The tigers who came to tea


I’m sure you all know the story about ‘The Tiger Who Came to Tea’. A family are perfectly happy, going about their day, when a tiger rocks up to the front door and starts behaving in a way that, quite frankly, beggars belief. He wanders around their house as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. The sheer brass of the giant feline causes the family to accept his demands without question. He wants a drink. They make him a cup of tea. But that isn’t good enough for the tiger. He has slightly higher expectations. So, they let him drink the entire contents of the teapot. But even that hasn’t quenched the beast’s thirst. This is only achieved after he has drained all the water from the taps. And the family, who now have no means to hydrate themselves, keep clean or maintain any decent levels of sanitation, don’t question it. They don’t protest. They just let the tiger behave in this way because, well, he’s a tiger, isn’t he? A big, loud, confident tiger. Victims of the tiger’s gall, the family continue to cater for his every whim. He eats their dinner, their food in the fridge and all the tins and packets of food in their kitchen cupboards. And all the time he has a look on his face that suggests this is all quite normal, and, hadn’t the silly family realised what it took to entertain a tiger properly? And then, he leaves. You would think the family would now report this gross invasion into their world to the authorities, or, at least take some preventative measures to safeguard against it happening again the future. But no. They are, apparently, enthralled by the tiger and his incredibly high standards of entertaining. To the extent that they buy in some special tiger food in case he pops around again! It is an unbelievable story and one that never fails to shock me no matter how many times I read it.

I read another book recently. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teachers’. It tells the story of a group of teaching tigers who have opened a school. The story is written by many of the tigers who teach at the school and they each have much to say about how they teach and run their school. It runs on similar lines to the children’s story mentioned earlier, insofar as these tiger teachers have higher expectations than everyone else. They are the tap drainers to our tea drinkers. If you expect your children to walk quietly into assembly, they expect silence. If you run a residential trip, they run a boot-camp. If you have high expectations of behaviour, they have no excuses. If you have happy children, theirs are happier. It’s like reading a story written by that friend who must always go one better: you know, you’ve got a headache, they’ve got a tumour, that sort of thing.

The way in which their storybook presents their approaches to education is incredible. I found myself drawn to paragraphs where, after whatever it is they’re writing about (homework, marking, kindness, behaviour, lunch), they write about how this makes their school so special. Paragraphs that begin:

‘One of the things that may strike you when visiting Michaela is how happy the children are.’

‘At Michaela, we highly value adult authority and children’s politeness and respect.’

‘Our mantra is ‘work hard, be kind’’.

It was during these passages that I kept thinking back to the ending of the ‘The tiger who came to tea’. The bit where the family buy a tin of tiger food. These guys think they’re feeding their kids tiger food whilst the rest of us are spoon feeding our pupils ‘whiskers’. They seem unable to grasp the notion that – and forgive the expression Team Michaela – there is more than one way to skin a tiger. These tiger teachers really believe that they are special. I mean, I know we all think our schools are special. But these cats really believe that they are more special!

And I’m not sure why, when, so much of what they’re actually doing is pretty unremarkable. I hate to break it to you, tigers, but a lot of the ‘Michaela Way’ is just a normal way to run a school. That’s not to say that, in my opinion, you seem to lack a level of operational subtlety that I personally feel is vital for running such a complex organisation as a school. I also find the ‘top of the pyramid’ drills a little over zealous for my tastes but, hey, I’m not your target reader am I? Who is I wonder? Is this book’s publication part of your recruitment drive? Is it a ‘Michaela Way’ SEF? Or is it a fairy tale that you can read to yourself at bedtime to help you forget about all the anti-Michaela tweets out there?

Whatever the motive, you’ve written a bold and passionate story about your school. And, do you know what? Loving yourself is not a crime. Being excited about where you work is great. Believing you’re doing good, and making a difference to the world, is what helps get us all out of bed in the morning. But guys, seriously, couldn’t you have kept it to yourself for a bit? Saved it all for your newsletter? Uploaded it onto a blog? Did you really need to write a book about it? Don’t get me wrong,  your school may be fabulous. You may be proved completely right. But not yet. What you’ve done is, you’ve written a gospel when it should have been the first part of a case study.

In writing your book you’ve invited yourself around for tea, presuming that we will gladly give up all our food and drink for you, just because you’ve told us that you are tigers. You have declared superiority through your evangelical self-righteousness and you expect us all to listen and take heed. You can’t see that you are, in fact, sucking on an empty tap as we observe you from a distance, drinking our tea, waiting to see if you’ll make it to breakfast.


6 thoughts on “The tigers who came to tea

  1. Primary1Teacher December 20, 2016 / 4:15 pm

    As ever, putting into words my views entirely – all within a well know story. Hat off to you Sir.

  2. daisynorfolknotes December 20, 2016 / 4:39 pm

    Absolutely, agree with every word. Sick to death of this lot of loud mouthed egotistical self-satisfied……..

  3. London City Mum December 20, 2016 / 6:48 pm

    So I just looked this up on Amazon (as you do) and scrolled down to the reviews – because the ‘blurb’ will always be overdone, won’t it, given that it is written by the author themselves (trust me, I know this, been-there-done-that-got-the-t-shirt).
    And the second and third ones listed gave even more reason to never purchase such a load of tosh.
    You be the judge:

    “Michaela is an inspiration – a revolution in education – giving kids the knowledge, the grammar and the confidence to achieve anything in their lives.” Boris Johnson

    “Katharine Birbalsingh and her team are inspirational teachers from whom we all have much to learn. This book is their testament and my gospel.” Michael Gove

    What did the latter say in June year? “I think the public has had quite enough of experts”?

    Exactly. ‘Nuff already.

  4. jameswilding December 20, 2016 / 7:35 pm

    When all is bright, any and new, from smallest child to new headteacher, the journey of discovery is amazing. And that essentially is what the book celebrates. Remember Blair. Remember Cameron. Birbalsingh is a product of both, easy on the detail, strong on rhetoric and certain of her step. Trouble is, success is not measured quickly or easily, and is judged after the original combatants have moved on to pastures new. How do people feel now of Blair? Or Cameron?

  5. teachwell December 21, 2016 / 8:12 am

    Do you take a similar issue with A S Neill writing about Summerhill?

    You live in a country where you are free to ignore these ideas, yet seem unable to do so.

    As for the oneupmanship – I don’t see it personally. I’ve attended the Michaela debates where others have put forward their own ideas and ethos which counters that of Michaela. Difficult questions were asked of both.

  6. Physics Tutor December 21, 2016 / 9:31 am

    A lot of Michaela teachers did Teach First. By definition they experienced challenging schools from the very beginning of their careers. It’s quite possible that they are not aware of the very many excellent state schools out there, and that the schools in which they trained were really not representative of the whole system.

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