Reading time: 4 mins
By Max Mulvaney
There’s a lot of shit written about teaching and that’s largely because teachers put up with a lot of shit. The thing is though, you won’t find many who don’t love it really. Never mind the stress, the workload or the hours – for everyone there’s something that makes it worth it. It could be getting the kids their results, or broadening horizons that might not have otherwise been broadened. For me, it was largely the literally thousands of hours of free comedy. But whatever it is, teaching might be tough and it might be stressful, but it is always worth it in the end. So you have to question why, given all that, so many teachers, myself included, don’t make it past the five-year mark.
Let’s start with the pay. Don’t fucking look at me like that. Yes, I know it’s a vocation and it’s not about the money, but sense of self-worth doesn’t pay the bills. After five years I find myself at the top of the pay scale, so to keep progressing I either need to take some form of leadership responsibility or get out. I’ve chosen the latter – why?
I suppose what it all comes down to is that I’ve been beaten. I’ve been beaten by the break duties, the after school meetings that could have been an email and the assessment of my performance based on arbitrary data sets. I’ve been beaten by the bureaucracy of the entry of that data, the following of ever-changing marking policies and the filling out of forms that serve no other purpose than to ensure a form has been filled out. I’ve been beaten by poor leadership. Deputy and assistant heads who got the job purely by virtue of their ability to stick the profession out longer than anyone else. But most of all I’ve been beaten by my own sense of incredulousness. I went to college. I went to university and I got a degree. I studied for a postgraduate certificate of education and I spent two years in the classroom before I was considered qualified. But for what did I do those things? So some ambitious and career-driven minister can tell me I’m doing it wrong? It doesn’t matter whether it’s Michael Gove, Nikki Morgan or Justine Greening. Not one Secretary of State for education has had a single lesson’s worth of teaching experience. And don’t think this is Party political – I’ve seen Tristram Hunt, in his time as shadow secretary, stand up and spout the same nonsense in a different coloured tie.
And do you know what the worst part is? Schools’ governors and leadership teams lap it up. They drop everything they’re doing and run around like the worst kind of Yes men trying to meet the targets set by these people. Why!? Why do our schools’ leadership not have the confidence in their own experience to say that they know what works best for their kids? We spend all day telling kids that we are the experts, why not the government?
That’s why this September I won’t be working frantically to produce seating and lesson plans and attending all manner of training sessions against an impossible deadline. I’ll be working full time for a teaching union. It’s time to hold governments and school leadership to account for the misery they are putting teachers and students through. Whimsical governmental policy changes must stop. School leaders’ desire to give into those whims must stop.
Then, and only then, will we be able to progress educationally to a place where passionate and effective teachers can afford, mentally and financially, to stay where they belong – in the classroom teaching kids.