Posts Tagged ‘experience matters’

In Education Wisdom and Youth: you need both

April 10, 2013

It seems to me that a war is being waged against the wiser, less youthful of us in the work-force. There seems abroad a belief that young enthusiastic workers are what organisations and especially schools need. Now I’m not cynical enough to think this is just about money and being able to make young people work harder, or because they’re easier to bend to the organisation’s ethos. But I do wonder why there is a belief that youth is better than wisdom and that, especially in Education, young people should be fast tracked and any old teacher is automatically a drain on the system and needs to go.

snoopy teach

I confess, I stand firmly on the side of wisdom: youth having deserted me some time ago. But once I was a young teacher: keen, energetic and quite good at my job. I was promoted to Head of Department relatively young. The fact that I have remained at that level is incidental – I actually like it. And I firmly believe that any organisation worth its salt, and especially a good school, must have a mix of youth and experience.

When I was starting out I asked my favourite English teacher, whilst on my first round of school placements, why she would want a newly qualified, fresh out of university teacher in her department. I was struggling to see the benefits of inexperience; the memory of rubbish student teachers keen in my memory. She said it was because they brought new ideas and insights about teaching and it was always good to get new ideas and be inspired by others.

In my first school we were all pretty much newbies – teachers, heads of department in their first appointments; even the principal was in the second year of his first time as head-teacher. The only one in the school with any measurable experience was the deputy who had been at the school for 25 years. He was wise and kind and did a lot for this young teacher who made a beginner mistake. I had pushed two year 10 girls into a corner (not literally) and even knew I was doing it while doing it but had no idea how to stop myself and rescue the situation with everyone’s dignity and authority in place. So the girls were duly sent outside, the deputy picked them up, had a soft word and returned them to my care. Later he knew exactly how I’d managed to trip myself up. There was no reprimand, no scolding; no being made to feel a fool. All he said was, ‘You’ll never do that again, will you?’ And he was completely right.

For many years I was one of the youngest in my department, surrounded by women who were hungry readers and old school grammarians. It was wonderful to check with them about grading accurately, correct expression and have meaty discussions about books over lunch. I knew where my skills lay in running the department so never felt intimidated by their experience or resentful of them having some of the best classes in the school – in fact I gave them to them!


I remain the queen of English (just), presiding over my team like Elizabeth 1 – fierce but loyal, brutal but kind, encouraging but cautious; willing to say yes, but only once I’m convinced of the merits of the proposal. It’s true, young people bring an energy and vigour to an organisation that we elder statesmen no longer possess. We have – if we’re lucky – gravitas, a steady hand, a broad and detailed understanding of the subject we teach, the system we work within and most importantly the nature of the teenage beast.

My young people bring their up-to-date knowledge of modern culture, they plan fastidiously, they mark late into the night, they make beautiful power-points and resources, they invent exciting ways to engage the students. But none are ready for the fast-tracking advocated in some quarters. Their practise is strong but still developing. They need to teach A levels, work in different schools, experience a greater range of students and organisational structures.

Some of my crew will go onto be amazing leaders one day. But to promote them now would be cruel. They would be faced with situations they could not manage, people who would not co-operate; asked to be accountable for much more than their own students. At the moment they need to develop their craft, hone their skills as a teacher, work on that for a few years. Many years ago where I worked in Australia you could not be considered for promotion before you had completed a 6 month assessment and you could not do that before you had been teaching for five years. Interestingly, as I noted in a previous blog, this amount of time corresponds with Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours to become an expert.


Ability needs to be rewarded. Advancement should not be just about seniority. The merit principle should prevail. A department or school that is too full of inexperienced teachers – as my first school was – is a dangerous place to work. A department or school too full of experienced teachers waiting to retire is a recipe for stagnation. You need both – energetic bright young minds mixing in with calm and experienced warriors. We rub along together and rub off on each other. My team love me and I love them – but importantly we learn from each other, improve our practise and do the best we can for our students. (images courtesy Google Images)

Gove v Teachers – Round X

December 9, 2012

Have you read the weekend papers? If you’re not a young teacher but an older-type one then perhaps you’d better not. The article in the Sunday Times is grim and an example of incredibly biased reporting. Ah, perhaps I should take in for my KS4 lot to tear apart??

The glove are off: our dear friends Michael G is after teachers’ pay because good teachers – no, sorry – good young teachers should be rewarded for all their hard work and efforts and extra hours by getting the pay they deserve. They should be able to move from approximately £21,000 pa to £50,000 in six months if they are worth it. All young teachers, it seems are worth it and shouldn’t be constrained by out-dated modes like pay for experience and age; or the hard won teachers’ pay scales.

boxing gloves

Mm? So, where are the good older teachers – do we not exist? In Michael Gove’s world and the Sunday Times, it seems not. Clearly they envisage a world of Teach –first’s and young, enthusiastic teachers, all with passion and energy, willing to work extra hard, motoring up the food chain to be in charge of everything by the time well before they are thirty. Well, good luck to them.

There is a serious flaw here, and those of us who have been teaching for years know. In fact, those teaching for a few short years with a degree of awareness and intelligence know too. You need to put in the hours to develop your skills and your craft. Teaching is a craft. There is a reason for the pay progression by years and experience – most young teachers aren’t that spectacular in their first couple of years. Many have flashes of brilliance but good teachers become so through experience. Good teachers, no matter what their age, should be rewarded.

war o theacers

In fact, my own utterly delightful Teach-first reminded us all of Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour theory in his Outliers book. The idea goes that to reach expert level in your field you need to spend 10,000 hours mastering that skill. So, the theory about work says you need five years to become proficient in your field. Interestingly enough when I worked in the Northern Territory of Australia that was their line in the sand about applying for promotion. You would not be considered ready for your promotion assessment until you were in your fifth or sixth year of teaching.

It made sense: the first year of teaching you make all sorts of rookie mistakes, the second year, if you’re smart you don’t make those mistakes, you make others! By the third year you’re developing well and probably ready to take on year 12s and by the fourth you’re actually adding to your school and department, so by the fifth – your 10,000 hours, you have mastered your field and ready for the next challenge. Although, I would be very hesitant to say that it is possible to fully master such an fluid and every changing profession as teaching.


So, why is there such a rush to take young teachers to leadership when they are not ready? Why is there such an emphasis on young teachers being the only ones of value in schools these days? What’s happened to experience and wisdom, to a calm steady hand; one that knows what’s important and what’s ephemera?

How can an inexperienced head-teacher really judge fairly and objectively the worth of a teacher to the profession? Because, let’s be clear here, many head-teachers on the basis of the rush-through Teach-first, Future Leaders programs have not had the requisite 10,000 hours at the various levels on the way up to be prepared to run a school or make valid judgments.

snarling wolf

Talent, hard work, dedication, spark and flair – all these things should be rewarded. But to overlook wisdom, experience, gravitas in the headlong rush to break unions and push teachers out of the profession, will only weaken the schools that need strengthening and will not deliver anything for the kids.


The pay-scales are there for two very good reason:

1.Experience matters and is worth it and is hard won

2.Head-teachers are not always objective rational beasts: they have their favourites; they have their ‘to die’ list – they are like all of us; fallible and flawed. I am on my 17th head-teacher – I speak from experience.


Again, I can only wonder at a government and a minster hell bent on ripping into teachers once more, blaming them for all the ills of education in this country for the last 30 years. Ironically, teachers know that to help students make progress you emphasis what they can do, show that you believe in them and tell them they are worthwhile human beings.

happy PB

A shame that governments and too many head-teachers ignore this bit of truth about the world. (Images courtesy Google Images)