No room for martyrdom

I could work harder. I could do more. I could teach better.

These things are all true. However, I could also work every hour in the day, and it wouldn’t necessarily lead to any better learning. Most importantly, it might have a negative effect. Either way, the reality is: none of us is perfect. And what is more, in a job like teaching, nor are we ever likely to be.

I have written in the past about coming to terms with this, and I think it’s an important lesson for new teachers to learn as quickly as possible: you cannot achieve everything, so live with that fact and do your best. However, in too many cases that option isn’t open to people because of the place they work.

Tonight, on Twitter, I was perhaps surprised, if not shocked, to see this policy mentioned:

I’m always concerned by any policy which is so demanding and restrictive. It sets people up to fail, and prioritises policy over practice. After all, surely sometimes marking of work is not the best use of time for a teacher? And sometimes life gets in the way of things.

To make matters more concerning, the conversation continued with the defence of the policy that included the poster claiming that he sleeps only 5 hours a night, works an 11½-hour day at school, and that his marking was “great”.

Now, in many ways that is admirable. Indeed, even someone sleeping a healthy amount, and working a legal working week and achieving that might be considered to be doing admirable work. But what concerns me is that it is “policy”.

For someone to be superhuman is commendable. For anyone to demand superhuman behaviours of others is, to my mind, wholly unacceptable. By all means support people to achieve the best they can in the time given; definitely set high standards when you’re in a role of any seniority; absolutely do the best you possibly can by the children in your care. But the moment any leader’s aspiration for perfection becomes an expectation of others, it becomes an unforgivable demand.

As a newly-qualified teacher, being expected to turn up every day, plan lessons, attend meetings, and get your head round everything else while still finding time to sleep and eat is unbearably hard. Imagine also being told that “policy” was that every single book must be marked before you left each night. No concern for professional development, for family life, for planning time, for an opportunity to recuperate. No consideration of the educational benefits of marking on a case-by-case basis. Simply the demand that policy states that every book be daubed in red pen to show that you’re doing your job. And we wonder why the profession struggles to retain new recruits?!

The very worst of martyrdom can too often lead to the very worst in leadership, and can genuinely ruin lives. In becoming superheroes it can be all-too-easy to becoming unforgiving of others’ human frailty. But most of us are only human.

Further Reading

“Should I be marking every piece of work?” – blog by Ofsted Inspector, Mary Myatt

What if Feedback wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. – blog by Andy Day

Force fed feedback: is less more?David Didau on some of the perils of feedback

Teacher Support Network – for anyone recognising and needing support with the stress they’re under

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2 thoughts on “No room for martyrdom

  1. Tim Taylor 27 January 2014 at 10:08 pm Reply

    Reblogged this on Primary Blogging.

  2. teachingbattleground 27 January 2014 at 10:21 pm Reply

    Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

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