Back when I’d just finished my O Levels and still laboured under the misapprehension that I could be anything at all that I wanted to be I briefly considered the role of “teacher”. Admittedly this career choice sat well under other wilder vocations such as rock star, people’s poet, master of the kabbalah and vigilante crime fighter but, although less glamorous that these other roles, teaching did offer better holidays, a temporal structure that I was already brainwashed into thinking was the norm and removed the necessity to wear stupid clothes (I could stick to my everyday nerd gear and would still fit right in).
And throughout the proceeding years that option of becoming a teacher used to rear its head mentally in my mind’s eye and beckon to me with a tweedy jacket and a Tupperware lunchbox. Because even then, that’s what I thought typified a teacher. Films like Dead Poet’s Society and even Grease – in fact any film set in a school – would awaken a transient and vague desire in me to spend the rest of my life in a school building obeying the predictable ebb and flow of the academic year.
But I never seriously pursued it.
In all honesty, despite several people telling me that I was teacher material, I don’t think I ever was and I still don’t. I think other people see my bookishness and thirst for knowledge as the main traits necessary to become a teacher. For me I would say they were certainly desirable but something more is needed. Something bigger than all the knowledge in the world put together:
The guts, stamina and consistency of spirit to want to get into a classroom every day and teach kids who may not want to be taught, who are more cynical than someone their age has a right to be, to deal with bureaucracy and ham-stringing red tape on a daily basis, to put up with exponentially increasing workloads, insultingly crap pay and a syllabus that is battered, broken and bowdlerized each year by politicians who have taken the cream that the British educational system had to offer in the past and are now setting about denying it to future generations.
The sheer uphill struggle of being a teacher scares the bejasus out of me. I’m not strong enough. The fires that forge a teacher these days are too fierce.
And that’s a damned shame because a good teacher can change a child’s life forever and so far-reachingly that it is nigh on impossible to gauge. Who wouldn’t want to be part of something so profoundly wonderful?
And that’s the worry. How many would-be / could-be teachers are turning away from the call they feel to their ideal profession because successive UK governments have made the job impossible to do well? Have made in impossible for them to care about the profession they follow without ending up with a broken heart?
Lowell Milken puts it simply: “Only when society demonstrates respect for educators will the brightest and most capable students choose it as their profession.”
I think on an individual level we all of us look back at our teachers and, with the benefit of hindsight, respect them and pay them heartfelt thanks. Some of us even bless those teachers that are even now helping to shape and mould the minds of the children – our children – that we are currently placing into their care on a daily basis.
But as a society do we respect our teachers? Do we recognize their true value in shaping the society that is to come?
In all honesty, I don’t think that we do. Not enough.
And if that’s the case we all need to be educated to the contrary.