I’m currently preparing for a talk I’m giving next week to an audience of newly-qualified teachers, who will by now be 3-4 weeks into their new vocation. What does one say to a bunch of souls entering one of the toughest, but noblest, of professions?
The easy thing is to be cynical – successive governments have consistently denigrated teachers, whilst at the same time giving them more and more to do beyond the national curriculum. Obesity epidemic? Give it to the schools to sort out. Anti-social behaviour? Blame the schools.
No, cynicism does nothing for morale. But it’s pointless being all ‘Mr Chips’ about it, either. Few trainees have any illusions about life in the classrooms they’re about to enter full-time.
I left my local grammar school when I was 16. I hated almost all of it, and swore, as I walked away, that I would never set foot in a school again. Even though I worked in adult, community and higher education for many years, I kept my promise. In fact, it was many years later that I eventually stepped back into a school – at my first parent’s evening for my eldest son. It was clear to me that he was as miserable as I’d been all those years ago.
Seeing how little had changed made me want to do something about it, and so (admittedly some years later) I ended up working with secondary schools for most of my consultancy work. I used to think I was unusual in having this motivation. It turns out, however, that most of the outstanding teachers I meet are in their jobs for the same personal reasons: they didn’t have happy school experiences themselves, and now want to try to make it better for today’s kids.
In spite of the pressures and the low regard, this is a good time, I think, to be a teacher with passion and purpose. There’s more freedom in how to do the job than we’ve seen for many years, and our schools are being physically transformed, making them much nicer environments to work in.
The NQTs I meet next week will have my highest admiration – if, as a nation, we’re to compete against the burgeoning Asian empires, we need to have people with passion and purpose to get teaching and learning out of the 19th century, and into the 21st.