Review by Bill Wilkinson

Deputy head of science, Beechen Cliff School

12 Jan 2020, 5:00


Review: ‘Every Lesson Shapes a Life’ by the DfE


Department for Education


25 Dec 2019

Our reviewer silences his inner cynic and finds the positives in what turns out to be a well-made advert for what is still a career like no other

As much as I hate to admit it, there are four Indiana Jones films. In our house however, we like to pretend the fourth, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull doesn’t exist. The first three are family favourites, particularly my son’s. A few weeks ago, he found the fourth film in a charity shop. Through a combination of excuses and distractions, I narrowly avoided having to purchase it, but I suspect next time I won’t be so lucky; we’ll soon have to take it home and watch the terribleness all over again.

Which brings me to the Department for Education’s latest advertising foray to attract new teachers to the profession. Perfectly timed to tempt those who have resolved to change their careers in 2020, the advert follows a science teacher through a typical day, highlighting the multitude of interactions with students of both an intellectual and pastoral nature.

Despite the warm and fuzzy feeling the advert elicits about how Every Lesson Shapes a Life, the cynical teachers of Twitter (myself included) instinctively derided the unrealistic nature of this typical day. Leaving at the same time as the kids? Impeccably behaved students? Not once unblocking a sink or folding a piece of paper to prop up a wobbly desk? Where is this school and are they hiring?

But is it so bad, really? Since the close escape in the charity shop, I’ve watched the trailer for Crystal Skull online. It seems to have all the ingredients required of an excellent Indie adventure film: calls back to previous films, jokes about Indiana’s status as a teacher, gags about Indie (and Harrison’s) passing years and plenty of whip-cracking action. These redeeming features are easy to ignore for an old cynic, but they might just be the only thing my son sees.

The trailer for Crystal Skull doesn’t dwell on the ludicrous survival of a nuclear explosion at point-blank range by hiding in a fridge, or the laughably unrealistic car chase in a rainforest. It doesn’t even dwell too long on Cate Blanchett’s absurd Russian accent. Why? Because it has a film to sell, and its takings are testament to the fact that it does a very good job selling it.

As with Indiana Jones, so with Addison Brown, the real-life science teacher who stars in the DfE advert. Why should teaching’s warty truths go into an advert? “It gives an unrealistic impression of a difficult and thankless job!” proclaim the cynics. Yes, thank you. I’m sure there isn’t a potential teacher in the land who hasn’t heard a teaching horror story.

And herein lies the difference between an advert for the teaching profession and the trailer for Crystal Skull. Teaching doesn’t have three great films to pre-sell its product. The profession has always been a bit of a joke in this country (Those that can… etc.).

So it’s nice to be reminded occasionally of the importance of our job and the good we do every day. Indeed, it’s essential that we make the profession an attractive one to new entrants. The truth is that we are desperately short of teachers, especially science teachers, and our jobs will be even more difficult in the future if we don’t manage to recruit new ones now.

Ultimately, the advert did a good job of highlighting the wealth of rewarding interactions teachers up and down the country have with students every day. It was great to see those pastoral and challenging-but-life-changing conversations with students represented in an advert that wasn’t just navel-gazing intellectualism. Whilst it might be true that the trailer for teaching has cut out all the bad bits, I doubt there’s an applicant to teaching in the country naïve enough to think this is the realistic way of things.

Meanwhile the most cynical of current teachers should use this as a moment to reflect on all that is good and rewarding about our job. Whilst teaching might not be Raiders of the Lost Ark good, it’s not as bad as Kingdom of the Crystal Skull either. And even that is probably better than Indiana Jones veterans like me give it credit for.

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