effective, which is again illustrated on Page 19.
Leaving the profession
More than half (59%) of teachers have considered leaving teaching in the last six months and for those that have considered leaving in that period, workload is by far the most important reason for this, although poor leadership and insufficient pay also play a role.
This research is also very significant, since it illustrates the high level of disenchantment with teachers, especially reflecting the two main concerns (from my own 40 year research) of
Excessive, unnecessary workload
“Should I Stay or Should I Go? NFER Analysis of Teachers Joining and Leaving the Profession.” Worth, J., Bamford, S. and Durbin, B. (2015). Is another useful recent report that provides further support for my own research especially two crucial findings:
- More than half of teachers that leave take up jobs in the education sector (excluding those who left to retire). A similar proportion of the non-student joiners were already working in the education sector.
- Teachers are not leaving for higher paid jobs, at least in the short term, and on average have experienced a ten per cent fall in wages compared to similar teachers who remain in teaching.
The essence of the report reflects that teachers tend not to be motivated by money, despite the media, government and unions often focusing on teachers’ pay as being the major concern, with the poor leadership and excessive pointless workload barely being mentioned.
Therefore to conclude part 1 of “The Trouble with Teaching and Teachers” it should already be clear that
The perception of the role of teaching is extremely varied, with a huge range of views on key objectives or priorities.
The traditional and hierarchical organisational infrastructure of education and schools is unsuitable for the 21st century, with leaders lacking the skills to be effective and placing great stress on staff.
Teachers tend to be people who are reluctant to say ‘No’, prone to ‘working too hard’ and becoming susceptible to stress, poor health and wellbeing.