I work obscenely hard, often to the detriment of myself and my beautifully stoic partner. I value and love my profession, all the more so after meandering aimlessly through life picking the easy option wherever available. Only a seismic shift in my circumstances (turning 30, forced redundancy, a break with my old lifestyle) jarred me into finally forcing myself to fulfil my potential rather than run from it – and teaching seemed the ideal way for me to combine my passions and talents in a meaningful way.
I served time at the coal-face, with two years subsisting on the miserly pay-packets doled out to teaching assistants, then scraped through a PGCE whilst paying a mortgage. For this, I expect no praise: I am no martyr. My aim is merely to illustrate the determination I demonstrated and the hardship I endured to become a teacher.
Having acquired QTS, I really started work. I threw myself into teaching, asking ridiculous amounts of myself, convinced that every time a school holiday arrived my physical being and my over-reaching ambition would be briefly reunited as I caught up with my marking, planning, living and breathing.
It never happens.
It will never happen.
Today, I am at a very low ebb. Despite my grizzled exterior, I am usually a pleasant and positive person. I growl at injustice and am angered by idiocy and ineptitude, but have learned that optimism is far healthier than cynicism. Yet today I feel jaded. Miserable. Maybe even defeated.
This feeling comes despite me never having felt more confident on my ability as a teacher. I am better than ever, of that I have no doubt. I have improved in every conceivable way, and this progress has accelerated in the last few weeks. I’m planning schemes of work I feel confident enough to share with the world, my classes are making obvious and visible progress, I feel valued and valuable. And yet…
Something is not right.
We have Ofsted coming into school and there are understandable concerns, worries and pressures. The realisation that my work will be scrutinized concerns me – I wasn’t very good in the early days and people are now going to notice the work I didn’t mark, the lack of progress my pupils made, the things I didn’t do. I will be judged and, no matter what the outcome, I will judge myself even more harshly.
The drive to provide evidence, data, statistics and proof of progress is demanding and somehow demeaning – can that classroom alchemy which happens when my pupils are on song be reduced to entries on a fucking spreadsheet? Do those numbers really matter? Who is education for? The people compiling league tables or the pupils?
That education is at the top of the news agenda appals me. Whether it’s Gove, Wilshaw, Kirby, PISA, closing gaps, widening gaps, dumbing down, PPA, pensions, pay, public spats over public schools, free schools, faith schools, longer school days, striking teachers, trenchant unions or any other issue, the only thing we ever hear about school is what is wrong with it.
It seems to me that teachers are better than ever, but we work in a time when they are scapegoated, disrespected and blamed – often by those who should be doing most to protect them – for the failings of a system in which teachers’ ability is secondary to their accountability.
It’s not a system I want to work in, but I worked too damned hard to give in. Something has got to give.