The Curse of Competence


Warning: This post will, at first, appear to be a vehement, unrelenting rant. But please read on.

Yesterday, May 7, I had “one of those days.” All teachers have those days; you know what I’m talking about, the days when you seem to do anything but teach. My day went something like this …

 7:45-8:30 am – Plough through a mire of largely insignificant emails

8:30-8:40 am – Fill in with a Home Room group for an absent teacher

8:40-9:25 am – Attend the school Library with my Year 8 English class for the Literature Circles program devised and conducted by our Teacher-Librarian

9:25-10:10 am- Supervise a small group of Year 11s in Study Line

10:10-11:00 am – Explain OPs, SAIs, QCS and QTAC (Don’t ask!) to a class of Year 10s because “Their teacher’s sick! We need you to do this, because you know all the material.”

11:00-11:35 am – Attend a meeting about the administration of NAPLAN (If you’re Australian you’ll recognize and curse this particular acronym!) because I’m a “required” supervisor, even though I don’t teach Year 9!

11:35 am – 12:20 pm – Supervise Year 12 students in the yard who are on a break from a full day QCST (Queensland Core Skills Test) practice. This was my one “Marking and Preparation” lesson for the day but, you guessed it, with a number of teachers absent I was “needed.”

12:20 – 1:05 pm – The one lesson I actually spent in a classroom with Year 8 History. Alleluia!

1:05 – 1:30 pm – Lunch, yeah right! I spent this time assisting teachers and students who came to the IT Service Centre with computer problems. You see, our Help Desk operator is on long service leave!

1:30 – 2:45 pm – Working with Year 12s in the QCST practice because … “You’re so good at that stuff!”

2:45 – 3:00 pm – Lunch (I guess it was lunchtime somewhere.)

3:00 – 3:35 pm – After school bus duty; always such a delightful experience!

3:35 – 4:35 pm – Attend, as required, the Head of Department meeting even though I don’t head up a department. This included watching a John Hattie video that I’d seen several times previously.


A candid photo of The Connected Teacher taken at 4:59 on May 7.
(Not really, I don’t dress that well.)
Image Credit:

5:00 pm – Arrive home and open a nice Victorian produced Sauvignon Blanc (I like to call the first glass “memory wipe.”)

And that, as they say, was that! Now, you rightly ask, what is my point? Well, recently my Twitter feed has provided a number of links to articles presenting lists focusing on “what makes a great teacher.” I have read these with interest and have discovered that while I might be considered good, I’m unlikely to be great. This is, of course, disappointing for someone who is 53 and a genuine History tragic … I mean, look what Alexander achieved in twenty fewer years! It might be appropriate to detail one such list by Iain Lancaster from  The link which follows will take you to the relevant article.

Please do read it in full; all I’m providing is my shortened version of the “8 Characteristics.” Great teachers have:

  1. Confidence
  2. Life experience
  3. An understanding of student motivation
  4. An ability to connect with students
  5. Technological capability
  6. A willingness to take risks
  7. A focus upon the “Important Stuff”
  8. A tendency to not worry too much about what the administrators think

Now, I have plenty of confidence (some would say too much) and plenty of life experience, 53 years worth to be exact. I also believe that without some capability in numbers 4, 5 and 6, I wouldn’t have survived for over 30 years in the classroom. This brings us to Number 7 and what I believe is the “curse of competence.” School days are shaped by the imperatives of administration; a fact that elsewhere in this blog I have referred to as administrivia. Over the years I have gained a reputation for being highly competent, for being able to get things done. And that is the curse; when they need someone to fill a gap, to pick up the pieces, to get things done, then I am one of the “go to teachers.” The downside is obvious … there are far too many days like yesterday when I am taken away from the “important stuff” and that of course is student learning. If I could just be left alone to teach, and I do think I’m good at it, then I might still have time to become “great.”

PS: Generally, I don’t worry too much about what the administrators think. Unless of course one of them happens to read this!

PPS: And what do I believe makes a great teacher? Simple it’s about surviving May 7 and still fronting up on May 8.

Not me Either!
(After all this guy was great. But, I do dress like this!)
Image Credit:

6 thoughts on “The Curse of Competence

  1. A frustrating day for sure, Simon. Cursed with competence. I had to laugh when I read this as I’m sure many who will read your blog will relate. I did see in amongst the day you had the moments when you did provide the students with opportunities they might not have had if they had been with someone who didn’t know them. That small conversation , the explanation, the support of a colleague. How do we measure greatness? Teachers will never feel ”great’ I think because there is always more that could’ve been done. Did I do my best today? Yes. That’s great.

    • Hello Kerry … glad to hear my latest musings raised a smile. It certainly was intended to do so but I also felt it necessary to raise the “competency spectre.” I work in a school where there is little if any genuine accountability amongst staff. I am certainly in agreement with your definition of great … most of my biggest successes have come outside the classroom. After 32 years I figure I must be doing something right!
      Thanks for taking the time to comment … do you have a blog where I can return the favour?

  2. I thought this was a very pertinent post. If teachers were only able to teach, rather than attend the myriad of other tasks required, so much more could be achieved!

    • Hi Kay and thanks for taking the time to dip into my blog. It has certainly resonated with lots of classroom practitioners. I think the true mark of a great teacher is to be found in their unrelenting belief that the next day will always be better!
      Hope to catch up with you soon … are you attending the EDTECH conference in BrisVegas on June 3 and 4?

  3. Hi Simon,
    I really enjoyed reading this. One of those timely moments for me in which you aren’t sure whether your school colleagues are on your wave length, but the other colleagues in your PLN most definitely are.
    The competency argument was a fair call. I think that happens to many experienced teachers.
    My thoughts (as I read your post) moved to assessment and test data. I am just coming to the end of almost 4 weeks, yep 4 weeks! of consistent testng. My poor kids. I feel sorry for them. NAPLAN, On Demand., PAT tests, pre and post tests for maths workshops. It has be endless and very little teaching in the middle. Wasted time as far as I’m concerned. But that’s what admin wants unfortunately. I’m all for using data to further your teaching and planning, but it shouldn’t be in replacement of good learning time over a month. I have a blog post in the wings…you have inspired me.

    Hope to see you sometime between Sunday and Tuesday in Brissy.


    • Hey Rick
      I know we spoke about this particular post but it is one of my “rules” to ensure that I respond to all comments. Like yourself, I found it difficult to get back into the swing of things at school today. Thankfully however, I didn’t have another day like that fateful one in May! I’m avoiding State of Origin on principle and (of course I’m avoiding marking) spent time instead on an EduTECH Haiku Deck. There is a link on Twitter but it is also embedded here on my blog. Unfortunately, I couldn’t include a photo of Ryan!
      Cheers, hope to catch up again around the traps soon.

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