New teachers quickly learn that demanding behaviour from students that you’re not willing to demonstrate yourself is entirely pointless. Calmness, courage, patience, thoughtfulness – you want them? Model them. Over, and over, and over.*
Gove is often a pro at behaving courteously. He compliments question askers in Parliament, charms speech audiences with anecdotes, knows his brief in Committee sessions. But when it comes to hiding what comes across as a deep dislike of most teachers, he struggles. Reminiscent of a teacher who speaks sweetly to the top set but turns nasty when facing slow, lumbering set six, it sometimes comes across as if he believes that lowering himself to the level of understanding an ordinary teacher somehow means they’ll infect him.
Such irrational arrogances stop otherwise outstanding teachers from being any use at all with lower sets. And, if not careful, acting in this way will stop Gove making lasting changes – even ones that are important and useful.
Last November Nansi Ellis wrote an excellent piece pointing out the problem of Gove asking for teachers to behave in certain ways:
Gove’s call for openness is all one way: teachers must be open to the government’s ideas. A government that really believed in openness wouldn’t start a consultation on the biggest exam shake up for decades by asking whether it’s given the new exam the right name.
One can highlight countless other areas where openness hasn’t happened – the EBacc, disapplication of the curriculum, academy takeovers, the push to SchoolsDirect over PGCEs, AS Level reforms.
It is of course unreasonable to expect any Secretary of State to beat his drum solely to the rhythm of professionals. He works for the public, not the profession. But Ellis suggests a middle way:
True openness requires the humility to realise that you might be wrong, an ability to listen to people with different ideas, and an acceptance that people with different views might also want what’s best for children and young people.
The U-turn on GCSE reforms was one example of this. But it’s not enough. If Gove, like any educator, wants calmness, courage, patience and thoughtfulness, then he – like the rest of us – needs to model it over, and over, and over again, until he gets the behaviour he wants and need.
* NB: I don’t think you just need to be calm, patient and thoughtful to get students to behave. Would it were that easy! You also need things like clearly and firmly enforced rules (see here or here for more on that). But as a teacher you need to be clear and firm, while also modelling the behaviours you want. As annoying and difficult as that is, it really is the only way.