Saturday, 31 March 2012

In defence of teachers

I'm just going to post this here, but if you want to see the original article, it's in the Times iPad edition today, and in the online edition as of yesterday. Apart from Sarah Ebner's introduction, all words are mine, although I suppose the copyright now lies with the Times, so I've included the link too:

Sarah Ebner

Last week I posted a guest blog post by Marium Gobol, who explained why she had turned her back on teaching. Her post attracted a number of strongly felt comments, many expressing sympathy for what is must be to teach in a secondary school today. But after posting that piece, I received an email which expressed quite a different view. Hannah Joels told me that she too had left teaching, but for other reasons. And she is keen that people see that other point of view, one which doesn't knock the profession.

So today's (moving) guest post is by Hannah. I'd be interested in what you think of her story.

"After five years in the classroom, I too have left teaching. Like Marium, I am a top graduate (I studied English at Cambridge before completing a Primary PGCE in my mid-20s) but unlike Marium, I didn't find my teaching peers to be illiterate or innumerate, but hard working, diligent individuals with a wealth of experiences.

People often forget that teaching demands intense dedication as well as skill and talent. My experience in primary schools taught me that teachers often get into school at 7am and don't leave until 6pm, run clubs in their lunch hours, take children on week-long residential trips and meet with parents at the end of most days. It's an exhausting life, but, mostly, it’s worth it. By the time I’d completed my NQT year I’d also taken on additional curriculum responsibility, unpaid, despite being on an extended temporary contract (common-practice in under-funded primary schools, despite being discouraged by the unions.)

Ever OFSTED-ready, mine and colleagues’ lessons 'engage and excite'  (as are the buzz words of education) and are full of opportunities for 'formative' assessment. At times, we are teacher, social worker, psychologist and parent rolled into one. During term time we don’t switch off. If we did, we could not muster the energy to return the following day. Every initiative the government imposes, we react. We are determined, proud professionals desperate to stay ahead. But that's the problem: There are so many initiatives, so many expectations, so many demands that it can feel like a never-ending list of changes. A friend in the process of becoming a head works (entirely necessary) 80-hour weeks. When there are 30 children in a class and every day you need to quality mark (putting a written and thoughtful comment and point for improvement on) each and every English, Maths and topic book, that's at least 2-3 additional hours work on top of the planning, preparation, not to mention teaching, required.

Thirteen weeks holiday initially feels generous, but after four years of no weekends, it doesn't feel nearly enough. The expectation from schools, too, is that you work at least some of that time.  By the end of term, it feels like you're staggering towards the finishing line. And don’t forget, according to the press, ‘anyone can teach’ - teachers’ status has been completely eroded.

How many times have people said to me; "You have a Cambridge degree? Why teach?" Where should I start? I won't even bother, because after four years of endlessly changing directives from the government, the ongoing anxiety of dangled carrots of permanent employment and no life to speak of outside of the summer break, I became so ill I was hospitalised. Suddenly everything was thrown into sharp perspective. I thought about returning to teaching for a while, but decided that to do so I'd need someone to look after me and say: "It's 6pm, you've been here since 7.30am, you've done 6 hours of intense teaching, it's time to go home and leave work at work."  But because I am, like most teachers, conscientious, and because no one in teaching would ever actually advise that, (they know how much has to be done) I decided it wasn't the right choice for me.

I now look at ex-colleagues in awe. The children they teach are incredibly lucky to have such dedicated teachers. But, for a profession that places praise as its centre, praise of the profession is almost entirely alien; it's an often thankless, brutal existence where burn-out is inevitable by July. We have a world-class education system full of world-class teachers and children who love going to school every day. But it will never be good enough. And that's why I left."


  1. Brilliant article Hannah, and a necessary corrective to what I can only assume was in the 'teacher-knocking' original. I would love to have read a line at the end like 'I'm now working for a private company, and it's so much easier!' as another corrective to the anti-state sector propaganda we're spoon-fed all day, but then I suppose it might have mitigated against it being published in the Murdoch press hehe

  2. great article....glad that you wrote it and shared it.