2014 minus 48: Teachers and teaching

Posted: 14 November 2013 in life, don't talk to me about life, personal, politics, world
Tags: , ,

There’s not much from my schooling that I look back at and positively enjoy.

I’m reminded of the old saw about how someone enjoyed going to school, and enjoyed coming home; it’s just the bits inbetween they didn’t enjoy.

Can’t really say that: I used to usually get dropped off at the end of the road in which my school was by my dad, on his way to work. And sure, I walked home, sometimes with my younger brother in the years where we shared a school, sometimes with a friend.

But the time inbetween, I enjoyed some of it, didn’t enjoy much of it. I was a small child for my age; I didn’t sprout in height until I was 15, putting on six inches in height in a single school year. And unlike my older brother, I was neither popular nor – I suspect – that memorable. At least not in a good way.

And I was bullied. Sometimes for being Jewish, yes it did occur, but mostly for being… well, for being me. And some of the anti-Semitic bullying I faced wasn’t really anti-Semitic in intent. If I’d have been spotty, I’d have been bullied for having spots; had I been fat, they’d have picked on me for that. I was Jewish, so the bullies picked that as an effective tool. It was what upset me that counted to the bullies, not what form the particular bullying took or at what target the bullies successfully aimed.

But the teachers? Ah, I remember the teachers. The good, the bad, the bullying, the kind, the enouraging, the discouraging. I seemed to have the whole roster back then. For every teacher who was horrible and nasty, I had another who was niceness personified. And, probably as a consequence, some years ago I realised that there’s a flip side to the whole “a good teacher can inspire you for life.” It’s that a bad teacher can scar you for life, and can forever (if you’re unlucky) make you regard their particular subject with apathy at best and contempt at worst.

I’m fairly sure that my dislike of history as a subject for most of my life comes from a particular teacher who displayed a dislike of pupils. I honestly can’t recall him praising a single child under his… ‘care’. Moreover, I’m quite prepared to admit that my complete and utter disregard for geography as a school subject arose from another teacher who would punish children who got an answer wrong by making them stand on the desk and recite nursery rhymes.

On the other hand, my love for the English language owes much to teachers who encouraged me to let my imagination fly, who only offered constructive criticism, and were… there’s no other word for it… kind when dealing with what is now called a ‘sensitive’ child, and back then was called a ‘cry-baby’.

There’s no accounting for my enjoyment of mathematics; I had good teachers and bad in that subject. It was just a subject that I always found easy. Lots of reasons for that, but I suspect the main one being that there was, at least at that level, a definitive right answer to each question set.

Over the years since childhood, I’ve had a number of friends who’ve entered the teaching profession, and although of course I’ve never seen them teach, and I’m well aware that someone’s work persona can be very different from their personal demeanor, every single bloody one of them sinks their hearts and souls into the job. Every one of them wants the children in their care to prosper, to be educated, to thrive.

That may be in part why I’m so damned irritated, upset and just plain angry when their jobs, their careers, their very ethos is questioned, criticised and demeaned.

A couple of years ago, a survey suggested that many parents wanted the return of corporal punishment to schools. I’m sure they did. I’d also bet that it was every other parent’s child they wanted belted, as their little darlings would never ever deserve the punishment. They also, I suspect, wanted [other people’s] children never to play truant, never to be rude, and never run in the corridors.

The survey was reported on the BBC and the piece ended by reporting that the survey asked which celebrity would make a good teacher in the opinion of the respondents.

Several names were suggested, including the obvious ones, people in the public eye, and those who the parents would like to have been taught by had they still been at school

The real answer? The real answer to which celebrity would make a good teacher? Not a one of them without decent training, and several years of it.

Teaching’s not something you can ‘stroll into’ and succeed at merely because you’re a celebrity or even because you’re very good at your chosen [non-teaching] job. You’re trained for teaching, and to suggest that just because you’ve written a book, shagged a footballer or appeared on TV, you can walk into a classroom and control a class or create a lesson plan or mark work properly is a lie.

And it’s an insult to the thousands of teachers, teaching assistants and others who work in schools day after day, week after week, term after term, pouring their guts, their souls and their lives into teaching our children.

So, you can imagine my disquiet at the idea that free schools can, and should, employ non-qualified teachers. (And let’s leave the concept itself of free schools for another time; that’s a whole other issue.) Disquiet? No, it would probably qualify as disquiet if it was a policy suggested by a backbench MP, or a leaked policy document from within the department for education.

(That’s always puzzled me: how do government departments decide which is a department, and which a ministry? And who decides which gets the ‘of’, as in ministry of defence, and which gets a ‘for’, as in department for transport?)

No, this policy, this decision, this recommendation is from the bloody Secretary of State for education, one Michael Gove, a man who shares with George Osborne and Philip Hammond the distinction of being the only three people in the Cabinet I actually think would be dangerous, in terms of national survival, were they to become Prime Minister.

Others (step forward Maria Miller) might be incompetent, or (Therese May) horrible, but I don’t think they’d actually destroy the country. Gove, Osborne and Hammond? I’m not so sure.

Anyway, sorry, I’m drifting.

This non-qualified teacher nonsense. It’s ludicrous. I’ve been privileged to know many intelligent brilliant-at-their-jobs people in my life, both in my former professional life and in my personal encounters.

Could any of them become worthy, good, qualified teachers? Of course, with training and experience. Of course.

Could any of them walk into a classroom and gain the respect of their pupils? Again, of course some of them could.

But in the same way as I could teach anyone to maintain a set of books, but that wouldn’t make them an accountant, and in the same way that my brother could undoubtedly teach anyone to cut a head of hair, but that wouldn’t make them a hairdresser, being able to teach one lesson to one class of starstruck or deeply impressed children does not a teacher make.

And it’s insulting and contemptuous of teachers to pretend otherwise.

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