The Secret Teacher Antidote

In The Confident Teacher by Alex Quigley9 Comments


Bad news sells. We live in a world of 24 hours rolling news. Emergency follows crisis, follows failure, follows catastrophe. Our diet of educational stories is more often stacked full of pessimistic stories of the inexorable decline of pretty much everything and everyone in education.

The Secret Teacher is a case in point. The Guardian has erected this weekly article as a symbol of all that is wrong in education today – a lone cry in the wilderness. Allegedly, these anonymous teachers draw back the veil on the inequities of the staffroom. They pin up easy-to-hate most wanted posters of the worst of school leadership. They lay bare the struggle of teachers everywhere. Apparently.

The Secret Teacher supposedly  reveals truths about the utter evil of politicians and exams and fellow teachers and dangerous students and coffee and break times and Wednesdays and themselves and others and whiteboards and corridors and lunch and everyone and everything. Sorry, I delve into parody because the endless wailing of the secret ones too often descends into clumsy parody.

Yes – I recognise the attempt to give a voice to the disenfranchised. I do not wish to stifle debate or to mock those who suffer in bad schools. No doubt there are many bad schools and bad school leaders, bad experiences and unhelpful colleagues. Only I am sick and tired of the unremitting negativity of the Secret Teacher fraternity. I’ve written criticisms of OFSTED and more like any other blogger – but sweet Mary Jane – the horror of moaning – the horror!

Perhaps it won’t be as effective click-bait, but maybe The Guardian could select a few more teachers with something laudable or positive to say about our noble profession. We might coax a few people into the profession, or fire up a few experienced teachers with the kindling of hope and perseverance. Perhaps we will pat one another on the back and say, we aren’t doing too bad a job, in pretty decent conditions.

My small offering as an antidote is a catalogue of my most positive and celebratory posts about teaching and education. Perhaps others can write their antidote, share their celebratory writing. I have read many positive articles that will endure and provide me sustenance that the ash filled apples of the Secret Teacher files.

Reasons to be Educationally Cheerful in 2014. The ideal antidote. Remembering all the positive changes to education in 2014.

The Indefatigability of Hope. It does what it says on the tin really!

The Butterfly Effect In Schools. This post explores Ron Berger’s beautiful ‘Austin’s Butterfly’, crossed with Sir Tim Brighouse’s notion of the butterfly effect in schools. Berger and Brighouse – when mired in Secret a Teacher induced gloom – read these two titans.

The (Un)Confident Teacher. This is a celebration of teachers and teaching. A portrait of unassuming, humble brilliance.

Dylan Wiliam with inspirational words on why every teacher can improve.

Becoming a Better teacher by Deliberate Practice. We have the agency and choice to become a better teacher. The Secret Teacher likely does not possess this belief. It may prove useful.

Opening the Door on our ‘Craft Knowledge’. Another celebration of our great craft and a cal to be open and share our practice. No secrets or closed doors.

The Teacher Expert and the Cynic. I know which side the Secret Teacher is on. Which side are you on?

There is my #SecretTeacherAntidote. One for each day of the newsworthy week – with one extra just for you!


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  2. Although I’m only starting as an NQT this year, I have already heard more than enough negativity within teaching. I think it can have an especially negative impact on those training who are inspired and energised to learn the profession.

    Luckily I wasn’t exposed too long and it seems it could be a vicious circle of negativity if your surrounded by Secret Teacher fraternity!

  3. “Yes – I recognise the attempt to give a voice to the disenfranchised.”

    How very benevolent.

    In the National Health Service, if you blow the whistle on incompetence, bullying and poor management you will likely receive a positive hearing in the short run, or a few people will die and you will receive a positive hearing in the long run.

    In teaching it is more likely I feel that you will be bullkied in the short run and forced to leave the profession in the long run (if not in the short run).

    You work in the Huntingdon School and your career is on the up. There are about 430,000 teachers in the UK, many of them in school’s which do not have the benefot of the pupil profile you enjoy (according to Ofsted). From your previous posts I gleen that you have a supportive Head and a decent SLT of which you are part. You have a good tracking system and outstanding teamwork within the school.

    Many many teachers have few or none of these advantages. They may have funding challenges that hopefully one day you will manage as a Head. They may have challenges within the student body that will make you go home and cry at night when that time comes I hope when you get the urge to tell people you manage to stay silent.

    Many teachers, long service and NQTs alike are struggling to survive and do what they do.

    I have always read your posts with a good deal of admiration and respect, but this one has made me feel quite sad.

    For many teachers who are up against it, due to no fault of their own and without the advantages you enjoy, are told exactly what you are telling them…stop being so negative, stop whingeing.

    I am reminded of a football match my son played for his school team. It was bitterly cold and the match should have been abandoned, but a number of parents wearing lovely warm coats, hats and gloves said that the kids should stop complaining and get on with it. I took my son off of the field and warmed him up, just before they had to call for medical attention for several players.

    I believe that it is great that teachers have the opportunity to let others know what goes on in their school, I just think it is a shame that such communication needs to be anonymous. One of the few points on which I agree with Oldandrew is that often one has to remain anonymous if one is not to be further victimised, bullied and otherwise treated badly. People should not have to choose between keeping their job and speaking out for those who have something valuable to say.

    I know of more than one example when teachers have together forced out a bullying Head and if this were a more common occurence then the need for anonymity might disappear.

    I believe the mark of true leadership is to listen to and act for those who are in a much weaker poisition., to defend their right to have their say even if it has to be anonymous.

    It’s ok to be happy clappy and positive when things are going your way, your books are being published, your classes are going well and you are being paid a fair days pay for a fair days work. You may really be a lot better that the people you wish would stop being negative, but those struggling because they have gone for instance into an inner city school from which the only future they see is one outside the teaching profession have as much right to talk with people as do you, and some would say they have a greater right.

    I hope the books continue to do well and you progress within the profession as you would wish to, but please, for those who are not in your position, who do not have the warm coat and gloves that you do, give some slack and simply stop reading the Secret Teacher. Have you considered that there may be another book in there?

    1. Author

      I don’t suggest that here are not issues in our school system. I have openely said so on Twitter etc. that being anonymous is a sad and neccessary truth for whistle-blowing etc. I don’t contradict that opinion in my post. I am free to criticise the Secret Teacher columns if I think they are poorly written and offer little solace or solutions for stressed teachers in difficult circumstances. Having read the last four or five columns the quality and tone of obsessive complaining, without any substantial argument beyond what appears to be personal dislike, has been drivel. Does it benefit our profession? You are free to disagree with me – anonymously it would appear. I think you over-extrapolate unfairly from what I have actually written.

      I do work in a supportive school. It hasn’t always been so and I have worked in difficult conditions and have a family that have worked in a variety of schools. I know many teachers who work in more challenging circumstances and the collegiate spirit and leadership they experience is great. When do we get to hear these secret truths about teaching? There are huge pressures in so-called ‘good schools’ to get results etc. that I am sure you appreciate and don’t readily dismiss without an actual knowledge of my school and my school experiences.

      Yes – I am writing books and my career is apparently going well. I work tremendously hard to ensure that happens and I make personal sacrficices to do so. If you have read my blog, including my most recent post this morning, you will know that I understand the difficulties for teachers, I have lived difficulties, and now live with different pressures, and that I am passionately compelled to aim for solutions. I am free to think there is a better way that the ST column.

      My first book was for new teachers because when I was new I needed the help most. Believe me when I say that the book was not written to just the financial benefits (which are quite frankly very small). Indeed, my next book, is for teachers and is about teacher confidence, well being and development. I recognise stress and workload issues. I have suffered them. I recognise issues with behaviour management. I have suffered them. I share those openly and will continue to do so. I don’t criticise those articles lightly and I don’t say we should remove the choice for a teacher to complain and reveal their difficulties – whether openly or anonymously. You misrepresent me there quite frankly. Read my next book (or not) and feel free to criticise it to high heaven, but I am committed to doing better than the ST columns. You be the judge.

      One of my posts next week will be on teacher well being. There are other perspectives that can support struggling teachers. They can be positive, balanced and, frankly, without some of the spiteful nonsense I have read on some of the ST pieces. I don’t have time to cherry pick some of the recent articles that are particularly flawed, but many teachers, in many different circumstances, appear to agree with my view. You could sarcastically dismiss this as mere ‘benevolence’ from an ivory tower of a good school (please don’t easily dismiss the challenges I face, and have faced, without knowing more about them) and I defend your right to that opinion.

      I listen to my colleagues, so please don’t imply that I don’t, or that I simply cannot understand their problems or imagine those of teachers working in the inner-city. I recognise the relative power that I have and I take great care not to abuse it. I would encourage you to ask anyone who I have worked with.

      I will continue to state my opinion that I don’t think that the ST column is “great” for teachers and I will continue to work at sharing better alternatives – from others and myself.

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  7. I found my PGCE year very tough and wondered whether I was going into the right profession…until I stopped reading the TES and started reading blogs by teachers who loved their jobs. The negativity of the TES (and articles like the Secret Teacher) made me feel that I was jumping aboard a sinking ship, and that I had little chance of being anything but stressed, tired and unhappy in my chosen career. I now read blogs by yourself, Chris Hildrew and Jo Facer among others. I love that these people acknowledge the challenges that are faced by the profession, but approach those challenges with a a proactive passion, and a fierce protectiveness of the career they love. Sometimes I pick up the TES to look at the news articles, but I steer well clear of the columns and opinion pieces.

    Thanks for keeping me sane. I start my NQT year on Monday, and I can’t wait.

    1. Author

      That is good to hear. I know criticism should not be stifled and that we need naysayers, but an unremitting wave of negativity can give people the impression all teachers are moaners an date their jobs! We need some balance. Jo and Chris write great blogs – a powerful antidote to the negativity. I am glad to hear you are positive ahead of Monday. Have a great NQT year. Hopefully a blog or two of mine (no book plugs here!) will help!

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