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Hodder History Expert Blog

Getting the message across
By Tony Fox
29 Oct
As you may have read in the media, October was not a good time to be a teacher. Millions of children’s futures were put in jeopardy, as teachers closed thousands of schools. The coverage was detailed and pretty much uniform, with the BBC setting the template: first we got angry parents complaining that finding alternative childcare because of the strike has been 'quite a headache'.’  This was followed by a short statement from a union representative; and finally rounded up with a government minister , or a representative from the DfE, or even the Prime Minister, who gave thanks that his childcare was not disrupted.

I did not get emotionally involved. After all, it has become usual over the past three years, it has become so routine that I can almost predict the DfE spokesperson’s response. Where I did get emotionally involved this month was with the TV programme Educating Yorkshire. I will admit I was not sure how to take Mr Mitchell, the Head, at first. In the first two episodes, I watched with anticipation, for his softly softly approach to backfire, but gradually it began to dawn on me that he was perfect for the position. An honest and warm man, operating honestly and openly. The last episode, shown just days after the strike, was, I found, truly emotional. The star, and I use the term fully, was a Year 11 student named Musharaf. Musharaf began the episode as an ‘ordinary ‘ Year 11, facing the culmination of his career. He was under pressure to get the grades needed to continue into college, but he had an additional challenge, a debilitating stutter. The producers and editor of  the programme elicited sympathy for Musharaf, not through gimmicks or sentimentality, but through a steady and systematic depiction of his frustration, and the calm and dignified way he faced each obstacle.  

The stunning moment, when Mr Burton suggested he listen to music whilst he speaks, was the talk of my classroom for days afterwards. The other staff talked about it, my students talked about. I feel I must point out that Mr Burton, another outstanding practitioner of the educational craft, would not have survived a term in a number of schools I have worked in, why? ‘He does not conform to the ‘expectations’ of SLT’, he takes risks, he appears to dress in the dark, and he puts the students before his own health and career. Musharaf was the undoubted star of the episode, if not the series, but Mr Burton showed us what teaching is about. It was his efforts and his belief in Musharaf that allowed this student to triumph and to overcome serious challenges. Mr Burton displayed the skill, care and dedication that we all aspire to, he went that little bit further for a student. Not for financial gain, but because he cares, he cares for his students as individuals, wanting them to receive what they deserve, to fulfill their potential.

We now know why many parents found it a headache to find ‘alternative childcare’. It was not because schools offer the cheapest childcare around, it is because schools are filled with dedicated professionals who really do care for their child. Mr Burton, I would like to salute you, and thank you for showing a side of our profession that the media have managed to ignore this month, I would like to thank you for being so revolutionary. George Orwell wrote in Nineteen Eighty-Four, that, ‘In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.’ This month has felt like a time of universal deceit. But we got one man telling the truth, the truth that the vast majority of teachers care about the education of students. And when faced with the ever-changing terms and conditions, and a constant onslaught on their professional judgment, they will continue to care for children, and they will constantly care for education. Mr Burton has shown this clearly, he represents all of us who care, and has shown why teachers are prepared to protect what we have. We want to protect our terms and conditions, because they give us time to plan and prepare effectively, but they also allow us to care for our students, to make time for the individuals who need that little bit more, who need that revolutionary teacher, who need someone to care about them. It’s a real shame that Mr Gove will never understand this.


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