Here is my Thought for the Day on Radio Kent this morning:
There has rarely been a day over the past few months when there has not been an education story of some sort in the news headlines. It is not an exaggeration to say that education and schools in England are under a more intensive spotlight now than ever before.
Whether we agree with their methods or not, for politicians education is often seen as a means to an end – a better educated workforce leads to greater prosperity in the future.
A recent survey of the views of business on education also acknowledged that a well educated population was less likely to be subject to social breakdown and unrest. Remember the 2011 riots.
As a teacher, and a headteacher, I can gladly accept that we need effective schools both to supply the future economic needs of the country and to contribute to the population having more opportunity and feeling more fulfilled in themselves.
But I don’t think either of these imperatives really gets to the heart of what motivates someone to be a teacher, makes them into a truly great teacher, or keeps them teaching despite the daily setbacks we all face, including sometimes at the hands of our politicians.
In Robert Bolt’s play, A Man for All Seasons, which dramatizes the life – and ultimate execution – of Thomas More, there is an exchange when More is suggesting a career path to the ruthlessly ambitious and power-hungry Richard Rich:
Sir Thomas More: Why not be a teacher? You’d be a fine teacher; perhaps a great one.
Richard Rich: If I was, who would know it?
Sir Thomas More: You; your pupils; your friends; God. Not a bad public, that.
By adding ‘God’ to those who see the work of a good teacher I think More is saying two things.
First, teaching is a vocation, a pathway many feel called to follow. A vocational teacher has a sense of the high moral purpose of what he or she does.
The second point I think More makes when he refers to God is that teachers are accountable for how and what they teach to a higher authority. Another way of saying this is that is important that teachers and schools are not only buffeted this way and that by the demands of politics and society at any given time, but have their own inner moral compass that keeps them steady in rough times.
I suggest our politicians would do well to reflect on the genuine vocation to serve their students which motivates so many teachers.
Perhaps in so doing they would develop a greater respect for the calling which teaching is, and realize that the core purpose of the profession is inspiring, guiding and accompanying young people on their journey as they discover who they are and what their own place and calling in society are.