Friday, January 10, 2014

Teacher Teach Me Something New

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.


Rol said...

Since becoming a teacher a couple of years back as part of my whole mid-life crisis thingy, I've found it a hugely rewarding and endlessly frustrating occupation. Rewarding because of the students, frustrating because of the management mindset that they're running a business and every student is a "customer". Management does not care one bit about a student's education, they only care about how much money that student will bring in. Still, it's preferable to my previous job!

And don't even start me on Michael Gove!

Nota Bene said...

Now that is an interesting post indeed. It always strikes me that there is a tremendous lack of respect for education (we have no culture of learning) and the enablers (the teachers)...I think it holds the country back economically and culturally. Such a shame. As you can tell I whole heartedly agree with you

Gorilla Bananas said...

I think you would have been an excellent teacher, provided that a burly man with a cosh was standing in the far corner of the classroom. The children's eyes would be glued to you at lunchtime, hoping to see a bit of sponge pudding get stuck in your beard. These things happen to great pedagogues.

libby said...

My daughter in law is a teacher..and despite the hours/kids/extra responsibilities/marking/out of hours working/long days/pastoral support giving/parents who should never be parents, she continues to smile and love her lucky is she?

Steve said...

Rol: I did think of you when I wrote this post. I am hugely admiring of the career turn you have undertaken and wish you well in it.

Nota Bene: always nice to meet a complimentary and like-minded soul.

Gorilla Bananas: come to my place of work and you will see a bit of sponge pudding stuck in my beard most days.

Libby: anyone who does a job they love is unreservedly lucky.

John Going Gently said...

Here here
For me add to those that are not respected
Police,street cleaners and nurses

Fran Hill said...

Did you watch 'Tough Young Teacher' on BBC3 last night? I honestly don't know how people can go into the classroom after 6 weeks of training only. To me, that brings down the profession. My profession! Teaching is like a rollercoaster - one minute you feel sick and the next you're loving the view. But after 10 years of doing it, the best bits are still when someone goes, 'Oh, I see!' or 'Actually, that lesson was quite USEful!' (as though they're surprised ...)

Steve said...

John: I'll second that.

Fran: sadly I missed it but thanks to the miracle of iPlayerI have no doubt I can catch it later. Along with Rol above you have my unalloyed admiration.

English Rider said...

Well said! In this country a certain lobby faction wants them to be able to shoot too.

Steve said...

English: the teachers or the students? Seems to me that either would be bad.

the fly in the web said...

I owe so much to the good teachers I had...but how they would have responded to the way in which education is now regarded I do not know...they knew jolly well that kids...students even...were not customers....they were people who had to be taught how to learn.

Steve said...

The fly in the web: being taught to want to learn is the most valuable lesson a teacher can teach you. That and how to avoid ending up being stuck in a dead-end job for the rest of your life.

AGuidingLife said...

I think once Gove has been assassinated things will turn a corner.

Steve said...

K Ville: I just need one clear shot.

joebloggs said...

The thing that I find the most rewarding is the moment when it all falls in to place. It is almost a "Road to Damascus" moment with some.

Where I work there have been 12 teachers leave from Sept-Dec last year and only 3 replace them, I don't teach maths but even I know that doesn't add up!

Vicky said...

I wanted to be a teacher right up until I started high school and thought WTF and then I totally lost all interest in education. Oh how I feel so sorry for my high school teachers LOL

Steve said...

Joe: those are scary statistics. And indicative of the problem. Our teachers need to be better supported, more valued and better paid.

Vicky: it's a tough, incredibly demanding work. A proper job with little room for slacking off. Hence why I didn't pursue my early ambitions.