“Teachers have walked out in a dispute over pay and pensions…” It’s a phrase we hear all too often in our newspapers and on our television screens. You could be forgiven for thinking teachers have had an easy ride over the past years, with squeezes on pay, pensions, demand of work and conditions. Channel 4’s ‘Educating’ series, this year based in Yorkshire, has highlighted the real wealth of admiration our teachers across the land deserve. Teachers in the United Kingdom need more recognition.
Following the success of previous series ‘Educating Essex’, this 2013 observational documentary focussed on a failing school, Thornhill Academy, in Yorkshire. The course of the series laid bare the failures of the school and how head teacher, Mr Mitchell, represented as a hero amongst society, aimed to turn the fortunes of the school around. Indeed, he succeeded. Throughout, the head insisted he believes the success of the school should be based on whether his students are polite, respectful and prepared young adults ready for the ‘real world’. Regardless of exam results, if the school does not prepare the students for work and life beyond education, in his own words, Mr Mitchell said “we have failed them.”
The welfare of our students has become a top priority in the United Kingdom. Reports of abuse, neglect and failings amongst local councils have hit the headlines, suggesting children are at “risk”. Throughout the ‘Educating Yorkshire’ series, the overwhelming sense was that the school, any school, is a sanctuary. A place for young people to go, be fed, be taught and be safe. Certainly through my experiences, school is a family, a community, being encouraged to work to the best of your ability because that is a good thing. Today, much of our education system has seen u-turns and constant focus on results.
Education Secretary Michael Gove has made a number of decisions that have shown lack of insight into our modern students and teacher abilities. The desire to scrap modular exams and coursework in favour of a single end of year exam has received little support from those in the profession. Students told Labour Leader Ed Miliband, in Warrington earlier this month, they felt stressed and uneasy that these exams could replace a system that allows students strengths and weaknesses to be explored. Proposed changes to the GCSE and A Level courses, only to be scrapped, have led head teachers to warn that the education and curriculum are becoming a maze of confusion with teachers unable to plan and priorities changing very often.
The Thornhill Academy may not be the best school in the country producing top results, but throughout the pioneering documentary, the sense of students being encouraged to reach their own personal targets has been most uplifting. Stereotypically, some may say, the students come from diverse backgrounds. It takes a real inspirational individual to encourage them to do well. Last night, the final programme in the series was eye-watering. Whilst many students prepared for their final exams, there was one student and teacher who were the limelight. A shining example of why so much recognition is needed for teachers.
Musharaf Ashgar, referred to as ‘Mushy’, was shown struggling with a stammer described as “one of the worst” by his teachers. The frustration on the face of the year 11 student was apparent as he struggled to get any words out ahead of his final speaking exam. The tale of his bullying and determination to overcome the obstacles in his way was moving beyond words. The support from his head of year and other liaison staff dictated how hard, how supportive and how encouraging our teachers are. The true moment of inspiration was in the form of English teacher, Matthew Burton, who, in the face of tackling Mushy’s stammer, referred to movie The Kings Speech, encouraging the Year 11 student to listen to music and speak at the same time. It was a moment of unanimous joy. For one of the first moment in a life time, Musharaf read aloud, confidently, his speaking exam.
Speaking in his final assembly, with a pair of white headphones, Musharaf thanked his friends, colleagues and teachers for their help in “finding his voice”. For those teachers who had built a rapport with the student from the moment he stepped foot in the school door, the tears and faces were of pride, joy and profound happiness that their student had overcome his speech disorder. As his friends were moved in the audience of his warming speech, so were the viewers of a programme that had brought emotion to so many. Thousands turned to Twitter to express their overpowering sense of sentiment that a thirty year old male English teacher could inspire and help a young man overcome a disorder that had ruled his life for so very long.
The entire last programme featured Mr Burton helping his less than motivated year 11 English class. His charm, cheekiness, humorous yet authoritative role as the teacher helped bridged the gap and created common ground between student and teacher. His methods of active learning, encouraging students to rhythmically understand certain linguistic functions and assisting each individual with their personal needs shows how inspirational teachers are. In result, Musharaf gained his C grade, as did the majority in his class. Yes, the results speak for themselves, but keeping a challenging group of students in awe of English is another thing. Truly remarkable.
Often, when teaching unions go on strike, there is much criticism that they are harming our children’s education, destroying the economy and causing unnecessary disruption. The ‘Educating Yorkshire’ series has highlighted a number of clear issues. Teachers are not just teachers. They are carers, listeners, helpers and motivators. The programme highlighted bullying, gang trouble, family issues and relationship trouble. Our teachers may not be experts in every field, but they certainly have experience. They do go beyond the needs of the classroom. Go beyond the call of duty was vast. Not many other professions seek to stay behind after school helping children with their educational needs. Not many professionals would go to work when visibly very ill indeed. Above all, our teachers help inspire a generation. Without Mr Burton, Musharaf would still be seeking to overcome his stammer. Many will say it was not the way to treat the speech problem. It worked.
I admire Channel 4 for their ground-breaking and perceptive documentaries. For many parents what happens in school stays in school. Very little is given away by the children. This documentary shows exactly what goes on inside school. Not all brilliant, but the emphasis, enthusiasm and care our teachers give in what is, at times, a challenging environment, cannot be questioned. Teachers in the UK deserve admiration and applause.