“Too Little Butter Spread Over Too Much Bread.’’

Today’s letter addresses several issues facing classroom teachers daily.

Too Little Butter Spread Over Too Much Bread.’’

I am a secondary school teacher in a Scottish high school. I would like to share my working life with you.

I would like you to imagine you are at the front of a classroom full of at least thirty pupils. I am responsible for their learning, their skills development and their health and wellbeing. In this room, every pupil has a story. 

There are pupils that have barriers to learning. Some pupils can barely write their own name. Some of them haven’t had breakfast. Some of them cannot behave. Some of them have complex emotional needs. Some of them should be studying at a much higher level than I can offer. 

Some of them are in mainstream education when in previous generations they’d attend specialist schools. Some have anger management problems. For some of them, school is the least of their worries. However, I am responsible for every single pupil in that room, and I am expected to cater for their individual needs. 

Over a week, I will face this challenge in front of me at least 26 times. 

Recently I had hundreds of reports to write. Each must be individual, meaningful and appropriate. Add to this all the school improvement plans, the meetings, the communication with guidance, throwing together lessons, parents’ evenings, information evenings, department improvement plans, references, marking and cover makes me feel as Bilbo Baggins said, ‘’too little butter spread over too 

much bread.’’

The truth is that inclusion is failing.  

Inclusion is paraded as a just system which ensures all young people are included in mainstream schools. 

Personally, I feel inclusion is a massive stick to beat me with. Teacher training never prepared me for this. There isn’t the time to develop the knowledge to tackle these issues either. 

Am I meeting all those learners needs? 

No. It’s impossible. 

I am trying my best of course, but there aren’t enough hours in the day. In the Scottish classrooms, the well behaved and hard-working pupils are ignored. 

I am too busy micro managing the complex needs and behaviour pupils. Inclusion without appropriate funding and specialist staffing results in neglect for everyone. Maybe this is the real ‘closing the gap.’

Examinations are obviously important too. We are teaching amidst constant change from the SQA. The adjustments to course material are never ending. I honestly wonder if the SQA love change for the sake of change or if they are all sitting thinking of their next move to annoy me. This is absurd I know but it feels personal. 

Recent developments in my subject have effectively left me back at square one, having to approach entire national 5 and higher course as if I have never taught them before. 

How will I manage to get to grips with the new content? Obviously, I will sacrifice my own time. I couldn’t sleep at night knowing entire classes of pupils didn’t get the grade they deserved, and their future is impacted.

The career progression is a problem too. The best teachers are not recognised for their ability. All progression leads out of the classroom. The desire to be promoted in our current system is fine, however, what we have in schools are people that have one eye on their job description and one eye on their own ambition. 

New ideas, schemes and initiative are dreamed up by headteachers, deputes and middle management to supposedly improve the school. (Investing time into being a fantastic teacher doesn’t get you anywhere.) 

Where does most of the implementation and workload land? The classroom teacher. 

I wearily work my way through this new school policy, adjust my lessons (often it is a subject I don’t have a qualification beyond National 5) and make sure I have a big smile on my face when I discuss how I am implementing the new scheme in my classroom. 

Or else.

Teachers are afraid. The GTC standards speak a lot about professionalism. Is it unprofessional to say no to more tasks, more cover, more development, more work? 

Of course, it isn’t. 

However, when you deliver this cheery news to your line manager, your card is marked. You are a trouble maker and you better be ready to argue.

I could go on. I could talk about many more things and spend a lot more time writing this, but this letter will be substandard, just like my best efforts to do my job. 

Our schools are on their knees, our teachers are leaving the profession, our pupils do not receive the education they deserve.  

It is bleak.


A worn-out secondary school teacher