How truly sad to read about the suicide of the infant school teacher Rigoberto Ruelas in the US. Rigoberto took his own life after being publicly humiliated by a ranking system for teachers published in the Los Angeles Times.
Surely this must make all teachers pause for thought; can’t we all understand how this poor man must have felt? Despite being a valued member of his community and loving his job, this man was listed as one of the ‘least affective’ maths teachers in LA. This fateful judgement on his seventeen years of teaching was made by calculating the progress of the children he taught and comparing that alongside other teacher’s progress results. In effect, the LA Times published a league table for teachers. They shattered a perfectly decent human being’s morale and self worth to such an extent that he took his own life. In effect, they destroyed him.
I hope that this stands as a warning to education policy makers in this country. I hope that Michael Wilshaw will come to view his prior reference to low morale among teachers as being the first sign he was doing his job properly, as a deeply flawed approach to raising standards.
Teachers do not teach well under stress, just as children do not learn under stress either. Teachers teach well with support, training and good guidance. The nature of teaching and learning can not be changed into something is it not. Causing this kind of stress for teachers is like throwing a spanner into a machine and believing that it will somehow make it work better when it will only bring it to a grinding halt.
Einstein said that madness is doing the same thing over and over again, yet expecting a different result. The public naming and shaming of schools and now even teachers is no different. Putting teachers and school leaders under more and more stress has never worked and will never work. It is time that policy makers opened their eyes to the reality of teaching and what really improves teaching and learning rather than fixating on how best to measure and compare school’s and teacher’s performances.
At present, it is only adept school leaders who offer good guidance and manage the stress on their teachers who are holding at bay the machine burning out. I pity the schools with weak leaders who can’t do this, but merely transfer their own stress and terror to their teachers with reactive, excessive monitoring which does not effective children’s learning, but likely detracts from it. Sadly, my guess is there are more schools like this than we think.