Why Teachers Need to Be Activists

teacher activists: people protesting with raised hands

Do teachers complain too much? Should we stop complaining and instead become teacher activists?

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Teachers have it so hard. It’s the worst job in the world. We know all about teacher stress.”

This was the response from one of my friends, let’s call him Tom, during a recent discussion. I’d been justifying why a mutual friend is hard work at the moment. She’s tired, grumpy, and unable to talk about anything other than her job teaching secondary English. But even as I tried to explain that she was ground down, exhausted, feeling powerless, Tom came out with this sarcastic gem. I don’t think I said anything in response. Instead, my jaw hit the floor.

“Look, I know teaching is a difficult job, OK?” he continued, “But do you honestly think nurses, prison officers, social workers, have it any easier? Public sector jobs are getting a bashing at the moment. Everyone’s having a hard time. Teachers need to stop complaining.”

At first, it was hard to feel anything other than a tidal wave of rage in response to his point. How dare he? Didn’t he realise that some teachers were on their knees? I’d left teaching because I’d come to the realisation that it was either quit the profession or relinquish my grip on sanity. I could see friends who were still teaching feeling desperate. People need to know what is going on; they need to see how incredibly hard teaching can be.

Stop Complaining, But Don’t Accept Faults

But then, as my rage died down to just a slow, simmering resentment, I thought about what he’d said. And maybe he was right. Everyone needs an opportunity to vent, but maybe complaining to people outside the situation isn’t the way to go. Maybe we should all become teacher activists instead!That’s not to say that teachers should accept the faults in the profession. I don’t agree with Tom’s attitude to put up and shut up. There are serious challenges in schools and they need to be addressed. Teacher retention, workload, pressures of SATs: these all need to be made public. But people are suffering from compassion-fatigue at the moment. The coronavirus is spreading, Australia has experienced some of the worst fires ever seen and parts of the UK have been overwhelmed by flooding. These are dark times. There’s so much to care about that sometimes it’s easier not to care. Particularly when the issue is the elimination of Of Mice and Men from the KS4 English curriculum.

Change the Tone

So, maybe we should change the tone of the dialogue. Rather than moaning about how tired and stressed and fed up we are, maybe we should be more positive. Maybe we should become teacher So, maybe we should change the tone of the dialogue. Rather than only relaying how tired and stressed and fed up we are, maybe we should focus on other areas. Maybe we should become teacher activists, or simply highlight the amazing things teachers achieve. The students who turned their lives around in our classrooms. The pupil who discovered a love of Shakespeare. The boy who gained confidence in class. The girl who went on to be a groundbreaking scientist. And then, having established those great achievements, maybe we should ask questions. Did you know your son or daughter can be taught by an unqualified teacher in an academy? Did you know you can be penalised for not having a sufficiently curved comma in the SATs? Did you know that there are currently 35 students to one teacher in this class?

Become a Teacher Activist

Don’t stop flagging up the issues. These are real, and they need to be known. But instead of being the underdogs, it’s time for teachers to take the lead. Don’t ask people to sympathise: ask them to take action. Get them enraged about what’s happening to their education system. To their children.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t moan to each other. There’s a catharsis in being able to offload to fellow teachers about the trials and tribulations of our jobs. And it’s helpful to know that we’re not alone, that others experience the teacher stress, the relentless marking, the ongoing admin. But save the moaning for colleagues. With others, be an activist.

As Thunberg says, no one is too small to make a difference.

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