In Praise of Tory Teachers: A Hymn to Diversity in the Staffroom

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“The most successful tyranny…is the one that removes the awareness of other possibilities.”

Allan Bloom

Should the staff at a school share one vision? Does your Headteacher stand in front of you and preach that He is the embodiment of the vision, that he is, as Queen put it:

“One man [With] One goal, Hah, one mission! One heart, One soul, Just one solution, One flash Of light, Yeah, one God, one vision…”

Are there unwritten rules that all staff share the same pedagogical vision, that all agree that the way things are done here is the only way and better than the other ways? The desire for uniformity is often strong, if only everyone thought the same way then we would have an outstanding school! If, as one school is reported to have put it, Labour is the only party who wants us to live who would want the Tory hand of death at the tiller?

Picture the Friday after the general election, staff turn up at school and face a briefing from the commiserating general picturing ‘five more years of misery’ and yet in the midst of the assembled ranks are some who voted Conservative, biting their lips either in guilt or in sheer joy at the pain inflicted on the Headteacher… Harriet Swain in The Guardian wrote:

As one ‘shy Tory’ put it: “It’s quite difficult being a Conservative in a comprehensive school because unions are vociferous and you can be made to feel quite uncomfortable showing mild support for a Conservative policy.”

Especially when Tories are described as ‘scum’  and senior staff begin sentences with statements like: “I know no one likes Michael Gove, but …”

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Is there the opposite problem in Independent Schools? Do the Communists meet secretly behind the bike sheds and over Old Holborn, Rizla papers and striking Swan Vestas set out their plan of action about what to do when the Great Day dawns?

Imagine the school in which the culture seems to be one where all agree, how adaptable to change would it be? How creative would it be?  Successful or not a culture that brooks no dissent will be a culture that ignores the idea of other possibilities. As Alicia Boisnier and Jennifer A. Chatman from the Haas School of Business University of California, Berkeley wrote: “Strong cultures may enhance short-term success but inhibit long-term organisational performance; they may even contribute to long-term failure by preventing organisations from adapting to changing contingencies.” Yet a school that has no unifying mission will probably be notable for its chaos. Boisnier and Chatman go on to say: “We propose that organisations with strong cultures can use subcultures to become more agile and to drive innovation.”

It might be the people, the ‘awkward squad’ and sometimes ‘awkward departments’ that are most unlike the strong central command and control culture, that have the wherewithal to challenge the school and enable it to adapt most to change. The wonderful paradox here is that in schools the subcultures of conservatism that exist in staff rooms might enable the institution to progress more than institutions in which all agree the ‘left wing party line’.

Again, from the Guardian article:

A ‘shy London Tory’ says his political views have been shaped by support for many of Gove’s changes, particularly those connected with the curriculum: “I believe all children should be able to have a traditional liberal arts education and not leave that for those who are privately educated or go to a selective school.”

The lesson of the liberal arts is education for freedom, not servitude. There is an argument to be had about whether current Conservative policy champions the liberal arts or is intent on destroying them but let us at least have the debate. Classrooms and Staff-rooms should be places in which debate is expected and welcomed and the ‘unifying culture’ is one that tolerates and encourages diversity of viewpoint as important to the health of the community and the education of children. It might even be, I hesitate to use the term, a British value.

Value all teachers and encourage their views to be heard. It would be a shame to think there are members of staff who feel that what their views are not welcomed by the overarching unspoken vision in which all are one but not for all.

4 thoughts on “In Praise of Tory Teachers: A Hymn to Diversity in the Staffroom

  1. Neil Garratt (@NeilGarratt)

    Over the last year I gave serious thought to going into teaching (maths), and this bias was one of the factors that weighed against. Probably the main one was workload. But I saw a toxic interplay between the two: every new teacher comments on the overwhelming workload and that colleagues’ support is one of the things that gets you through. With open hostility to Conservatives, might I find myself struggling along without support? It seemed like a real risk, and I didn’t want to waste the best part of a year of my life just to find out.

    Worse are reports of emotional blackmail used in schools to get teachers to work themselves into the ground, because if you’re not willing to sacrifice your entire life and health, clearly you don’t care enough about the children. Never mind any considered long term view about sustainable workloads and healthy school culture. I would resent that cynical emotional manipulation and be inclined to call it out, but would I then be isolated as “The Tory who doesn’t care”?

    I know the bias isn’t just a Twitter thing, partly because I’ve knocked on doors wearing a blue rosette and teachers rarely seem to be big fans. I’ve also heard the throwaway comments at governors’ meetings, such as “Oh Neil, I didn’t realise you were a Conservative, you seem so nice.” but also just comments which take for granted that everyone thinks Gove’s an idiot, and that his policies are both stupid and hateful. One deputy head described his son’s experience of the phonics check as “harrowing”. I mean, harrowing?

    I do enjoy the teaching experience I’ve had: I’ve been volunteering at my children’s school one afternoon per week for about 4 terms now and it’s great. I have a lot of subject knowledge, maths is a brilliant subject and I think I’m a good communicator. But in the end, the risk of finding myself struggling without support in a school culture in which Tories are “the baddies” just didn’t appeal. Instead I’m thinking of going into market research, business analysis or something along those lines…lots of lovely data to analyse, and no one bothered about my political views (social and economic liberalism, since you ask!)

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  2. Pingback: ORRsome blogposts May 2015 | high heels and high notes

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