What really matters.
A- level results day is the best day of the year. Some of you reading might not have attended one since your own, but trust me. Even though the heady anticipation is lost as students are often texted by their first choice university that morning and arrive knowing everything is alright, the outpouring of relief and gratitude is overwhelming and something else. Happy faces clutching exam results. Lovely. But this is not what makes it the best day of the year. For me, what really makes it the best day of the year, is the role I can play for those who do not get into University. Band of Brothers, no one left behind style, slogging it out in the library to ensure that they all get to where they need to be. For many this means hanging on telephones for anxious hours trying to speak to admission tutors. It means guiding distraught students through the UCAS site. It means fetching tissues and cups of tea and stopping them giving up and walking out. It is caring for learners when they are intensely emotional and vulnerable, and requires a delicate balance of practical advice and pastoral care.
Recently I’ve been thinking about this following someone, whose opinion I value deeply, disputing something I said during a Teachmeet presentation. My statement was something along the lines of, ‘We shouldn’t just push our learners through the exam system, but really the focus should be on getting them ready for the wider world.’ They pointed out, rightly, that I am paid to push students through exams, and I should have a think about exactly what I mean by this. I am proud of my learners results – they work hard and achieve highly, especially considering the GCSE scores that many arrived with are low. Yes, I agree, it is hugely satisfying to see a class results sheet where they have all met or exceeded minimum target grades. What’s even better is when learners hit target grades they have negotiated with you, and I always encourage mine to push themselves beyond what a computer thinks they can achieve based on previous school results, I ask them to dream big and not be afraid to try for top grades. Yes, results are important, what would OFSTED do for those few days without the vital data? How would institutions market themselves without pass rates to advertise? The results and the success that they indicate, however, are only part of the story of what it takes to be a fully holistic teacher, especially at a Sixth Form.
Without study skills students who cannot learn independently will drop out of University. If we do not teach our learners to be resilient, then they are much more likely to struggle to succeed in a world with more knocks than opportunities. Without knowing and valuing the importance of learning, our students might as well not bother going to University at all, as I believe that the experience of gaining an education should be about more than simply getting a piece of paper. Yes, results are important, they open doors to a much wider world, but far more important is that we develop learners with curiosity, passion and interest for more than their immediate situation. These are learners who have been supported by teachers to value their place in the world, but have the drive to know that they, themselves, can make it a better place.
Results alone cannot do this. It requires positive teacher role modelling and us, as educators, really caring about each individual learner. Taking the time to deal with problems, listening, sign posting expert support – I don’t think we, as a professional body, can underestimate the difference our giving of time and care makes to those individuals. Sometimes learners give up. They have no home support and some can’t even find it in themselves to work hard for their own sake. The only reason they keep trying and working is for you. Quite a few years ago I left teaching at a college for a new job. I later happened to see a member of staff from this old college, who told me that a student had written a piece in creative writing called ‘The Teacher who changed my life.’ They had written about me. I never read the essay, but the sentiment is amazing, and that is the thing. You are a teacher who changed someone’s life. Yes you are. We all do this.
In my thinking about results I’m convinced that whilst they are important, they play a smaller role in what we are trying to forge – happy, confident, resilient, hard working young people. Maybe I’m wrong, and I’m happy to think more if you want to discuss it. What do you think?