That Edward Thorndike*…..what a great bloke

Devising a neat and easy way to reliably assess how well a manager is doing their job is something of a 21st Century Holy Grail. There are endless websites, apps, management books and consultants promising yet another fool proof way to tell us whether the managers we employ are actually any good. Cut through the jargon, the whizzy graphics and the sales spiel and most of these approaches boil down to asking a load of people who have some contact with your manager from different places within your organisation what they think of them…..a 360 degree review if you will.

One of my colleagues is testing just such a tool at the moment. I have shared my scepticism of 360 reviews with him. I shared this story with him to illustrate my point……


Most of my family are teachers so it was inevitable perhaps that at some point I would have to find out if teaching might be in my blood too. After a few rather aimless years working in various hostels in Stoke I decided it was time to give it a go.

During the General Election year of 1992 I found myself teaching A Level Politics and Year 9 maths on my PGCE at a large comprehensive in Nantwich. On my first day I was taken to the main staff room and invited to make a cup of tea while I waited for my mentor to finish his lesson. I looked at the tea trolley stacked with about 60 mugs and wondered which one to use. I plumped for the most nondescript looking one I could see but inevitably it was only a matter of minutes before a member of staff came striding into the room and, eyeing the trolley, bellowed:

“Who’s got my mug?!!!!”

My mentor arrived to rescue me and suggested I might prefer the smaller ‘alternative’ staff room that he and a few other eccentric members of staff used. After an hour trying to explain to 20 disinterested 17 year olds that, no, the Tories were not the Labour Party; or searching class H9’s Adidas bags for the two missing compasses; it was wonderful to escape to the refuge of the alternative staff room for a mug of tea, a digestive biscuit and 15 minutes of adult conversation.

They were a great bunch in the alternative staff room. They made me feel welcome, supported, part of a team. I reciprocated. I made my share of drinks, brought biscuits in when it was my turn, washed up mugs, asked about people’s weekends, remembered their kids’ names….I soon became a fully fledged member of the team… all round good egg……a salt of the earth chap for whom nothing was too much trouble.

From time to time my PGCE assessor would come over from Keele to see how I was getting on. He’d watch me fumble my way through a 30 minute lesson on Pythagoras’ Theorem that I had spent 3 weeks preparing and then we’d head for the staff room. Whatever concerns he may have had after seeing me in action soon faded away after a hot beverage and a stream of very experienced maths, geography, English, French, history and physics teachers had told him just what a fantastic teacher I was.

Not one of them ever saw me in front of a classroom full of children.

Not one of them ever saw me teach.

I hated teaching.

I knew on my first day that I had made a terrible, terrible mistake. As my colleague and I drove to school each morning I kept a look out for signs that it may be closed……pupils streaming away from a burning building or a Police cordon at the end of the street.

In July 1992 I passed my PGCE and I am still officially registered with the Department for Education.

In theory, and rather worryingly, I could be teaching your son or daughter double maths tomorrow…….

*Edward Thorndike was a psychologist who developed the theory of the halo effect.


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