Celebration story with a sting in the TALIS
This short blog offers reflections on three things which happened on Wednesday 19th June 2019 which were of note to me.
Firstly here at Carnegie School of Education we held our Mentor Celebration Event. Secondly it was Thank a Teacher Day. Thirdly the OECD TALIS report was published. I have listed these in order of scale; local, national and international, but not necessarily of significance.
At our Mentor Celebration we welcomed mentors who have been working with Leeds Beckett University student teachers, from both undergraduate and postgraduate courses, and who had been nominated for a mentor of the year award, or who had attended our advanced mentoring development programme. The evening allowed us to celebrate their work, to recognise their impact and to collectively reflect on the experiences of being a mentor. During the evening we noted that an outsider listening to the discussions about their mentoring might assume that it was their full time job, but that we knew that this was far from true and that in fact they all layered mentoring into their principle professional roles as teachers and leaders. We also noted that, given the feedback from students, it was clear that mentoring sometimes also gets layered into personal and family time, just as teaching does.
Mentoring matters hugely to student teachers, not just in facilitating their learning and early professional development, but also in supporting them emotionally. It sets new professionals up for a life which they nor we can easily predict, but which always has potential.
It is important that we thank our mentors, and our celebration evening was timely, because Wednesday 19th June was also Thank a Teacher Day, and social media was alive with tweets from our Secretary of State for Education and others thanking teachers and offering their appreciation. I expect most teachers missed this as they would have been busy teaching, but the sentiment was there. Quite reasonably a few respondents pointed out that teachers need thanking every day, not just once a year. And there were a few choice retorts from people wondering if the DfE would like to thank teachers in ways other than in a few tweets.
On the same day some of the education news headlines were dominated by the international comparisons laid bare by the OECD TALIS report the Teaching and Learning International Survey. The survey covers about 260,000 teachers in 15,000 schools across 48 countries and economies; indeed you may have participated in it as 4000 teachers from 200 English schools took part. TALIS is a comprehensive survey exploring the experiences and attitudes of teachers and school leaders about many aspects of school life. Some of the evidence suggests that there are important aspects to worry about in England and the first amongst these is workload.
In England, primary teachers report a workload of 22.4 hours of teaching and 31.9 hours of non-teaching work activity per week. In secondary, the figures are 20.5 hours of teaching and 32.7 hours of non-teaching work activity. Even without the unfavourable international comparisons it is clear that these are burdensome hours and indicative of the fact that despite the DfE claims to be tackling workload head on, it is not yet having the necessary impact on the system and is still adversely impacting on many teachers’ lives. Perhaps it is not surprising that some measures of job satisfaction amongst teachers in England are also reported to be lower than the average international figures, particularly amongst our secondary teachers.
Amongst the other TALIS data that stands out to me is the average age and number of years in the profession of teachers in England. Both figures are lower than the international comparisons, corroborating other evidence that teacher retention is a problem. One consequence of this is how few teachers there are over 50 compared to in schools internationally. There are many possible repercussions of this, one of which takes us straight back to our mentoring celebration. As the number of years that teachers stay in the profession drops, we risk losing those with the greatest levels of experience and the professional maturity to make sense of the changing educational landscapes. These qualities were certainly part of our celebration of mentors. Not all mentors are long in the job, but we do all sometimes need the measured wisdom that experience can offer. So I’m going to make a special shout out ‘thank you’ to teachers (who like me) are now at least the grand age of 50 and still going strong.
Rachel Lofthouse is Professor of Teacher Education in the Carnegie School of Education. She has a specific research interest in professional learning, exploring how teachers learn and how they can be supported to put that learning into practice.