Get this: there was a smoking room at the first secondary school where I taught. A real live genuine room inside the building where teachers could smoke. Not just a cupboard either, but a room with comfy chairs and its own sink. The smoking room was always crowded, but the SMT (that’s what we called them in those days) never came in. The smoking room disappeared at about the same time that the National Curriculum arrived. It was sadly mourned by many, smokers and non smokers alike.
The smoking room was where all the best conversations happened. Even if you didn’t smoke, you wanted to go to the smoking room because that’s where you could slag off SMT, moan about kids, and generally let off steam about how stressful it was teaching ‘the youth of today’. Of course we didn’t have Twitter in those days, or blogging. We were rarely face down in a screen. It was all about our own context, so we felt each other’s pain. Whatever was said in the smoking room mostly stayed in the smoking room, because we knew that the ethos for our school depended on teachers working as a team. No matter how much we complained about SMT behind their backs, we didn’t do it where the general public or Ofsted could hear.
The thing that worries me right now about the internet, is that these ‘smoking room conversations’ are being held in public. And not just between members of the same school, or of the teaching profession. These ‘smoking room conversations’ are being typed out and published for the entire world to see.
As a profession, I think we would do well to be careful about what we post on line. I’m not saying that we should hide the truth about bad practice. I love hearing from such a diverse selection of voices, both young and old. But at the same time, in the words of our illustrious master, we need to have rigour. We must ensure that we don’t give anecdotal ammunition to those who might use it in anger against an entire profession, unless that’s what we intend to do. Because the profession is under siege right now, make no mistake.
Teachers are ‘on show’ all the time. You can’t crawl through the town centre drunk if you’re a teacher. (Well, you can, but you most certainly don’t want your students or their parents to catch sight of you.) Everything we say or write should be measured up alongside the thought ‘is it professional of me to do this, will it help my profession?’
We should also remember that not all teachers blog or use Twitter: I suspect that most don’t, because their lives are busy enough already. However, it seems more and more apparent that many politicians and journalists do, and that they base what they say and do at least partly on what they hear online. Obviously I’m not advocating smoking as a sensible lifestyle choice. But perhaps what we need is the modern equivalent of a ‘smoking room’, a place where we can let off our frustrations in private. And I’m not convinced that should be the world wide web.
“I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”