A Defence of the Profession

There is a lot in the media about teachers. Barely rarely a week can go by without an article about what the profession is doing wrong, how it can do better and how we are failing children. It seems there is little to counterbalance that argument. The issue is, there is no right to reply. When the media tear down someone with a high profile, they have the profile and status to get a reply out there. Despite the number of teachers, we don’t get the same right to reply. Articles are published with no attempt at balance or anything other than portraying the profession in a poor light. 

Every time I read an article like this, it angers me a little bit more. I have been doing this long enough to have thick skin. Others do not. People new to the profession feel it acutely like they have been doing something wrong, like they haven’t been working hard enough or, as we have seen it put, been work-shy and lazy. 

So, this is a defence of our wonderful profession. It’s not meant to be a ‘woe is teachers’ blog. I’ll try to point out where people have a point and where, maybe, they don’t. As with anything, this has to be a generalisation. There will always be outliers, always schools that haven’t covered themselves in glory in some areas and schools that have excelled and gone above and beyond in others. For everything I write here, there will be someone who can say, ‘but my child’s school was terrible.’ Fine, that’s your point of view. I’m taking in general terms here, covering most schools across the country. 

Let’s start with complaint number one. 

Holidays

I’m not going to pretend that the lengthy holidays are not a perk of the job. They are. They are enjoyable, refreshing and welcome when they come. However, I knew about these holidays when I chose to teach. When other people choose their careers they knew full well they came with a 5 week holiday allowance. Teaching is a career open to anyone with a degree, which is an increasing proportion of the population now. Anyone is welcome to join the profession at any time and there are plenty of ways to join the team of teachers across the country. We’d love to have you. 

Holidays are something that is out of our control. The majority of schools still don’t set their own; why give teachers abuse for it? If you have such an issue that teachers get elongated holidays, then do something about it – take it up with the government, the Department for Education, someone who can make a change. Lambasting teachers for it will achieve nothing except make an individual feel bad. They took a path that was is probably open to you – if you want to holidays, it’s simple – take the same path. 

Children need a rest. Teachers need a rest. We all know that we can reach a saturation point where time is less productive. Schools are no different. 

It’s an Easy Way to Earn a Living

Straight off the back of holidays comes the accusation that it is an easy job. It’s not. Some parts are easy; some parts are hard. Like any job, it has peaks and troughs of busyness and stressful times. All those ads and TV programmes where you see teachers jogging out of school with the kids aren’t accurate reflections. Few teachers leave this early and arrive as late as is portrayed. However, I will admit that the flexibility in leaving at this time is welcome. I still reckon most teachers will be pulling 50 hour weeks most of the time. Again, this may be comparable to many other jobs where people do similar hours. I’m not going to dispute that, but I am asking for recognition that teachers work a similar level of hours. 

Don’t forget those first few weeks in lockdown where everyone suggested teachers should be paid a 7 figure salary because it was so tough to get children to do anything. Lots of other jobs are hard. Teaching is hard too. Not as hard as some jobs, harder than a lot of others. 

Teachers are far from lazy. They are among the most committed bunch of people you’ll find. Working on shoestring budgets, with little resource, often funding their own resources for classrooms as there isn’t enough money to go around. Again, there will be some schools where you can argue that money should or could be redirected – but in general, this isn’t the case. How many other jobs have people spending their own money to buy the basics of what their clients or they might need to do their job effectively? I can’t think of many. 

Everyone is an Expert

Everyone has been to school; therefore, everyone has a view. I can see this point of view. When we feel we have a little information about something, we like to put it to good use. Our school days define us, and we all view them for good or bad. What has to be remembered is that schools have changed a lot since we were at school. You may or may not like those changes, but it has changed. We can’t view it through the same eyes. Children are different, curricula are different, standards and expectations are different, and society is different. 

I tell you who are experts, though. Teachers. They are experts in their field. They can craft, create and weave magic every single day. I’ve seen various people try teaching as students and teachers I have worked with as part of my various roles throughout my career. Not everyone can do it. Not every person who does it for a living excels at it. There is an art to it. It takes more than getting up and telling people what they need to know. It takes skill, control, effort, meticulous planning, careful thought and dedicated evaluation. There is always a moving part that takes away from what we are trying to do – something to throw us off course and something that needs adapting to. Again – this isn’t a woe is me; lots of other jobs have this. I’m just pointing out that teachers do too. A nosebleed, a wasp, a windy day, wet playtime. They all affect how we can perform our jobs. They sound minimal and like excuses, but when there are 30 six-year-olds in a room, they can be anything but minimal. 

Forming an opinion of what is happening in classrooms day to day cannot be done based on your experiences from 15-20 years ago. It just can’t. The word of other jobs isn’t questioned as readily as that of teachers. Because we’ve all been to school, we know how it all works. Except, we don’t. 

Retention

If it was a straightforward job, why would we lose so many teachers in the first five years of their careers? Why would people choose to leave a straightforward and easy job with a good salary and long holidays? Perhaps, it isn’t as easy as it is made out. 

Keeping people in the profession has long been a battle. Is it that teaching attracts lazy people who can’t hack any job and just don’t want to work hard? I don’t think so. Is it that people get so fed up with leaving at three that they want something more fulfilling? Again, I don’t think so. 

People leave because it’s hard. People go because it takes a lot from you, physically and mentally. It never leaves you. There is always something in the back of your mind about a child, something that needs doing, a niggle and a worry. That is there from the moment you wake to often during the night. Again – I’m not saying teaching is the only job where this happens, but I am asking that it is recognised that it happens in teaching too. 

So what?

Teachers are not heroes. We weren’t heroes during lockdown. We did our job. Many did it excellently and got on with doing their very best for children when no one knew what was going on. Yes, there was hesitancy about things like live lessons and children seeing into our homes. That comes from years of being drilled about safeguarding and keeping yourself safe from allegations and concerns that others might have. Like every other profession, teaching had to learn to work from home on the job. That wasn’t easy for anyone, and it wasn’t easy for teachers. But we did it, just like thousands of others. Was there risk involved for those on-site with 30 households? Yes. Where many of those complaining about schools people who were working exclusively from home? Yes. Did other people work in the same situation? Yes. That’s why we aren’t heroes, and I don’t think we should be called anything of the sort, in general. We did what was asked of us as many other people did. It wasn’t easy, and it was made harder for us with chopping and changing of guidance and expectations on schools., but we did it. And I think that deserves some respect. 

And that is my big ‘so what’.

Teachers get a hard time. They get bashed in the media and then bashed by the public. All the profession wants is to be treated with respect. To be valued for their job and the value it adds to society. Many jobs and careers are valued much higher than teachers. But without the teaching profession, people would be prepared to do those jobs. We open doors and give opportunities to many children and never see the fulfilment of those offerings we give to children. That’s fine, but it should be respected. 

That’s all we want. Some recognition that what we do is difficult, and it should be respected in the same way other jobs are. We’re an easy target because education will carry on whatever is said about it, because it has to. It will never go away, and it will never stop being successful because the people that work in it are committed to making sure that is the case. We not better than other jobs, we’re not nobler, we’re not harder working. But, we’re aren’t opposite of that either. We aren’t work-shy and lazy, and we don’t deserve the battering we get. 

We give a lot, individually, but also to society. I don’t want to be held up as a shining beacon above all others, but I do want to be told when I’ve done a good job. Just like everyone else. Is that too much to ask?

Published by @secretHT1

Primary HT. Using this as a space to write honestly and freely about the state of education currently.

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