Paul MacLellan reflects on the 2016 ASE conference

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Quite honestly, not me.

In the UK, the teaching profession is being put under increasing pressure by the society it's tasked with fostering. Teachers are faced with constant scrutiny - whether observations, inspections, being measured against arbitrary (even impossible) targets, or their perceived failings being decried publicly by politicians and ideologues. 

Educators walk on the shifting sands of specifications under the influence of the thinktank du jour. One could be tempted to cling to the only certainty a practicing teacher can rely on: your burden of paperwork will only ever increase.

But last week in Birmingham Alastair Gittner reminded me of the uniqueness of teaching. You are paid to alter the brains of children. 

That's quite a responsibility. After all, students aren't machines, nor is learning a process of Matrix-style brain downloading. Skilful teaching is remarkable. Poor teaching is damaging. Every pharmacist, every engineer, every parent and dentist in the country passes through your classrooms. Every future taxpayer, philanthropist, carer and politician learns from you. Is there a more valuable profession in any society? And from my parental point of view (teaching's lower paid sibling), I have small snapshot of how terrifying that responsibility can be.

'Raising the professional status of teaching' was a theme at last week's Association for Science Education annual conference. That's also the goal of the fledgling College of Teaching, and there were plenty of views on how it could reach it, and, in particular, what good would come of it. Some argued that a greater standing of the teaching profession could help address the ongoing recruitment and retention crisis. Others questioned the legitimacy of the college in speaking for teachers, though I got the impression that most felt a coherent voice for teachers would earn it's clout in time. If you care, get involved at

As for me, I'm not sure it should be incumbent on teachers to show their worth. The responsibility lies with the rest of us. I think we've forgotten just how important our teachers are. Or, at least, we're not paying attention.

Who would be a teacher? Not me. I don't think I have the courage.

Paul MacLellan is deputy editor of Education in Chemistry.

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