“Rebel Educator” Tom Rogers on the Realities of Education’s Frontline in the UK
Let's take this back to 2015.
Tom Rogers, a passionate history teacher from the UK is about 8 years into his career as a secondary school educator.
Tom, who comes from a family of teachers, found great success in what he does. Rogers' latest accomplishment was being promoted to the head of his department.
As his responsibilities aligned him with experts in the field, Tom's success was not an indication of where he was mentally. Tom felt extremely exhausted by the school system in the UK. The stringent demands of being a teacher had started to weigh on him. The harsh accountability for his students’ performance weighing on him led him to ultimately decide to resign from teaching once and for all.
At this time, Tom wrote an infamous piece for TES (a UK educational publication) explaining the extreme pressures put on teachers in the UK, stating it as the reason he became a "casualty of the profession". Many educators began approaching Tom to discuss their own struggles, building him an impressive online following and leading him to start his own blog.
Tom also started “The Rebel Education Podcast” to shed some light on “the reality of life on education's front line” by having educators share their experiences. Over the years, Tom has also organized events and meet-ups for teachers to network and share their experiences.
Fast forward to March 2020.
Tom’s 13 years of collecting stories and ideas about the reality of life on education’s front line led our team at Paper to reach out to him to speak on how these realities are evolving in the face of the current pandemic. Tom let us know that he is currently staying in a hotel room after going on a trip—doing his part to self-quarantine appropriately during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Currently, most teachers have either been teaching remotely, or are in the midst of figuring out what their remote game plan is. This brought us to our first question for Tom.
What is the remote teaching situation like in the UK?
Tom explained the situation for teachers varies tremendously from school to school. He stressed that teachers who are more “tech-savvy” will have a much easier time transitioning their work to the online environment. Tom then went into detail about the expected roles of teachers in the UK and highlighted three tiers of online teaching plans that are of note.
The first tier includes teachers being asked to assign work for their students, and their students have to work independently on them. This is a low level of interaction, with no live-teaching component. In the second tier, teachers are expected to be active and available on platforms such as Google Classroom. These teachers engage in a style that mixes live meet-ups and uploading pre-recorded lessons, files, and assignments. Third-tier plans, Tom explained, are seen at high-achieving or private schools. Students still have the exact same timetable or almost the same timetable as before, and learning is synchronous. “Business as usual,” he called it.
Tom mentioned that some schools in the third tier are even monitoring and evaluating how well their teachers perform in the online setting. Tom, noticing the Paper team’s shock, laughed and said, “Welcome to the UK!”
Tom went on to reiterate that the situation in the UK varies based on the extent to which schools and teachers are comfortable with technology. But from what he’s seen, most teachers are working hard to adjust right now. “Simple tasks can be made a lot harder if you're trying to figure out some new tech platform. Trying to produce high-quality stuff online isn't easy. Even if you're pre-recording, it isn't easy,” Tom said. He knows this, he added, because he conducts online courses on Udemy, and it takes him hours and hours to make anything of quality.
Given that teacher workload is higher than ever in the current pandemic, we asked Tom about how he must be seeing the resilience and dedication of teachers shine through more than ever.
Tom explained that the teachers who have had to abruptly transition to online teaching, while managing the effects of this transition on their personal lives, must be working unimaginably hard. One of Tom’s close teacher friends is a single mother, with three kids. She is currently homeschooling her own children everyday, along with teaching her own students, grading their work, and actively keeping in touch with them. She is doing all that despite it being optional for teachers in her school. Tom expressed great admiration for his friend’s passion for the profession, adding that he “imagines she must be very tired.”
Given his previous response, the Paper team asked Tom about the sort of support that teachers in his network are expressing they need. Tom broke this down into two parts: Tangible support and patience. It has amazed Tom that many resources have been made available and put up for use for free. He continues by saying that even people who are doing 30-minute workout videos to get kids active are helping a lot. He believes that teachers having general tech support and a network to reach out to in learning the best practices of online instruction are crucial.
Along with tech support, Tom explained that leaders at schools should conduct personal check-ins with their teachers. These leaders should make sure that teachers are well-supported during this time, especially if these teachers are living and working from home alone.
Lastly, Tom emphasized the need for patience. Patience from students, parents, and school leadership are critical during this time. “If people are coming to teachers and pressuring them about their kid’s marks, their assignments, resources, etc., answering them becomes a job in itself,” he said, pointing to the need for a grace period as teachers adjust to their new reality.
“Don't sweat the small stuff”
Overall, Tom thinks that during this crisis, “the general mindset for educators should be to not sweat the small stuff. We spend too much time on tiny bits of data and stressing over students’ marks going down 0.3% in half terms.” He also hopes workers in professions that have been essential in managing this crisis (but are usually overlooked) will be valued more going forward, whether this is in terms of conditions, pay, or general admiration. He is optimistic that teachers will be amongst some of the “new heroes” out there.
As a takeaway, Tom stated that schools need to think of a long term plan, as this pandemic will not be short-term. “This will be something schools will need to think about properly and carefully—and I think most of them are, but it is difficult,” he explained.
Follow Tom Rogers
For more from Tom, you can go to his website, follow him on Twitter, or listen to the The Rebel Education Podcast. Be sure to also check out Tom’s educator-centred organizations, TeachMeetIcons and Edudate!