Undignified spectacle by those who teach

PUBLISHED: 11:56 02 May 2008 | UPDATED: 20:17 05 July 2010

I CAN'T be the only parent who watched the sorry spectacle of striking teachers parading through London thinking in despair: “Our poor children - in the charge of this lot?”

Football-terrace chanting, playing up for the cameras and waving their banners, the protest was an undignified spectacle at best.

I CAN'T be the only parent who watched the sorry spectacle of striking teachers parading through London thinking in despair: “Our poor children - in the charge of this lot?”

Football-terrace chanting, playing up for the cameras and waving their banners, the protest was an undignified spectacle at best. At worst, a disgraceful showcase of those we trust to educate our children and prepare them for life in the real world.

Punching the air and flexing their fists, they looked more like a student rabble than a bunch of professionals. They say they're affronted at the lack of respect they are afforded. As they should be telling their pupils, respect has to be earned.

Teachers are threatening more strikes and extending their grievances to workload and big classes.

I hold my hands up now. I have a bit of a “thing” about teachers bemoaning their lot.

As a vocation and profession, it should be valued highly and is, without doubt, one of the most important jobs in the land. If it is done well.

Good teachers are worth their weight in gold. An excellent teacher can make the difference in a child's life and should be paid accordingly. And there are many brilliant teachers out there.

But the unions don't accept good and bad. They want the same pay - they call it “fair pay.” It's anything but - for every teacher, outstanding, ropey or incompetent.

But there are so many poor teachers who manage to meander through their careers wreaking havoc in young lives with no accountability whatsoever. They deserve no pay, let alone fair pay.

As former chief inspector of schools Chris Woodhead said this week, the unions defend the indefensible.

A teacher who inspires, brings subjects to life, encourages, nurtures and strives to get best out of his or her pupils individually by passion for their subject and truly believing in what they're doing is worth a mint.

These teachers can literally change lives. These are the people born to teach, who light up rooms and the faces of their classes.

But too many teachers don't and are simply not up to scratch. They bumble on year after year, failing their pupils and are out of their depth. They should not be teaching because they're not doing what they're paid to do and they should be out.

But teachers are untouchable and unaccountable. They're free to carry on with their rubbish teaching until they retire on a very healthy pension, thank you very much.

Teachers live on Planet Teacher with little idea of working lives for the rest of us. Throw a life-long teacher into a job in the private sector of 40-plus hour weeks 47-48 weeks a year, with strict appraisals and supervision and they wouldn't know what had hit them.

Effective teaching - or rather ineffective - has weighed heavily on my mind in the past year as we've been choosing a secondary school for our older son. At some open evenings, I've been agog at the attitude of teachers I've met. Alleged specialists who couldn't even engage me in a conversation about their subject let alone inspire a child.

I left one school in such despair. I'd never come across such a concentration of uninspiring bored looking people who expected me to entrust my son to them, no questions asked.

My father taught in a secondary school for 30-odd years so I grew up witnessing the life of a teacher first hand so I know what I'm talking about.

I also spend a lot of time at a college, meeting 16-18-year-olds who hated school because, from an early age, they'd been labelled “thick” and left school virtually illiterate and innumerate with no self-confidence or self esteem because their teachers had written them off.

Some had been told they'd “amount to nothing” - a favourite phrase it seems with many who should know better - and had believed it for years.

With the input and effort of college staff, these teenagers thrive and get on track, loving to learn.

Their schoolteachers, of course, would blame the “system” not their own failings.

Good teachers deserve higher pay - it would entice the best into the profession. But only the best and the competent should be rewarded and the poor weeded out.

Then, and only then will they regain the public's respect. This will never come by abandoning their responsibilities, landing parents with childcare bills or asking them lose money by taking time off during strikes and chanting in the street.

SOCIAL commentators' moral barometers shot skywards this week about women becoming grandmothers in their thirties.

Mothers turning grannies - or “nannies” as granny sounds so ancient, one said - when their teenager daughters repeat their cycle and give birth before or soon after they leave school.

But listening to these women's stories, perhaps it isn't the social disaster people portray it to be.

One 33-year-old grandmother from Norfolk has been with her husband for nearly 20 years. Their daughter lives with her boyfriend and the father of their daughter. Two stable relationships with a big extended family network and the men are in work.

The grandmother says she's still young enough to help her daughter with her child and, now her children have grown up, she's got enough energy and life ahead of her to go to university to train as a midwife.

Compare this to women who put off having children until their 30s, followed their career to live away from their families, are now in their forties and who are constantly exhausted because their elderly parents are either too old or too far away to help.

A granny at 32 has it all to look forward to, can really enjoy her grandchildren and juggle everything to fit it all in. A new mum at 40-odd can feel like life is almost over, shattered and spent with no one to help her.

Gwyneth Paltrow, macrobiotic diet-mad actress who called her daughter Apple and has, for years, favoured flip-flops and jeans has re-launched herself from Green Gwyneth the Pure to Racy Gwyneth the Vamp.

Teetering around for the paparazzi in 7-inch heels- eight pairs in a week at the last count - micro-mini skirts and bare legs, she looks like she's got something to prove.

Peculiarly, she has a pact with her husband Cold Play's Chris Martin never to be photographed together in public.

So she's happy to be seen out in public looking ridiculous and barely able to walk but she refuses to be pictured with her husband and father of her children.

And she insists fame's not changed her.

Perky and scrubbed with her blonde highlights bouncier than ever, Anthea Turner is back to make us all feel inadequate and slovenly.

Immaculately groomed, she's touting her new book, How to Be the Perfect Housewife.

This time it's about being the perfect hostess.

In her impossibly tidy home in her spotless kitchen; she oozes handy hints for whipping up dinner parties, picnics and barbecues while remaining serene, fragrant and unflustered. In her world, there's a place for everything and everything in its place.

The rest of us are struggling to put our husbands in their place let alone find the colander.

Do us with real lives really want to spend good money on taking tips from a wealthy woman with no children who has nothing better to do than polish the banisters and entertain her rich husband?

The heart-breaking story of the severely disabled man found dead in a suitcase in the family shed and the discovery of his mother's body with a ligature around her neck should ring alarm bells through communities.

Heather Wardle was described as a devoted loving mother - a real coper.

She coped with changing her 22-year-old son's nappies, feeding him, putting him to bed and fulfilling his needs 24 hours a day because she loved him.

To the outside world the beautiful smiley mother was on top of her demanding difficulties.

She was always neat and tidy, the home immaculate and she had her make-up on when she went out - everyone's conclusion therefore that she was “fine”.

That's because everyone wants people with difficult lives to be fine - that way it means no one has to do anything to help.

People take in the surface painted on smile and believe all is well.

But too often it's those who put on the smile and insist they're fine and look like they're in control that are anything but fine.

Next time someone who insists they're fine when their lives are obviously tougher than most, look a little deeper. It might just be the support they need.

Madeleine McCann has been missing for a year and former detective Mark Williams-Thomas, now a leading child protection expert, has come up with a new theory.

He believes Madeleine woke up - like she told her mother she had the previous night - and let herself out of the unlocked patio doors to find her parents in the Tapas bar. An opportunist paedophile had snatched her on her way.

Her parents don't need new theories to remind them of the mistakes they made that night.

They don't need more public speculations to fuel the careers of others.

Still suspects in the case, they need and deserve compassion, empathy and support of a nation because they've spent 365 nights going to bed with no idea what happened to their precious little girl and woke up on 365 mornings to a black void and unimaginable fear for their beloved daughter.

Their pain is inconceivable to us all.

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