Any teacher you ask will be only too aware of the valid and serious challenges facing our profession. Those challenges include, but are not limited to; lack of funding, a recruitment crisis, a retention crisis, excessive workloads, a toxic Ofsted legacy, lack of parental support, cuts in real-terms pay, a lack of resources, and even collapsing buildings*.
I cannot stress enough that this blog post does not exist to downplay or undermine those colleagues who work tirelessly to address these injustices in the drive to make our profession a more sustainable one. I feel so very privileged to be part of a community that is so unashamedly demanding and expecting better for both our students and for ourselves.
But as I approach the seventh year of my teaching career, the one narrative I just haven’t heard enough about, save for the positivity I do often see on EduTwitter, is about how totally marvellous it is to be a teacher.
I frequently think to myself, “Shouldn’t we be shouting about all of this a bit more? And not just on Twitter?” I worry that sometimes we’re all in a bit of an echo-chamber when we share stories of a moving exchange with a group of students, or an excellent piece of work, or a super successful lesson.
We know how great this job is, but the teacher retention figures and media headlines seem to paint a different picture. Indeed, you only need to talk to the students themselves to get a flavour for the national perspective on teaching. It’s not valued. It’s not what clever students aspire to. Members of my own (extended) family have asked what I’m going to do “after teaching, you know, for your real career”.
Picture your student with a string of A* grades, grade 8 in three instruments, a Gold DofE award, a Level 3 football coaching qualification, a first aid certificate, an EPQ, 2 months of work experience in Rwanda, a starring role in the school production, and bucket loads of character to boot.
Wouldn’t it be great if that student, instead of being pushed towards medicine (the pressure for high-flyers to do this, often against their will, is alarming, but that’s a discussion for another time), they were asked, “Ever thought about becoming a teacher?”
If we want our children to be learning from the best, shouldn’t our high achievers teach? And shouldn’t this encouragement begin at school?
I also struggle to fathom the disconnect in the minds of those teachers who say they enjoy their jobs but actively discourage students from considering teaching themselves. Why are we trapped in self-destruct mode? Why can’t we bring ourselves to say, ‘Yes, I wholeheartedly recommend this job’?
In fact, that is exactly what I do say to students that I teach. At first they laugh, but once you talk to them about how much you adore what you do for even just a couple of minutes, you see their minds starting to tick over. We simply have to challenge their misconceptions about teaching at grassroots level.
And sure, some days a child does a poo on the changing room floor (true story), and others a parent shouts at you so near to your face that you can smell their breath (another true story), but for every difficult or heartbreaking experience, we are afforded hundreds of joyful and inspiring ones.
I knew I wasn’t the only teacher to feel this way, so I asked a small segment of the tweacher community what it is that brings them the most joy in their job as a teacher.
Here are just a handful of the responses, but you can find the whole thread here:
And here’s even one from my own GCSE geography teacher(!):
For me? It really is true what they say, working with children is quite simply the most delightful and rewarding job. I’ve laughed and I’ve laughed and I’ve laughed with the youngsters I work with. Young people are so interesting and funny and the way they see the world is so refreshing. It is the reason I get up in the morning.
When my friends discuss how much they all hate their office-based jobs, I don’t have anything to contribute to that conversation other than, “Sorry, I’m out, my job is wonderful.” I think they despise me a little bit for it, but then I do always have to remind myself that they could do this job too if they wanted to.
On a more selfish note, it satisfies what I call my ‘need to lead’. Teaching is such an obvious career choice for natural leaders; it simply must be championed as thus. There are also so many opportunities for career progression; I don’t know anybody who has taught for five years and not been offered a significant promotion of some kind. And while the pay may not be the most competitive straight out of university, one can leap up the pay scales fairly rapidly.
This blog post isn’t the end of me raving more about this job. I would love to hear from universities who would like a teacher to come in and talk to undergraduates for free about why teaching is a great career that they should seriously be considering. I would love to talk to people who have considered teaching but want to ask a teacher some questions about it or gain some observational experience in a school. I would welcome conversations with any teacher who feels disillusioned and wants to discuss it with a neutral-but-totally-not-neutral party. I would love to hear from companies interested in helping to support our profession in our quest to promote the wonders of teaching, beyond just throwing money at it. I want to play an active role in facilitating this shift towards happy teachers breeding happy teachers. I want to hear more ideas about how to do so.
When it comes to the best way forward regarding getting the right kinds of enthusiastic and high-quality graduates and career-changers into teaching, the recent figures speak for themselves; throwing money at trainee teachers won’t work. But maybe, just maybe, we can start to change the conversation ourselves.
*A good friend of mine taught for two years with an open-roof which leaked onto the bags of children in the back of the class when it rained. Another good friend of mine taught in a classroom – in a different school – with a rotting window frame, but when the entire window was removed in October, due to cost it wasn’t replaced until the following summer. She taught the entire winter with nothing but plywood in the window frame. All students were permitted to wear their winter coats in her lessons.