If you ask any teacher to name what’s wrong with the profession, they could probably reel at least five points off the top of their head without even blinking. Poor staffing levels, ridiculous admin, teaching irrelevant topics, overly-stringent marking regimes, the cull of creative subjects… the list of the pitfalls of teaching goes on. And to be fair, sometimes so do we. Everyone knows that teachers love a good moan, and we’re certainly masters of the art of complaining. But we’re also masters of Pulling Our Socks Up and Getting On With It. We know the flaws in the teaching, but we do it anyway.
But should we?
I saw an interesting exchange on Twitter the other day. A teacher was bemoaning their latest teaching pitfall (some hoop-jumping exercise which took time away from teaching children and instead focused on an obscure admin task designed to produce meaningless data). Various people commented with their sympathies, and then one Twitter user turned the tide, with a simple comment: why don’t you do something about it?
Why don’t you do something about it? The comment made my blood boil. Fortunately, I’ve taken a step back from my keyboard warrior phase and I’ve learnt the art of scrolling on, but the comment continued to niggle at me all evening. It’s one I’ve heard before: from friends, from acquaintances, from parents, from politicians. If teaching’s so bad, if there are so many pitfalls, why don’t you change it? Unable to bite my tongue any longer, here is my three-pronged riposte:
- We’re trying. We honestly are. You know the teaching unions that people moan about? Well, they’re campaigning for change constantly. Sometimes, even to the point of striking. The problem is, nobody listens.
- We’re over a barrel. Increasingly, teacher pay is being linked to pupil performance. It’s one of the biggest pitfalls of teaching. So, it’s all very well asking people to make a stand against the system, but if that means they sacrifice their pay as a result, then teaching becomes an even less appealing profession. Most of us do it for love, not money, but we can’t live on air.
- Why should we? Last time I looked, education was everyone’s business. Everyone has a stake in how the young people of today are educated. If they are being starved of resources, if they are being taught meaningless, obscure points of grammar, if they are having their creativity curbed, then that is a problem for all of us. Teaching pitfalls affect us all. Instead of expecting teachers to fight the system alone, maybe everyone else should give it a go, too.
The system is flawed and it is failing our children in many, many ways. But change won’t happen until people stand with teachers against the insanity. As Helen Keller, someone who truly knew the power of a great teacher, said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
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