High standards vs unreasonable expectations

Expectations of teachers are getting higher and higher. Teachers are being expected to work longer hours, take on more and more tasks, teach to ever increasing standards and be ever more exemplary in their conduct when off duty. I also often come across teachers who are set targets internally that are obviously unattainable, and sometimes doing that is used as a bullying tactic.

I understand the importance of continual improvement, and that of high standards, but there is also a point where that all becomes unreasonable, and this is never acknowledged. It is perfectly possible that standards are set so high that 100% of the people can’t achieve it, everybody is a failure and the bar that you’ve set becomes completely unrealistic.

It is also possible that expectations become so high that doing them results in most people making huge sacrifices in terms of family and personal life, suffering mental health issues, making the salary received not worth it and causing talented people to leave the profession for a better deal.

I’ve often thought of why this happens, and what’s in it for management, and the following is what I’ve come up with.

Firstly there is the belief that if you have high expectations of students, then they will surprise you by actually achieving them. A nice idea, designed to stop teachers labeling students as weak and consistently presuming they are not very able. Managers, like many other things, then apply this to their staff as if they are students, and suddenly you have a situation where managers work under the premise that, ‘if you set it as a standard, it will automatically happen’.

I can expect all my students to achieve an A, but I have to also accept the fact that some of them won’t. It was meant to be used as a motivational tool: an exercise in thinking and potential, rather than reality and results. All teachers are expected to be good, all teachers want to be, but that doesn’t make it happen.

I think there is also a culture of ‘do unto others, before they do to you’ in education, so that the bar is set unreasonably high to remove any sense of weakness on the part of management. If you allow people the luxury of human error, grey areas and bending the rules, then that’s an inch too much to give, and you’ll get hung with it.

I’ve mentioned already that it can be used to bully, so that managers can set a target that is unachievable and state that in their opinion it is reasonable. When the teacher inevitably doesn’t achieve it, then that forms evidence that can be used to ruin them.

And that’s it: that’s everything I can think of. Can you offer any other explanations? Please comment below.


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