What teaching means to most practitioners is a chance to make a difference, a love of working with young people and a job which offers infinite variety. A career can potentially last for more than forty years (scary); in all likelihood no two days in that time are completely the same. There are not many occupations for which we can say that.
And unless we really are the most grumpy of people, we have to feel that since teaching means working with young people, that has to be a positive. Yes, the increasingly challenging behaviour many of us have embraced over the years might be a down side, but the majority of students – of whatever age – give off a life enhancing energy.
Then there is the lightbulb moment. Teaching means to us a memory of that second when young Billy in 8Z finally grasps how to add together fractions or Matilda uses an apostrophe correctly for the first time (in’s’tead of putting the’s’e s’mall dot’s everytime s’he s’ee’s an s’). It can make our day, our week and maybe for some of us, our career.
According to the survey, for a reassuringly small number of us teaching means long holidays, and even less enter because their other career options are restricted. Thank goodness for that.
Other things that teaching means to us include the love of our subject; certainly many teachers will know colleagues with interests in sport, or singing or perhaps tech work in drama who are able to enjoy exploring those interests through their work. Not only can they practise their hobby free of charge, without say having to join a club, but they may well get paid for the pleasure.
I have to admit that the many times I reffed or watched a football or rugby match, thinking that I could be in a hot office instead, represents the best of recollections for me.
Another factor behind that which draws teachers into their profession is their own experience. Interestingly, there are around the same number of practitioners who enter because their own schooling was bad as there are those inspired by a great educational experience. Presumably, those with unpleasant memories wish to give today’s generation a better chance rather than make them suffer as they had done. The role played by inspirational teachers is also important. Personally, let me take a moment to thank Mr Bunting, my Year 9 (3rd Year in those days) English teacher.
But it’s not all good. Sadly, but inevitably, what teaching means to an increasing number is primarily negative. A job that offers no chance of a reasonable work/life balance. A career in which political interference is ever present.
Can any of us recall the last Education Secretary, for example, who values teachers, the work they do and the opinions they hold? No, for them (and other politicians) it seems more about personal popularity and point scoring than respect and support. The Mighty Gove could, some would argue, be considered visionary. But many more would argue that this vision was so skewed, old fashioned and harmful for the chances of many young people that it should be dismissed.
Maybe during the time of Blunkett and his successors money flowed like never before, or again. But with that cash came the kind of ideological dictatorship (usually in the form of unworkable toolkits – remember those?) that stress levels increased to such an extent that much of the extra money went on employing supply staff.
Teaching means to many constant changes and teacher bashing in the press. OFSTED, unsurprisingly, features highly. Their latest soundbite illustrates the point. Less focus on exam results? Really?
So the unsurprising conclusion we reach this week is that what teaching means to us…depends on us. On the one hand, it is great to see enthusiastic, buoyant teachers bringing their classrooms to life with boundless energy and innovation. It is equally understandable to realise that this enthusiasm, like a Norfolk cliff, becomes constantly eroded by the unceasing tide of increased work, less support and accountability driven by political expedience rather than outcomes for students.
And just as the cliffs eventually succumb to the sea’s threat, so teachers eventually crash out of the profession, leaving behind not houses dangling over the edge, but young people.
Anyway, time to go now before this metaphor becomes even more convoluted, if that is possible. It’s lunch time.
I fancy some nice mashed potato…maybe even a cup of Bovril.