Teacher Accountability


Sir, - What I do as a teacher of English in drawing out (educare: to bring or lead out) the diverse talents of my pupils is unquantifiable, even by myself (though at the end of most days I try). The idea of someone, even within the teaching profession, being able to measure my worth is as bizarre to me as someone measuring parenting.

How could a monthly or even a weekly visit capture progress? Progress for one boy might be to begin using full stops; for another it might be scoring A1 rather than A2 in his essays; for yet another it might be accepting that I'm actually on his side. How could someone outside the relationship I develop with each and every one of my pupils, with varying degrees of success, judge how well I am doing? (And please remember that this would depend on judging me on what other people do!)

With regard to rewarding teachers or schools for better exam results, people aren't thinking of what would be lost. Think of how our walls would look if we paid brickies by the brick. I could get more A and B grades out of my pupils if I were to chase such cash (and it might be hard not to) but they would be poorer readers, writers and people as a result. Instead of time-consuming reading, I could just give them notes and prepared essays: they could gain exam success on the back of what I know, not because of what they know.

But surely we want our children to be able, say, to dwell for "too long" on their favourite tavern scene from Henry the Fourth? To "waste" time directing and acting out fat Falstaff's outrageous lying? To write their own poems in answer to Heaney's? To write letters to Coronation Street over an apostrophe omission? ("Roys Rolls": since corrected!) Surely it is through such exam-irrelevant activities that pupils move from a fear and passivity in relation to meaning to respectful but confident grappling with language? And isn't that what's required in this information age?

Or do we want our young people to start the adult treadmill of narrow efficiency and productivity from the age of 12? Because that would be the inevitable consequence of rewarding teachers by results, or schools through league tables. We would benefit from accepting that good teachers are accountable, to their pupils, principal and themselves, but that this cannot be measured from the outside, unless we want both teachers and pupils to suffer.

Of course there are some teachers performing badly, but we need to be more imaginative in how we solve the problem. Perhaps we could retrain? Offer teachers the benefits of the education system too? - Yours, etc.,

Conor Norton, Sandford Road, Dublin 6.