Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Why It Matters To Me

My face is drawn and sallow. Wiry white hairs protrude from my beard. My eyes hide in darkly cavernous recesses. My gym-hardened body has become softer, doughier. I have had backache for weeks. I've been a teacher for less than two months.

I rise at 5:15am for the double-bus commute to school. A strong coffee is slurped on arrival as I gather resources and double check my lesson plans for the day. I deal with yesterday’s emails, admin and endless requests for data as efficiently as possible, then close down this potential distraction until I feel ready to deal with another barrage of demands on my time.

I deal with the reprobates in my form who simply cannot control themselves despite exhortations from me, their parents and senior leaders. I sign and stamp my Y7 form’s planners, trying my utmost to shower deserved praise on those who are performing so admirably in their first term at big school. Often time constraints prevent this, which saddens me.

I teach. I teach to the very best of my ability and, modesty aside, sometimes I am marvellous. Momentarily I feel I have finally cracked it; broken through and become the brilliant practitioner I aspire to be. My pupils amaze me with their insight, empathy and ability. Behaviour is spectacularly good, they learn loads, they love me – and I love them in return.

More often than I’d like, I am awful. I am thrown early on by a room change, an incident, a distraction. I never wrestle the lesson back from its shaky start. Or they don’t get it. Occasionally they are bored. Often, I doubt myself. Sometimes I sulk. Always, I punish myself.

Maybe I care too much. Maybe I should relax a little more. I should definitely stop being so hard on myself. But I really, really fucking care.

I rarely leave school before five. I almost always work when I get home. My weekend lasts just one day: on Sundays I plan. I have 20% PPA time and it isn’t enough. I have 24 lessons to prepare. Six class’ worth of marking to do. Three subjects to teach. I have numerous shortcuts to help me in all these areas and I am getting faster, but the fundamental problem remains: I am inexperienced and everything is new to me. Things take me longer. I recycle, I borrow, and occasionally I improvise. But sometimes I need to learn something myself before I can teach it to someone else. I don’t know the mark scheme by heart. I can’t level a piece of work by looking at it. Not yet. 

I am seen as competent and confident by my peers and superiors. They trust me and my ability. I’m heartened by this. I take pride in it. The pupils speak highly of me. But I’m like a swan, gliding serenely over the water’s surface, my legs pedalling and kicking furiously, hidden beneath the calm exterior.

I am not unique. I am not a martyr. I am not special in any way. There are thousands like me.

I do this job because it is worthwhile. It’s essential. It matters. I do it for all the selfless reasons you do it. And I know you do it because only a committed, caring, conscientious teacher would spend their leisure time reading an article written by a colleague.

But I also do it for selfish reasons. It validates me. It makes me feel valued and valuable. I came to teaching in my thirties, having earned better money in mind-numbing, spirit-crushing jobs which ended when they ended - and asked nothing of me but my minimum.

So when the DfE, Michael Gove, Dominic Cummings or anyone else suggests that PRP will improve my performance, that an unqualified teacher might be better than me, that my students’ genetic make-up determines their fate, that there are very few talented teachers, that I am ‘gaming’ the system, that my PPA time might be threatened, that I leave work at 3pm or any number of the many  insulting, insidious and pejoratively poisonous statements they make, my blood boils and I ask myself this simple question:

Why don’t they come and watch us work?