The government should be helping, not hindering, me.
I have two more years of my Modern Languages degree and for a while I have known that I want to be a primary school teacher. Through a mixture of inspiration from my own teachers, who I still fondly remember today, and my own experiences of working with kids in a variety of settings, I have realised that I have a passion for education. I want to enthuse children and open their eyes to the world; I want to bring literature and foreign languages into the classroom to form an integral part of my teaching, but how can I do that as I see more and more teachers leaving the profession, complaining of too long hours and too high expectations? I am willing to help and do my part to stop the Teaching Crisis that currently grips our schools, but not if I can’t be the teacher I aspire to be. The majority of new teachers, especially primary school teachers, do it for similar reasons to me: they love working with kids, they want to shape their lives in order for them to be better people, and they have ideas about how to do this. However, if Nicky Morgan continues with her and Gove’s policies, I honestly don’t think I would be able to handle it.
I’ve never been one for bureaucracy or authority: if I thought a rule was unnecessary, I would challenge it and if I was given a good enough reason I would accept it, if not, I would try and find a way around it. To me, the possibility of repeating this at a school with a tightly-controlled curriculum and standards, fills me with dread. I would do it, but I also know that it’s the real world, and I could find myself out of a job that I’ve been dreaming of doing for years. At this point you may be wanting to label me as a conceited and arrogant millennial, who expects everything handed to him on a plate, but I’m not like that. I’m willing to work and do things I don’t like for others, I try every day to be compassionate and empathetic; I know about making sacrifices to help other people and when I do, it makes me feel great. To me, being a teacher would epitomise everything I want to be: I’ll be helping to make a difference. President Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing” and I want to live by this every day and I believe my life will be better for it.
Believing it and living it are two very different things however and now I’m stuck in a position where the world is telling me that the UK no longer has room for the idealist wannabe role model teachers à la Dead Poets Society. I’ve never wanted to work in an office with someone breathing down my neck (see above for reason why) yet the idea of striking out and setting up an organisation myself terrifies me, but the idea of being so close to what I want to do, to inspire, create and engage, but not being quite able to terrifies me even more. It would be soul crushing if I couldn’t achieve my potential or my aspirations, and I’m angry at the current administration for shooting themselves in the foot and not giving me or many others the chance we so desperately want.
Student numbers are rising quicker than the system can keep up with them, and the DfE are desperate to lure people to teaching with ‘golden handshake’ schemes and TeachFirst. However, after speaking to a department head of a school that uses TeachFirst teachers, I know it’s not right for me. You may get paid, and be more employable in the long run, but I don’t think it’s worth the stress that comes with it as aside from completing your PGCE, you also have to be doing their Leadership Development Programme (LDP), which includes a summer internship at an organisation or large corporation. Teaching is a stressful enough job already thanks to rising expectations, so why wear yourself out in your first two years teaching so much that you want to change career? That’s how far TeachFirst push you, they don’t deny it’s tough but when 40% of their yearly cohort quit teaching after the obligatory 2 years, it hardly inspires confidence. Teaching is a vocation and people only do it because they want to (at least I would hope so) so to have 40% of people leave isn’t because they never planned to stay teaching for long, eager to join large corporations easier due to higher employability; they were pushed out because of heavy workloads and unreasonably high, standardised targets, set by complete strangers who don’t know the students personally.
According to The Guardian, around 59% of teachers have considered quitting in the last six months, and yet 92% want to continue teaching to make a difference (with the other 8% citing other reasons why they want to continue). This means that around 33% want to make a difference and yet they feel overwhelmed and have considered quitting. That’s a third. It’s not fair on the teachers that the DfE and Ofsted don’t do anything to help. It’s not fair to parents or the children to have 59% of teachers considering quitting, it means that not only is the system is failing them, as the teachers can’t support students in the way they want to, but the system is also failing itself by not giving teachers more freedom and, most importantly, less stress.
I’ve never been under the illusion that teaching is easy, and I reckon a bit of stress will make it exciting, but not to such the excess we see today. Modern society is all about excess, but why don’t we strip teaching down to more basic principles: to engage students in the world around them; make them appreciate their lives and teach them compassion; show them art and literature and encourage them to think critically from an early age; and lastly bring languages into the classroom to develop their understanding of all these things. Education can’t be just about test scores and exam grades, it has to be everything else I’ve just explained too. In French, ‘education’ doesn’t mean just learning as we know it, but it encompasses behaviour, morals and other such necessities to being a well-rounded person. I want to be a good teacher, but at the moment it seems impossible with the current legislation and over-zealous bureaucracy. Perhaps we could learn something from the French and encourage teachers, rather than demoralising them, to not just to teach the textbook, but also aid parents in providing ‘une bonne education’ too.