Workload. Lack of support. Unruly students. Difficult parents. The league leaders in the hotly fought championship of ‘Parts of the Job Teachers Most Hate.’

If we had the position where the profession was full to bursting with teachers committed to developing a thirty or forty-year career in our schools, then the current discomfort felt by many would be tolerable, if unfortunate. But we do not. The statistics are well known: almost half of new staff leave teaching within five years; four out of five professionals see a limited life for their time in the classroom; senior, experienced staff are draining away and finding replacements is proving impossible. Recruitment frequently falls twenty per cent short of its target.
So, can we dig down more deeply into the factors that we loathe about our work and offer suggestions towards making them more manageable?

Workload – How Do We Manage?

I’m going to be a little controversial here…and I really don’t mean to upset anyone, or denigrate the hard work all teachers put into their job, but I am not really sure that our workload has increased, at least not since the mid-eighties when I first faced a class.

What is different is the nature of that workload. Back in the days of shoulder pads and dodgy hairstyles, we still had to write reports – by hand. Then collate them. Errors required far more time to correct. We still planned and marked. Those schools who adhered to a child centred approach spent far more time setting up individual work schemes than even, dare it be suggested, we do today. More of us ran after school clubs. Dinner duties, break patrols and so forth were down to teachers and the notion of PPA was as distant as the idea of completing a morning registration online. Classroom support was a rarity indeed.

But…and it is a big one… the balance of our workload was weighted far more greatly towards time with our students, and far less towards paperwork. Marking was more rudimentary. School inspection less stressful and significant meaning little (or no) time spent in preparation. Staff training was not then an endless cycle of revisiting the same issue time and time again but more often geared to the needs of the teacher or the school. It was training to improve the quality of learning our students experienced, and not to tick a box or satisfy some short-term political objective.
There were teachers who arrived at nine o clock and left promptly at three thirty, but they were rare, and most staff would remain at school running drama clubs or music groups or sports teams. My own bog standard comprehensive, which I attended as a pupil until the early eighties, offered (from memory and a quick phone call to an old friend) a range of clubs which included chess, public speaking, debating, knitting, woodwork, art of every variety, science, newspaper and no doubt many more, all alongside teams and sports clubs, play rehearsals and more music bands than you could shake a drum stick at.

This kind of workload was enjoyable and made an evident improvement to the lives of pupils. The same cannot be said today. Too often, our workload is purely bureaucratic – planning to pass an inspector’s (or line manager’s) undiscerning eye. Writing a report so restricted in its permitted scope that it says little about the student. (I find my own daughter’s termly reports completely sterile. At the same time, I know that their poor teachers have sweated for hours in producing such skilful examples of non-information.)

So, teachers hate the workload they face. Who can blame them? We entered the profession to work with children, not produce endless pages of bureaucratic nonentity. The answer, I think, is simple. Get rid of the red-tape and put teachers in front of their students once again. Sadly, this solution, while obvious, is neither original nor likely to happen. Which leads neatly on to the second element of school life most hated by teachers.

Support Costs Nothing

But is, these days, too much to expect (it often seems). Since politicians rarely even pretend to hold values or standards and when populism and popular soundbites rule few of us can expect a secretary of state who genuinely values teachers – such people value only one thing: themselves. However, we can and should expect support from our line-managers, heads and governors.

Indeed, this support is still there in the best schools. Nevertheless, we live in a social media world where nobody is permitted a mistake, errors must be punished, and anything less than excellence is tantamount to failure.
It is often, and rightly, said that teachers need to be brave to improve, to take risks and accept that sometimes plans will go awry. Yet such an approach is out of kilter with a society which views any kind of error as catastrophic and believes that every mistake must be savagely exposed and punished. (Or, as too often happens in schools, passed down the line to some other person’s door.)

Presumably, such an outlook must eventually implode since mistakes are a part of life, as well as education. Until then support is a luxury to be enjoyed when, and if, it occurs.

Tricky Students and Appalling Parents

It is wrong that students fear their teachers, as we did in my schooldays (especially, let the record show, Mr Johnson of the ginger sideburns and rampant use of the cane). But it certainly made classroom behaviour better.

Yet rather as with the idea of receiving support from our bizarrely appointed leaders, times have changed. Everybody today is aware of, and vocal about, their rights. As for their responsibilities? They are less clear. And if adults are unsure about right and wrong, it is hardly surprising their offspring are the same. Reducing fear is a good thing; losing respect is not. We shouldn’t really be surprised that kids are becoming harder to manage.

There are parts of most people’s jobs that they hate. Indeed, a bit of drudgery can make the exciting bits of our occupations seem even better. But for many teachers, the love/hate balance of our work has shifted too far towards the latter.

Is there light at the end of the tunnel? I feel like a traitor to say this, but I fear not. Teachers are undervalued, underpaid and frequently used as scape goats when things go wrong. We are regarded with little respect following twenty or more years of denigration, overt and covert, from the media and Westminster. Society’s expectations are unreasonable. The truth that children get things wrong is no longer permissible, failure must be somebody’s fault, and since both children and parents are protected species, accountability (even when none applies) must reside with the teacher.

It is no wonder that we are flooding from the profession, our enjoyment of working with children negated by the countless aspects of teaching we have grown to hate.

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