Some Ideas about Teaching
It was Mr Thompson – whose Geography lessons so thrilled me – who made me want to become a teacher. Little did I know, as an innocent probationer 30+ years ago, what the profession really involved, or what it would have become by the next century. In a world where we want to attract people of the right calibre into the profession, what today can we say to prepare potential teachers for the culture shock of finding out what teaching is really about?
I think it would have to go something like this:
‘You will become a member of the contradictory profession, and you will never do it right!
You will have to learn to carry personal professional responsibility for your teaching and your pupils’ results – whilst increasingly being told what to teach and how to teach it. Whilst being told what to teach, you will still be expected to make your lesson content interesting. Although being told how to teach, you will be blamed when pupils do not achieve at the required level.
You will be asked to do whole-class, didactic teaching, stretching the able pupils and giving leadership from the front; whilst at the same time being a classroom manager, setting problem-solving group-work at a level appropriate to the pupils’ abilities.
You will be required to take account of pupils’ social backgrounds, personal trauma, intellectual limitations, personality traits and religious qualms – but you will be judged primarily on their academic results.
If a child behaves well in your classroom, you must acknowledge its achievement by rewarding the child; if the child misbehaves in the classroom, you will accept that it is because you have not built up an appropriate relationship. If one child attacks another, it is because you have not cultivated a suitable classroom ethos. And if the child truants, it must have been because your lessons were not stimulating enough.
You will be required to impose standards and to make your pupils work, yet you lack any real power to make anybody do anything, and are desperately vulnerable to complaint and accusation. You must learn to maintain your authority whilst continually backing down.
You must work directed hours, including after-school activities and meetings, and return home to lesson-preparation and marking; yet you have to realise that no-one believes you work beyond 3.30 p.m.. You will spend as much time in preparation as in teaching; but most people will think that all you do is turn up and start talking.
You must learn that 50% of the population assert that you let the pupils run wild, whilst the remaining 50% think that you are ‘picking on’ their children.
You will spend your career trying to persuade, cajole and force the pupils into improving their standards, yet most people believe you have a secret agenda to encourage pupils to fail. Politicians will proclaim their support, but score cheap points condemning eponymous ‘bad teachers’.
You will need to understand that – after four years of higher education and then continuous, ongoing in-service training – everyone will think they know better than you about education. And you must understand that, for all your qualifications and training, you will always be ‘wet behind the ears’ to most people: a ‘man amongst the boys, but a boy amongst the men’.
Despite your qualifications, you will start at a salary roughly equivalent to that of MacDonald’s management trainee. Unless you advance to senior management, you will finish, 40 years later, well short of the salary earned by a MacDonald’s general manager (by the way, MacDonald’s company benefits include private health care, company car, clothing allowance, bonus scheme, telephone assistance, and stock option and purchase plan – as a teacher you will, of course, get none of these).
The only way to be happy as a teacher is to know how to hold on to the vision, whilst losing the illusions. You will be doing the most precious, fascinating, exciting and fulfilling of all jobs, and also the most stressful, aggravating, depressing and mundane. Your vocation is to unlock the riches of learning to young minds; but you must realise that most of your time will be spent lugging books, filing worksheets and filling forms.
And when the child passes, you will acknowledge that it is the result of the child’s efforts – but if the pupil fails, you will wonder what more you could have done to help that pupil gain a better grade.
Amazing teacher! In your classroom you grow the future.
Follow your vocation with care, hold on to your enthusiasm with determination, and learn - at the end of the day - to be proud of yourself..
To cite this page, use: CLARE, JOHN D. (2006), 'Amazing Teacher', at Greenfield History Site (http://www.johndclare.net/Teaching/Teaching_AmazingTeacher.htm).