Back in the early days of my teaching career, back before many of our younger teachers were born, let alone teaching, we used to have a visit from a school inspector every year or two. The role of the inspector was to monitor and evaluate the implementation of school programs as well as to provide advice and support to teachers.
However many teachers tended to think of them in less positive ways and these visits often engendered a sense of fear in some teachers as the inspector could appear at the classroom door at any time and ask to see current curriculum programs and mark books, test the spelling and computational ability of the class as a whole, and hear individual children read.
Because of this, when one of these visits was imminent there was often a flurry of activity getting curriculum documents and assessment up to date, and displaying children’s work in the classrooms and foyer.
But I wasn’t one of those teachers frantic in preparation and fear of being found out. I firmly believed that if what I was doing each day for the children in my class wasn’t good enough, then so be it. They were the ones that mattered after all and their education was my priority. I could not see what else I could do to prepare for these visits.
My programs were well researched, up to date and innovative. They were responsive to individual needs which were well documented with anecdotal records and diagnostic assessments as well as required testing, and supported by samples of student work. My classroom had an ever-changing display of children’s current work allowing visitors to see what we had been working on as well as giving the students a sense of pride in their achievements.
I guess also, for me back then, the school inspector was only one of the many visitors to my classroom as I was used to people coming to see what we were doing. Parents were always welcome and there were many who helped out on a regular basis and others who made the effort to come for special events and celebrations.
The principal was very involved and supportive and often popped in to see what we were up to and to provide additional support for children’s learning. In addition, teachers from other schools would visit in order to observe and take ideas back to their own classrooms; and pre-service teachers (student teachers they were called then) were often involved.
So, for me, the inspector’s visit was just another day, business as usual.
I am having difficulty in summoning words to describe how I felt when I saw the teacher next door (our classrooms were open, separated only by cupboards and shelves) busily testing children and writing marks in mark books, filling in “current” curriculum programs for the preceding term’s work and covering the previously bare classroom walls with displays of children’s work completed that day.
I guess you could say I was aghast at what I considered to be blatant dishonesty. I felt it was so wrong that I almost wanted to remove what I had on display for fear of the inspector thinking it was simply there for his benefit.
Instead I turned to poetry, as I often do, to express my feelings; and I would like to share it with you, its first readers.
I had forgotten all about it until I came across it unexpectedly while looking for something else. It reminded me of the attempt at deception I saw enacted. I say “attempt” because, of course, the principal would have been aware of the situation and I have no doubt that these trained inspectors would be able to see through the veneer.
I think if I was writing the poem now, rather than 30 years ago, I would not be so generous with my analogy, nor so disrespectful to the butterfly.
Here it is:
Not really about a butterfly
Look at you now.
You put on your show.
Your butterfly colours are warmly aglow.
It’s hard to imagine
That not long ago
You were a mere silent pupa
With nowhere to go.
You flit and you flutter
Cry, “Hey, look at me!”
And all turn their heads
-wondrous beauty to see.
But where have you come from?
And how can this be?
Before . . .
Not one head would have turned.
There was nothing to see,
– just a little green ball,
curled up on a tree.
Is it dishonest
To change rapidly?
What do you think?