There are problems with recruitment and retention.
It isn’t clear how these will be addressed in the foreseeable future, and ‘that’ advert, with its panning shots and relaxed teachers, seems to have ruffled feathers, which I get, but given how difficult schools are finding it to recruit, moaning about an advert feels like rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic.
This half term’s been quite challenging. There’s no breathing space in my days now my NQT time’s gone, and a maximum timetable is like a weekly Herculean task.
In my training I didn’t cry once. I cried three times in one day this last half term, and I’m not entirely sure why.
Other recently qualified teachers, both on twitter and in real life, seem to be looking around wondering what happened. Friends, family and even colleagues (!) have questioned why I’m still a teacher.
It’s unanimous. “Get out.”
Like the Amityville Horror, but with gluesticks.
Student perceptions of teaching aren’t much better.
“Do you need GCSEs to be a teacher?”
“You got all As and A*s at GCSE sir? You could have done ANYTHING.”
So, given just how often I seem to be justifying the choice in career to loved ones, I’m going to be a bit self-indulgent and lay out why I decided to start teaching.
NB: There seems to be a culturally pervasive idea that ‘a teacher’ is a type of person, rather than a description of their work. IMHO you’re not born a teacher; it’s actually a lifestyle choice. I don’t think we have a monopoly on socially conscious work.
When I first went to university I was going to study composition and the piano, then write music for a living. This lasted until I realised I’d have to practise 4 hours a day.
In the end I chose to study philosophy, and took electives in anthropology, music (non-performance courses) and theology. Educationally, I’d never been more satiated. I studied enough philosophy to get a single designation degree, and then studied more theology alongside it. I just liked learning stuff.
I’d never considered teaching. I taught piano for a bit during sixth form and I didn’t feel that ‘heal the world’ vibe other friends had. It was just less greasy than the chippy, and paid better.
I first considered maths during logic classes. I loved philosophical logic. It was like solving simple equations. My tutor wasn’t keen on my comparison.
“Dan don’t say that. It puts people off. We prefer to say it’s like word puzzles. People hate maths.”
I was livid. It hadn’t occurred me that saying something was ‘like an equation’ would put people off a subject. I’d always loved maths. I did A level and found it really interesting, but I was always a ‘performing arts’ kid. Nobody else in the family had been to university before, and if I was going, I’d be going to do music and/or drama.
I visited a school and quite liked it, so I applied for a deferred PGDE in maths so I could teach English abroad for six months and then spend six months on the old maths enhancement course to sharpen my subject knowledge.
Both experiences made me want to teach even more. I loved my training, and I love the job, even though I sort of fell into it. Face first.
Teaching is the most intellectually stimulating job I can think of. In my four years of philosophy, there were no answers, just more refined questions. Then suddenly, I’m teaching mathematics and I can show you proofs.
You can find the area of a parallelogram by multiplying the length of the base by the length of the perpendicular height, but don’t take my word it, there’s reasoning you can follow to see why it works.
You’ve only got to look at the comments section of a website to see how even the simplest ideas can be rowed with, but you can’t argue with the area of a parallelogram.
It’s an irrefutable truth about the world that’s accessible to children.
I don’t have the vocabulary to explain how much that makes me fizz.
You also get to see how people learn day in, day out. Strictly speaking I suppose you don’t as we can’t ‘see’ learning as such, but if you’re dead nosy (*surreptitiously raises hand*), you get to hear their ideas and shape how they change, which yes, might be part of a socially conscious idea to improve the world, but it’s also fascinating.
“What do you think it’d be like to live in four dimensions?”
“I don’t get fractions. I’ve never got them. I never will.”
“Are squares rectangles?”
“What’s the exterior angle of a concave polygon then?”
As well as that, working with young people, you see the whole gamut of human experience. Within 20 minutes a student’s story can break your heart, whilst someone else has made you howl with laughter. Their energy is a challenge, as is their lethargy.
We’re at the end of the half term break and I’m a bit more rested, so the bags under my eyes have receded back behind my rose-tinted glasses somewhat, but I stand by teaching as an attractive career choice.
And let’s be right, we’re teachers. We know this. We know the job has the potential for needing to beat people away with sticks.
If the pay and the ‘making a difference’ doesn’t sway it for you, then how about the variety, the life you see, the community you join and the intellectual stimulation of it all?
And it’s still less greasy than working in the chippy.