It was one of those links on social media to a new advertising campaign. L'Oréal: the lies we tell ourselves. Have that luxurious fruit tart, it's one of our five a day - things like that. I admit it: I didn't follow the link. To borrow a phrase from a previous campaign by the same company, I didn't consider it 'worth it'. It did make me wonder, though: back at work for almost a month now, am I getting through my typical teaching day by telling myself constant lies? Lies about being worth it - worthwhile - worth anything at all?
Teachers and schools are under siege. Every morning as I battle through the accumulating exhaustion to wake up and get ready for the onslaught, I'm hearing yet more headlines about the work that my colleagues across the country and I are about to do. As I log onto my work computer, ninety minutes or so later, curated headlines pop up telling me the same thing. One day we're told we should be using computer technology more for learning: interactive whiteboards, 24/7 online learning resources, iPads in class. The next, we're told that such technology holds learning back rather than enhancing it. Today, we should be harnessing students' passion for social media to make them 'like' learning... tomorrow, we should be banning it forever as it's destroying their capacity to learn, interrupting their sleep, and increasing teenage angst.
Learning styles theory goes in and out of approval faster than skirt lengths or hairstyles go in and out of fashion. We are, depending on who you believe, not marking pupils' work often enough or marking too frequently for any meaningful progress to be observed... progress which should allegedly happen either every 20 minutes or every half term. Teachers are either unable to improve because they don't research best practice, or maybe we're useless at teaching because we're lost in research on learning. The latest headlines claim that parents should be able to mobilise and precipitate the sacking of ineffective Head Teachers. News items are already muttering darkly about the damage done by one-day teacher strikes. It's a dizzying hall of mirrors, and, wherever you look, there's a grotesque reflection which makes you feel just... weird.
As Autumnal mists gather and results season fades, most of us are drowning in statistics. Grades - marks - comparisons - residuals. As the leaves begin to turn and the early mornings begin to feel chilly, I'm beset by a constant despair about how to engineer better results next year, despite having felt proud of what last year's students achieved. As the local Inspectorate declared, at a Principals' conference a few days ago, that our education system is not yet 'world class', teachers are staring into their mugs of coffee and thinking, a bit like Orwell's beleaguered Boxer, 'I will work harder', when perhaps we feel that we've already gone beyond the most that we can do. I wonder, sometimes, whether I arrive at school every morning with an optimism for the day ahead based only on telling myself lies. That coffee is a food group. That the results will improve. That I'm doing ok. That it'll all work out in the end. In the evening, though, the lies evaporate as crushing exhaustion descends. Glancing at Twitter, half-following #EdChat or #TeachMeet hashtags, I feel inadequate as 'a teacher who tweets' as opposed to 'a Tweeting Teacher'. The occasional observation about everyday life - for instance about seeing seven different ice cream vans on my journey home from work one Monday afternoon and wondering whether some sort of Mr Whippy Convention was imminent - feels utterly inadequate next to the Tweeting Teachers who ponder the reinvention of education every evening and weekend. I mean: really. I'm considering ice cream vans or a snapshot of a sunset when any self-respecting teacher would be engaging in pedagogical self-flagellation. Just how many lies do I have to tell myself to be able to sleep at night?!
One of the particular delights of the GCSE years is Controlled Assessment. A couple of my classes have been working on it this month. We all try to make it as painless for the students as we can, starting with a prayer or a reassuring joke, endless supplies of paper and sometimes even 24/7 email reassurance. For teachers, the deal seems to include Uncontrolled Assessment. Headlines, school gate chat, social media, even among ourselves - the constant, multilateral criticism of teachers seems to be reaching the highest point of a spring tide as the Autumn Term gets going. It's not about union actions. It's not about strikes. It's not about withdrawing what we do from the pupils who need our help. As the mornings get colder, darker, rainier, perhaps it's time that teachers didn't have to tell themselves lies about professional competence to feel able to leave their homes. As the dark evenings gather, perhaps Tweeting Teachers or teachers who tweet should not feel bound to a litany of 'could do better'. Perhaps the cacophony of negative headlines, which don't seem to attack other professions with such crushing regularity - should turn its volume down.
Because, just perhaps, we're worth it.