Since being just four years old and up until quite recently, I always thought that teaching was the only career in the world for me. A little like salt and pepper and cheese and onion, I seemed to be paired with teaching from a very early age. I loved school and I loved playing school. I would often line up my teddies and dollies along with my younger cousins and take the register; it was most definitely the best part of being a teacher in the eyes of a four year old. Now, twenty-seven years later it’s a sad reality that I am finding myself questioning my once beloved pastime turned ‘real-life’ career.
It seems that I am not alone in my weary wonderings as record numbers of teachers are reportedly handing over their apples and pretty pens and waving farewell to their classrooms. So, what is being done to keep good teachers on top form in our schools and for our children? Sadly, the answer is not enough and we owe it to future generations to make our voices heard. After all is said and done, this is not just a matter for teachers across the nation but also for every parent of every child whose teacher has made a difference in their lives. And of those, I am convinced there are many.
Firstly, teachers do not expect the world, we simply hope to change the world for the children we love and care for. We expect to have to work hard, of course we do but that we don’t expect is to have to work through the night marking books with colour codes and symbols which are often meaningless to the child and serve only to satisfy and meet the demands of a disillusioned government. Children much prefer black and white, right or wrong and a good old face-to-face conversation about what they could do better next time.
Secondly, teachers actually do expect to teach. Yes, to stand in front of thirty plus sets of inquisitive eyes longing to soak up every single last word we utter. We like to be creative, to plan lessons that inspire us too and to allow the children to take learning to new places yet to be discovered. Unspeakably and namely in the previous three years, teaching has become much more paper-trail than treasure hunt and box ticking than creative thinking. In just the nine years that I myself have been part of the profession from this side, things have shifted beyond recognition, so much so that the lessons I was graded ‘outstanding’ for in 2008 would likely be signed, sealed and delivered as ‘requires improvement’ tomorrow.
Thirdly, (and typing with a lump in my throat) teachers really do want to put their own children to bed at night after taking care of and loving someone else’s children all day. We do not expect to be beaten down for wanting to do so either. My colleagues and I have often day-dreamed at lunch times about a career where 5:30pm means end of work time. The reality is that pressures on staff mean that many teachers work late into the night and thus miss out on the important moments in their own child’s day and let’s not even mention the weekends. I know of friends who have sat at home, waved their families goodbye as they excitedly venture out on sunny days only to be left behind with stacks of books, highlighters and a box of tissues to ease their pain…not to mention the guilt.
So, I suppose the answer is quite clear to me – look after your teachers and your teachers will look after your children. Care for your teachers and your teachers will be in a better position to be able to care for your children. Allow your teachers to have guilt-free family time and your teachers will work extra hard when they do work because they have spent time loving their own children and families as well as everyone else’s. Ask your teachers if they’re ok and you’ve probably guessed it, yes, your teachers will be in such a position that they have real time for your children and can take those moments in the day to ask your children – ‘Are you ok today?’ and actually be able to listen and respond to the answer.
It’s not really rocket science, is it? We’re human too and in order to do the best (which is always what we want for our classes) we need to feel on top form, after all every day is show time.