Stop Criticising Graduates Who Become Teachers, I Do It Because I Love It
I think I’ve always wanted to be a teacher.
I knew I definitely wanted to go university before I had barely stepped foot in primary school. My parents, neither of whom were able to go, encouraged me right from the start of my education to study hard and study well. And so I did.
As my GCSEs drew ever closer, I tried every tactic I could come up with to keep the content of my thirteen-or-so subjects in my brain. It was probably at this point I first dabbled at what you might loosely term ‘teaching’ – revising with friends for the first time on a regular basis. I would try to explain, mimicking my best teachers, how the direction of vectors affects whether they are positive or negative; whether hyperinflation in 1923 contributed to the rise of far-right ideologies in Germany; to what degree Atticus is representative of white men in the American deep south.
This collaborative spirit of learning stayed with me right throughout my time at university. Desperate for library seats in summer term of final year, me and a small group of my friends set up a study club. From early morning until late evening, we would commandeer a group table in the library, comparing ideas and sharing passages from our respective dissertations. I then gave a lecture for the university’s literature society on my rather-niche topic of trilingual (English, French, and Latin) medieval lyrics. All nine of us got firsts in our dissertations.
Fast forward just over a year, and I’ve completed my first year of teaching.
It seems to shock people who I meet for the first time when I tell them that, but at 23 there are even younger teachers than myself. Yet, I find my authority, purpose, and sense of initiative that drew me to the profession is constantly brought into question when people ask me: “Why did you become a teacher?” The question seems to come with the assumption there is something better I could be doing or that I’ve settled. After all, “those who can’t, teach” – right?
At almost every level, the job market for graduates and school leavers is a precarious minefield. The cycle of ‘need experience for work / need work to get experience’ is something every young person has faced. For some, the sheer volume of their experience in voluntary positions, unpaid internships, or time spent as part of university societies isn’t enough for that one arts job they’ve always gunned for. They don’t have the start-up cash for that app they’ve always dreamed of developing. There seemingly just aren’t any jobs.
“If I wanted something easy, I would have done something else.”
So, faced with the prospect of sacking in their dreams for an office desk and a double bed, some graduates take an ‘easy’ route into regular employment – perhaps by deciding to train to be teachers. I hate to say it, but there is no such easy route. There are over 400,000 teachers in England alone. Well over half of them leave the profession within their first five years in the classroom and a sizeable minority drop out of their training course before they can even get to that stage. If I wanted something easy, I would have done something else.
As far as I am concerned, this idea that some professions are easy is, and always has been, ridiculous. Yes, I have a six week summer holiday. But I spent one of those weeks in Leeds at the Teach First Impact Conference, where over 4,000 teachers gather each year to train, collaborate, and plan together to tackle the biggest problems in education. I then spent a further week at Cardiff University, advising on how to improve engagement with young people, so we can continue to widen access to higher education.
I’ve had tables pushed and all manner of stationery items thrown at me. I’ve had uncomfortable conversations about Brexit with pupils who barely understand what’s going on. I’ve cried in front of classes. I’ve spent hours later crying at home. But I still come in the next day, and I am yet to take a day off.
I didn’t do this because I wanted an easy route. I did eight volunteering placements whilst I was a student to make sure it was what I wanted to do; I led a school trip for a local primary; I arranged for a Year 8 class to meet an academic on campus. I’ve delivered study skills sessions for A-Level Religious Studies students and worked as a Maths and English tutor. I am yet another English Literature graduate who has entered teaching, not because that’s what everyone does, but because I really wanted to. I enjoy teaching, I enjoy learning. That’s it. That’s all there is to it.
We’ve got to stop criticising teachers.
Stop moaning about their holidays. Stop criticising graduates for entering an incredibly difficult, ever-changing profession, and start praising their grit. That we’re sticking with our work, despite countless cuts, creeping privatisation, and the sadly dwindling appreciation we get from the public and the media. This nebulous notion of what is easy and what isn’t is entirely down to perspective. I’d probably suck at an office job.
In fact, I know I’d suck at an office job – just like I knew I wanted to be a teacher. And that is reaffirmed for me every time a pupil surprises me with a thought-provoking answer. Every achievement point I get to give to a student, every “thank you” I get from a parent and everything I get to learn from the young people I serve makes it worth it. Some days, I learn more from them than they do from me. I’m not a teacher because it looked easy, because I couldn’t decide what else to do or because I get a long summer holiday – I’m teaching because I love it. I’m doing exactly what I always wanted to do.