4 Apr 2010

It's not the kids we need to educate, it's society.

I'm enjoying the first few days of my holiday.  Two weeks off, and plenty of things to be getting on with.  Many of my non-teaching friends have made a few jokey comments, telling me that I'm in a part-time job, and that as I finish at 3.10 everyday, my life must just be one big holiday.  For the most part I laugh these sort of comments off, because most of my friends understand what I do, and how much time I dedicate to doing it.  

Of course now, with it being the season for the teaching union conferences, there is the talk of industrial action in the air, and with that comes the reactionary comment from people about how teachers have it easy, and that we're lucky to have so much free time, and it is this attitude from a large proportion of society that I find insulting.  

During the recent cold spell, many schools obviously closed due to snow and ice, but newspapers ran articles citing parents complaining that they had to take a day off to look after their children, and that the schools were over-reacting.  Case made.  Never mind the safety aspects of having children playing in icy conditions, forget the fact that teachers have to drive whatever distances to get to work, some parents were publicly complaining because the 'child-minders' weren't at work.  

People who have been teaching a lot longer than I claim to remember the days when the teaching profession was held in much higher regard.  When being a teacher was a respected position in society, something that I'm now only reminded of when it comes to signing someone's passport form for them! What has happened in society to make teachers out to be lazy, militant individuals, who come into the job for the long holidays?  Are we really perceived to be the surrogate parents for the children in our care?  The phrase 'in loco parentis' is one that never seems to be used in schools anymore.  

I actually love my job, and just to inform some of you, who may not fully understand what we do for our salaries; Teaching requires a degree; at one time, any degree, but soon it may well be the case that a lower second class degree won't cut it anymore.  For most people, a degree means debt, so most teachers enter the profession already owing thousands of pounds.

Then there is the actual day itself.  For many of my office-based colleagues, the idea of standing up, and convincing 30 teenagers that irregular French verbs are the key to life is a scary thought.  But we do that, sometimes, 4 or 5 times a day.  I might come into contact with over 100 students a day, each one with a different impression of what I may or may not have said.  It might surprise some people to know that I actually have to plan what I may or may not say to students, for fear of being misunderstood, in any number of ways.  This planning takes time, and not just the hour and a half we have without classes before the end of the traditional working day.  In many of today's newspapers, there are stories about teaching unions voting to take industrial action regarding SATs, or workload or working conditions, depending on which paper you read.  In the Independent, it is reported that according to a TUC survey, teachers work an average of 18.7 hours a week of unpaid overtime.  I know some who do far more than that.

Then I spend time correcting and marking, and setting targets for each individual student I teach, so that they are aware of what they have to do to attain their potential.  This too takes time, and because teenagers are complex characters, they don't always attain their potential, which teachers are held accountable for, even though we have little idea what goes on in their lives outside of school.  

We have meetings, where the latest government initiatives are discussed and implemented, and because teachers are flexible and open to new methods, we are then given more and more of these initiatives to undertake.  

We are expected to offer students extra-curricular activities, so I will run trips abroad, which are fraught with risk and stress, but from which the students benefit enormously. I will run workshops at weekends and revision classes in the holidays so that students can continue their learning.  I set up online learning programmes, so that the students can work on things from home.  

So it comes round to 10.30pm, and I'm typing up minutes from another meeting, whilst planning worksheets for my GCSE, having just finished marking my Year 9 books, before I email my partner school in France to confirm arrangements for the next trip.

I'm not militant, and have never voted for strike action in my life, but if it would convince the greater majority of society of the status of teachers, and make some people actually think about what we do, and have to go through each day, then I am in favour.  Unfortunately I feel that whoever wins the next election will try to squeeze more out of us than the last.  

So for now, I'm going to enjoy my holiday.


aliceayel said...

Well said Alex! There is a great poem by Taylor Mali entitled "What teachers make" http://teachmath.net/WhatTeachersMake.html
which I think goes well with your post!

Olly Fayers said...

Now there's a post which makes disturbing reading for anybody who is about to embark on a career in teaching - which is exactly what I'm doing.

The troublesome thing is that, 2/3 of the way into my Primary PGCE, I have already felt some of that frustration about the issues you've eloquently written about.

Teachers get a very bad press from the media, the government, and therefore the public. This deserves to change.

It's not going to put me off something which I know I will love doing for a living, but it is a shame that the professional knowledge and commitment of teachers is not always respected to the extent which it should be.

At any rate, I was at Northgate between 1998 and 2005 - and was in a few lessons that you covered. You had a bloody good reputation amongst your students then, which I doubt has changed.

Keep up the good work with the blog, and enjoy the holiday. Sounds like you've earned it.

Alex Blagona said...

Olly - I knew that name from somewhere!! Thanks for the comment - I'll be reading your blog too with interest to see how you get on!