Secret Teacher 10th March – Teaching: Worse Things Happened In Gulags

With the pressures of assessments, government shaftings, endless new curriculum decrees and the ever-present sceptre of Ofsted hovering like a bureaucratic vulture above us, the average person could be forgiven for assuming we teachers are all either Stakhanovite indestructible machines or gibbering wrecks. When people know what goes on in schools and its effects on teachers, it could reasonably be asked why any sane person would do it.

For most of us, the answer is very simple: the kids. With all the rubbish that gets thrown at us, the percentage of our working time with the kids and without them swings completely the wrong way. This makes it easy to forget why we stay in a job that is, in the right circumstances, the best job in the world.

I have worked with some truly amazing adults and kids. I have seen the very best and worst of human nature in schools. I have seen kids overcome remarkable odds and succeed in spite of illness, family tragedy and, in too many cases, truly woeful parenting. Some really don’t like their kids.

For some kids, school is the happiest place for them, whether it’s their friends or just one adult that makes them feel good about being themselves. To see the shyest child come out of their shell and enjoy a joke and start to chat to people and enjoy themselves is amazing. I’ve seen a lad so terrified of heights his knees were actually knocking together like a cartoon steel himself and abseil down a building because he trusted me when I said he’d be fine and I’d go down at the same time. I’ve seen kids who could barely read and had no support at home practise and practise a speech and deliver it to a hundred people; to see them conquer their fears and do things even though they’re terrified because we convince them that they can is truly inspiring.

Some kids are the quietest souls, yet appreciate you giving them time so much and will present you with a letter when you don’t even realise what an impact you have had on them. Some kids just need to look up and get a smile to let them know it’s all going to be fine.

I’m now starting to see kids I taught 10 years ago going off to university or working around the town, like the mechanic I bumped into recently. I thought, “Someone I taught is out there working hard and doing something useful.” I’ll settle for that any day of the week.

Last week on World Book Day my attention at the end of my lesson drifted and I had to tell the kids, “Sorry, I’ve just looked out the window to see Where’s Wally? being chased by Tigger.” Where else can you get to say that?

One kid, when asked to write some things about our school for an open morning, wrote that his teacher ‘lets us be our marvellous selves’! Look around your workplace tomorrow. Imagine yourselves back at school as kids: the great and the good, the mad, the bad and the vacant, and think which ones your colleagues would have been at school.

I love history, and whenever I’m in danger of getting too downhearted about the insane system and lack of any reason or logic we have in education, I just think, “There’s worse things happen in a gulag.” As I often tell people, I can’t imagine doing anything else. As for the stress and worry, I always say, “If you’re not a couple of steps from a nervous breakdown, you’re just not doing your job properly.” We can’t fix all the problems of all the kids, some of them we can’t reach at all – but we’ll never stop trying. I leave you with the words of one 10-year old philosopher of whom I’m especially proud: “Why spend all your time arguing when you could be having fun instead?” Have a cracking day, everyone.

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