I recently bought a house, and I noticed that the solicitor who did our legal work always spoke quickly on the phone, and never wasted words. It was obvious that his time was valuable. He had many clients and every minute counted; in fact, every minute cost money. A friend of mine who is a City solicitor once described to me the device he had next to his office phone, which he would push every minute, so that clients could be charged very precisely.
A few months ago, my eldest son had a major operation, and we dealt with a number of high-powered doctors at the hospital. Even more than the solicitor, I knew when I was talking with them that they had no time to waste. One would rarely see them for more than a few minutes, in which they would provide a crisp and brief update.
Doctors are only looking after people’s bodies. Teachers have charge of the health and development of something much more important: the soul. The development of the intellect and the will in each one of our pupils will have a far greater impact on their future happiness than anything merely physical (and incidentally, although there may be teachers who are theoretically materialist, in practice all believe in the spiritual dimension, as Allan Bloom noted: ‘there is no real teacher who in practice does not believe in the existence of the soul, or in a magic that acts on it through speech’ (The Closing of the American Mind, p20)).
Despite the supreme importance and urgency of our work, and the fact that our time is rather expensive (though it may not compare to the cost of a city lawyer), teachers’ time is often consumed in activities that bear little relation to their professional purpose, or even undermine it. If senior management could meditate a little more on the significance of their teachers’ work, they might devote more of their efforts to liberating teachers from burdensome tasks, and take more of these duties upon themselves, or abolish them entirely.
Along with a clear commitment to inculcating knowledge using no-nonsense traditional methods, it is their awareness of how precious is the time and energy of teachers which makes Michaela special. Many senior leaders could learn from the example they set in this regard.
But classroom teachers cannot simply point the finger at management. We all need to remind ourselves every day that we hold our pupils’ souls in our hands, and that the time in class is the most precious resource we have.