Teachers Unsung Heroes:

Teaching is a profession like no other, the challenges, the diversity and the rewards make it a truly unique career. It takes a huge amount of passion and commitment to be a great teacher – the type of teacher who can make a positive impact on the lives of young people. Teachers are gifted this precious opportunity, and the reward of seeing students progress remains the primary motivation for most educators, it’s what brings teachers to school in the morning with the determination to overcome the daily demands of school life.

Alongside the professional satisfaction of supporting students to realise their potential, teaching is an incredibly diverse occupation, there is never a dull moment. It’s difficult to do justice to the diversity of challenges that teachers face, but a well know quote from Eliot Wigginton’s ‘Sometimes a shining moment: The Foxfire experience’ certainly comes close.

‘Teachers routinely have to teach over 140 students daily. On top of that, we have lunch duty, bus duty, hall duty, home room duty. …We go to parents’ meetings, teachers’ meetings, in-service meetings, curriculum meetings, department meetings, countywide teachers’ meetings, school board meetings, and state teachers’ conferences. We staff the ticket booths and concession stands at football and basketball games. We supervise the production of school plays, annuals, newspapers, dances, sports events, debates, chess tournaments, graduation ceremonies. We go on senior trips…. We go on field trips to capital buildings, prisons, nature centers, zoos, courtroom trials. We choke down macaroni and cheese and USDA peanut butter at lunch (and have to pay for it). We search lockers during bomb threats. We supervise fire drills and tornado alerts. We write hall passes, notes to the principal, the assistant principal, parents and ourselves. We counsel. We wake up every morning to the realization that the majority of our students would far rather be someplace else.’ (p.191)

While Willington’s quote may exaggerate for effect, most teachers can relate to its underlying sentiment – teachers are required to take on an almost infinite array of responsibilities and do so without being fazed. In what other occupation could you spend the early morning enforcing dress codes, your lunchtime negotiating with feuding teens, your afternoon discussing life in Elizabethan London and your evening reading a hundred essays on humankind’s depletion of Earth’s resources?

Newly Qualified Teachers – The First Week

When assigned to a school for the first time, recently qualified teachers quickly realise that while their university studies prepared them to engage young learners and deliver academic content effectively, they missed out on an entire arsenal of skills that are needed to survive the first week. With daily challenges that include resolving conflicts, navigating bureaucracy and pacifying parents while continuously striving for a productive and harmonious classroom environment, it’s little wonder that top of most teachers’ wish lists is ‘more time’. In reality, more time would quickly be eaten away by further responsibilities and additional administrative duties  – what teachers really need is a full set of super powers, but that is something that even the most prestigious universities are unable to provide.

Simply surviving daily life in a modern school requires a multitude of skills but unfortunately teachers’ difficulties are not confined within the school walls. Outside parents, school inspectors, university deans, law enforcement offices, health officials, social workers, heads of industry and, of course, politicians are all quick to blame the ills of the modern world on the humble teacher. As a well know headline from the Times Educational Supplement put it ‘Low morale, depressed, feeling unfairly blamed for the ills of society? You must be a teacher.’

What Are They Teaching Our Children?

When the country’s economy falters, politicians look to industry who then look to the schools – ‘where are the graduates we need to push our economy onwards?’ When civil disorder hits the headlines – ‘what are they teaching our children? Where are the role models? Have they stopped promoting morals at schools?’ And the criticism doesn’t even stop for the summer holidays because when the Olympics are held and the UK is outranked by a smaller country, it’s the schools and the teachers that are blamed for letting the country down.

Politicians, heads of industry, university deans, they all appear to have their own solution for modern education and they all know exactly how teachers should be working. It’s interesting that these groups don’t go around telling doctors or other professionals how to do their work, I guess that’s just another unique gift for the teachers.

The Erosion Of The Profession

Alongside this barrage of criticism, the spirit of the classroom teacher is further tested by what has been become known as ‘the erosion of the profession’. Increased paperwork, detailed accountability, high-stakes inspections, high-stakes assessments, outside interference, an ever increasing focus on standardised tests and the decreased recognition of teaching as a profession all detract from the vision most teachers had of their role within the education system. I don’t know many people who became teachers to spend hours writing detailed reports and prepping students for standardized assessments, do you?

So why do teachers continue to dedicate themselves to their work?

The answer for most teachers comes from those moments when they realise students have successfully grasped a new concept, striking success with a group of students, seeing learners progress, supporting students to realise their potential and making a positive difference in young people’s live. These are the factors that inspire teachers, not the results from standardized assessments or the stamp of approval from a school inspector.

Additionally, many teachers can remember a teacher from their time at school who made a difference, a teacher who had a profound impact on the adult they became and it’s the belief that a teacher can inspire a student in this way that keeps many teachers dedicated to their work. This belief encourages teachers to continue striving, knowing that their dedication is making a difference and despite the paperwork, the stress, and the lack of recognition, teaching remains a profession that goes some small way to making the world a better place – and that’s what superheroes do, make the world a better place!

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