In defence of the Secret Teacher

(This is a slightly extended version of a post that was originally published on on 23rd August 2015)

Last week, I considered writing a blog post suggesting that there might actually be too much unsolicited generic advice for new teachers out there on Twitter, blogs, etc. My reasoning being that most new teachers will get their advice from mentors and peers in schools, and most of that advice is school-specific. They might also read a book or two on teaching, and they will probably seek out specific advice when they need it.

I decided that such a blog post was probably uncharitable to write: despite my concerns that such a gamut of advice might be overwhelming, as well as the often conflicting nature of different people’s advice, I think there probably isn’t too much harm in it.

And then the Secret Teacher wrote an article about having a really difficult NQT year. And what was the response from edu-Twitter, the realm of support and advice? Well it was largely one of condemnation: questioning whether the experience/writer was real; questioning whether the experience was representative; suspicion of anonymity; and upset that it didn’t represent balance.

The lack of support, advice or sympathy was rather conspicuous to me, especially coming from a profession that prides itself on such things.

I thought back to my concerns over the gamut of advice and it made me wonder why people write blogs and tweets of unsolicited advice when, at the moment someone is reaching out for support, they turn their back and question that person’s experience. Do we just write advice on our own terms, to make us feel good about ourselves? Okay, I’m probably being uncharitable again.

One of the reactions to Secret Teacher really astounds me – the one that says that “it isn’t representative of MY better experience”. Firstly, the Secret Teacher doesn’t claim to be representative. It is ONE column in ONE newspaper that gives an anonymous voice to someone who wants to share an experience without fear of reprisal, someone who wants to reach out. There are actually lots of affirming stories of teaching all over the web. Staffrm is full of great experiences for a start.

So imagine that one’s first response to Secret Teacher is that their experience needs to be counteracted with a different story, YOUR affirming story of teaching. It’s great that you want to share your wonderful experience. I’d say do it. But to do it AS A RESPONSE to the Secret Teacher, someone who this week was an NQT desperately struggling to stay in the job? Wow. That’s rubbing it in a bit, isn’t it? That’s riding roughshod over someone else’s experience and saying, “Great story, bro. Mine’s better.” By writing a #postapositive story as a response to the Secret Teacher – someone desperate for advice and support – you aren’t actually being positive at all. It’s a negative act.

I still think there is too much unsolicited advice out there. But someone here is soliciting advice. Why not give some? Why not #postapositive piece of advice to the Secret Teacher?

I’ve since been contacted by many people who have had similar experiences to this week’s Secret Teacher – they struggled through their NQT year with very little support. They empathise with exactly what the Secret Teacher was going through. But they made it, because they reached out and people gave them support.

So, here’s a question for you: what if that NQT story from this week wasn’t actually a negative story? What if it was just the beginning of a really great, affirming story of teaching? A story of a teacher who was really struggling, so they reached out to the teaching community and that community responded with support and advice that helped that teacher go on to a great career?

In condemning the Secret Teacher as part of a call to hear more ‘positive stories’ in teaching, you may actually be missing an opportunity to create those stories yourself.

7 thoughts on “In defence of the Secret Teacher”

  1. Great blog! My thoughts exactly! At PRU we run after school training events….had one for NQTS last Autumn….an NQT who was struggling with behaviour came to me for help. To be fair the school supported that request but when I got there it was horrendous! She had two TAs who were BOTH training to be teachers and thought they could do the job better! In (FS) class you could cut the atmosphere with a knife ….she told me she had never stopped crying…the HT claimed she had given loads of support! Actually ,from an outsider view, some simple things would have made a transformation but she needed to come to me to talk about it away from that environment. We made an appointment for after Xmas…..she didn’t come….I rang the school and found she had quit teaching after just one term! I was gutted because it could have been sorted!

  2. “Do we just write advice on our own terms, to make us feel good about ourselves? ”

    I like Mary Schmidt’s (of “Wear Sunscreen” fame) take on advice.

    Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts, and recycling it for more than it’s worth.

    A habit teachers tend to be guilty of, I think.

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