No I’m not talking about an economic depression. I’m referring to the hundreds of teachers across the UK who quietly go about their days teaching in schools…coping. And I suspect (and there is a lot of anecdotal as well as statistical evidence to the fact that) many teachers are miserable with their jobs and lives.
I’ve recently quit my teacher training and ever since then I’ve been coming to terms with my feelings towards teaching and the job role and trying to process them. If you want the short version of it: I hated the job and was miserable. And truth be told there were many red flags along the way, but when you don’t have a real alternative, you kinda have to walk along a path you don’t want (though this isn’t really true, which I’ll come to later).
The Guardian blog has articles called “Secret Teacher” where teachers anonymously write the cold hard truth about the plight of teachers and the crap they have to deal with. Here is a quote from one article:
For those prospective trainees who do have altruistic aspirations, here is a more honest advert: “Expect to give everything for others’ careers and to be put under yet more pressure in return. Be prepared to sacrifice your health, happiness, social and family life for each short-term goal, but don’t ask when the pay-off comes. Expect to surrender your autonomy to arrogant yes-men who claim to understand the incredible complexities that lie at the heart of education. While you’re at it, you’ll owe £9,000 in tuition fees. Don’t even consider getting a part-time job. Move in with your parents, try not to think about the level of debt you’ll have to pay off and don’t, under any circumstances, go outside.”
If you spend any time reading about teaching and the teacher’s role you will notice a lot of people talk about the workload and how this is driving people out of the profession into something more sane and meaningful but I want to spend some time discussing because I feel teachers tend not to go into the very specifics. I can only talk about this from a trainee perspective (where you get placed in a school and then have to start thinking and dealing with the classes you are given).
So, as a trainee you get placed in a school and usually the first week is spent observing and helping out in classes. The next week is when you start the actual teaching. Depending on how organised you are you will have planned for 1 to 3 days (Monday to Wednesday) and at a minimum you would be prepared for Monday. And guess what happens? Your plans don’t go to plan. Why is that? The reason is very simple actually and it is employed in the business world but not in education: you never asked the students what they want or are capable of doing. Imagine trying to sell a walking stick to a young gymnast – he will decline your offer 100%, and the same is true of the students. Now let me be clear: the students have already been conditioned to go along with the teacher so if you want to do fractions today you can and if you want to play video games you can as well. But the students will not be emotionally and intellectually engaged and will just do whatever it takes to pass the time and not be in trouble. Their hearts are never in the lesson but waiting to be somewhere else.
“But this is why teachers need to be creative and engage students” I hear you say…I can only sigh at this honestly. Has anyone ever thought about the paradox that knowledge is valuable and important and yet in the heart of knowledge institutions (schools) is where it is the least valued by students? Why aren’t our students interested in learning for its OWN sake? Why can’t our roles literally involve us helping the students through the material of the subject rather than dress the material in ribbons and rainbows? We have all the resources to teach practically any subject but the students will be marginally interested. Once that bell rings they are out that door as if running out of hell. How would that make a teacher feel? They prepared a “fun and interactive” lesson, 70% of the class even enjoyed it and laughed and learned something. But 30% weren’t interested and messed around, the class as a whole didn’t quite learn all the objectives planned for that lesson and when the bell rang they started packing away and leaving as if the teacher didn’t exist. That’s your typical lesson by the way. And don’t get me started on the START of each lesson! Whoever said “students love routine and need it” is total bullshit!
I was never much for “joining the herd” and in fact kept myself isolated from groups in classes as I was growing up. I always did my own thing and paid attention and applied myself to the work and respected the teachers. I think I was averse to getting close with other students because I stopped caring about their opinion of me since growing up in Saudi Arabia I found many had negative opinions of me. In England this wasn’t the case but at the same time I stopped needing to “fit in”. If you wanted to be my friend then great but I wasn’t going to go out of my way to make friends because I didn’t care about that. The result was that I made a small group of real friends who I’m still connected with to this day. But for some reason students today copy each other and follow each other’s lead instead of being independent thinkers. They want to fit in at the expense of the lesson and their own learning. For me this is utter stupidity and I do direct this criticism at the students themselves.
I have found that young students have become increasingly unteachable. But to understand what I mean by unteachable we need to understand what being teachable means. Basically the correct mindset to be in school with is this: you know little, school is a chance to learn a lot more than you currently know, learning and getting the qualifications as a result are vital. Instead what do we find? Students are cowards who don’t like making mistakes, they have bad manners, and they question the value of anything you present them, not out of curiosity but as a way to undermine the lesson you are teaching so that they don’t have to participate. Today’s students in England are virtually unteachable.
Why am I placing a lot of emphasis on the students? In fact paradoxically the shift in education emphasis has made “student-centred” learning the more correct way to teach, but don’t you realise that if the lesson is centred on the student, then the student takes more responsibility for his/her learning? So if you said “Today you will be exploring the relationship between the diameter and circumference of circles” and the reaction was “why” or “I don’t want to” then who is to blame? The teacher? Why? It’s clear to me that from the perspective of a young teenager they should recognise how much they don’t know and be fired up to get to the top.
In my opinion if you blame factors for the attitudes of pupils then you make them to be mindless robots. For example the “distraction of social media” and the “bad attitudes of parents”. If a student lets himself down by allowing himself to be put down by these factors then he is an idiot until he realises his mistake. You run your own life. No one else can care about your life as much as yourself (other than God of course but even He thinks you are responsible for your own life). So why do students waste their lives by not developing themselves and why is there the assumption that teachers have to “tell” students the importance of developing themselves? Do we have to be told to drink a liquid like water when we are thirsty to get rid of it? Do we have to get told to eat when we are hungry? Of course not! So why do we have to be told that we have to keep learning and exploring to keep us from stagnation and ignorance?
If a teacher’s job consisted of ONLY helping the students through a textbook and online resources and mark their progress and guiding pupils in the subject and personal development, teaching would be the BEST job in the world! But instead teaching kids has been reduced to spending hours and hours coming up with presentations and worksheets which we think the students MAY find acceptable to work through on top of various other little tasks that teachers are lumped with like meetings and forms to fill in. My biggest problem with teaching students was how UNREWARDING the profession was, and I mean how ungrateful the majority of students are for you being their teacher. When you find yourself inserting different shapes in a word document in the wee hours of the morning so that students can calculate the area of the shapes instead of something more personally productive like reading, meditating or exercising you start resenting the time WASTED on these students.
We have a fixed time in this life and I totally resent the time that I spend doing meaningless work for students not interested in working in the first place! Not only do I have to make the work, I have to entice and cajole students into actually participating! What kind of fucked up world do we live in where teachers as a whole take this to be the norm?! Let me tell you, when a person sought after a master in a particular field, he had to BEG the master to take him on as an apprentice. Then he followed the Master’s instructions and not question it (No “I’m a visual learner” bullshit). The Master takes this all into account anyways so it is stupid to question it, just follow and grow. And yet here we have teachers who are decently knowledgeable in their field barely getting a chance to teach even half of what they know, because the students are constantly resisting learning. Can you believe that? Resisting to learn!
We should be more open about how we discuss this. If the government wants certain standards to be met by the students then they should communicate this directly to the students. Literally. All children should be told “In this society certain skill levels and knowledge is necessary and required. It is your responsibility to learn and reach those standards.” Students should be pressuring teachers to teach them more and more! What this will do if this scenario came to pass would enliven the teacher and make them bring all their knowledge and resourcefulness to the table for the students to feast on. The current situation has the teachers working on dishes that students routinely discard. Which chef would cook for a person that kept throwing his food away? As long as the food was healthy and well-cooked, even if it was bland the person should recognise that it is still nutrition for the body: protein, carbohydrates and fats. It is not the chef’s fault that the person threw away the food, and it is not the government’s fault for wanting healthy people who can function in the society. Ultimately the onus rests on the students as a collective body.
Like this post if you agreed or resonated with it, and comment below your thoughts on the topic. This topic does get me incensed because I know it is an absolutely failing system. I am convinced we will see a decline in schools in the decades to come and a move to independent online education where people have to get up and learn or be thrown in the trash heap of society.