I regard myself as fulfilling the British stereotype not only in my levels of tea consumption and my incapability of conducting a relaxed conversation with strangers, but also in terms of my tendency to whinge. But no more o’that, my lord[s], no more! The sun is shining and I’m not slaving over a stack of essays (yet!) Thus, I’m in the mood for reflecting on the things about teaching that make it a jolly excellent profession — just to counteract the (sometimes justified) apocalyptic misery that currently shrouds our industry. I’ve boiled it down to the five top reasons:
- You get to interact with children and they’re generally hilarious.
This is surely the reason that got most of us into teaching, right? When you cast your mind to an alternate reality where you sit at a desk day-after-day, anchored to your computer until you occasionally venture to the water cooler for a mundane conversation with Susan from HR, you really begin to appreciate why working with children is so especially desirable. Children are generally hilarious. Firstly, they say some absolutely ridiculous things. Whether through some hilarious faults in their understanding (“Miss! Isn’t a synonym a type of spice?”), or as a result of their attempts to verbally jostle with one another, I can think of no other job that could make me laugh and smile so frequently throughout the course of a day. Then there’s their behaviour. Adults are so predictable, so naturally reserved in a professional setting. Children are, of course, learning to be like that, but isn’t that learning journey a funny one to witness? “Miss! Molly’s chewed through her pen and the ink has exploded all over her face.” “Miss! Nathan punched Tom for calling him a rake.” I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to feign a disciplinarian poker face whilst squirming internally with laughter!
- You can engage with topics that you love every day.
Anyone who knows me will tell you, I love Shakespeare. Like, A LOT. Can you imagine, then, my joy when the Shakespeare schemes of work come around for each year group that I teach? Sheer unbounded joy, I tell you. Which other job would allow someone to share their love of their favourite subject with others? Maybe academia, sure – you could write about some niche aspect of your field and share it with other equally keen devotees. But does it allow you, for example, to read the greatest tragedies ever written with people who don’t know what’s going to happen? And, trust me when I say, that is one of the greatest pleasures a teacher can have! Sharing your knowledge and passion is one of the most rewarding experiences a person can have, and the marking and data (though excessive) rarely detracts from that fact.
- You are afforded a strong degree of professional autonomy.
Now, I know this is a controversial point, but I find that in spite of the learning walks, PRP and inspections we all have to undergo, teaching is a remarkably free profession. Yes, you have to bend to the will of the DfE, your school, your department and your exam board, but the degree of professional autonomy you have thereafter is remarkable. You get free reign over how you will deliver the material and, to some extent, even which materials you chose to deliver! I love musing over which novel will best engage my classes, which questions and activities I think will best help them to understand the topic. Sure, the amount of professional autonomy can be a bit frustrating on days when you’re having a real brain fart (just as it can be frustrating when your disagreement with a peculiar management decision reminds you of your lack of professional autonomy), but most of the time teaching a mentally liberating process that I genuinely enjoy.
- You are given a load of time off – even in spite of the marking.
I have stacks of books sitting in my living room waiting for me when I get home from my holiday frolics, but it’s the first week of the Easter holidays and I don’t plan to give those books even a millisecond of thought until the second week. Yes, it’s annoying that I shall have to give over my second week to extensive daily marking, but we must hold on to the fact that we get a paid week totally to ourselves. In a world where two weeks’ paid holiday is the norm, teachers undeniably have it good. And that’s before we even cast our minds forward to the summer holidays! Sure, we faced hiked travel and accommodation prices during that period, but would you really swap that inconvenience for better prices and a fraction of the time off? I know I wouldn’t.
- You get to shape students’ perceptions of something about which you care.
I care about English a great deal and knowing I’ve facilitated a love of literature in my students is a delight. The best moment of my NQT year so far was when one of my particularly sceptical Year 11s told me that they “really enjoyed studying Macbeth.” It was a total ‘punch the air’ moment. Most of all, though, I care about education and students enjoying their school years. Learning is the most enjoyable thing a human can do and, provided they have teachers who model the love of learning, students will come away not only thinking that they have learned things which have enriched their understanding of the world, but also realising that learning is something that you continue to do when you leave school. This realisation is so important not just for them as individuals, but for our entire society. And teachers, with whom the students have contact with for almost half their waking day, have a huge role to play in this process.
No new insights here. Nothing unusual or groundbreaking said. Just a happy teacher on a sunny day, saying something nice about a profession which too often we fail to shine a warm light on. (I think the vitamin D has gone to my head!)