From the archive: Tipping point [why I don’t want to teach anymore]

Miss Smith /   November 17, 2014 at 8:39 PM 1,649 views


I went into teaching for a number of reasons: I am bossy and like the sound of my own voice; I love being creative; I enjoy learning new things; but lastly, the most important reason I became a teacher, is because children are more honest than adults; I don’t mean they never lie, but they are honest in themselves: they are who they are.

When you have to spend five hours a day interacting with people, children, in my book, are better than adults for this reason alone. As adults, we don’t intend to lie about who we are, but lies become a means of self preservation or of coping with the mundane realities that our lives have become. We are not all great literary heroes, rock stars, footballers, astronauts or actors as we once envisaged; women, we did not marry Mr Darcy – he isn’t even real, so we pretend. Facebook, and to some extent Twitter, are wonderful windows into an alternate internal reality, our lives as we wish they were: look at my amazing cocktail (this is me by the way) Isn’t my life great?

What I have found we lie about the most though, is what makes us happy. I think this is because most of the time, we just can’t do the things that make us really happy; life gets in the way, we do not have the money, the time, or the inclination; we can’t make the changes necessary – it is all too much effort. The life we have is safer, if a little boring from time to time, than the life we crave. Unfortunately, what’s worse, is that for some of us, we have even forgotten what it was that made us happy in the first place.

Children, however, are different.  Children know what makes them happy, and they will let you know, loudly. They know what they want to do and what they really think of things. Spending your working life with children is a constant reminder of what it is to be human. They tell you when you look good (or awful). They respond to your enthusiasm and your fear in a real way. Children don’t ignore the obvious; they state it. This is boring! I don’t want to do that! Why can’t we go back to the Isle of Wight.

This is the quality I most admire in children. I do not want to replace this honesty and enthusiasm, this joyful over-exuberant confidence and unwavering hope in the future with ‘mastery’ in a set of pre-defined disciplines, and an adult acceptance of life’s limitations. I do not want my job to be telling children that life isn’t necessarily going to take them where they want to go, so instead, they must understand their place, what percentile of childhood intellect they lie within. I do not want them to measure themselves, and their happiness in a competitive adult world; not when they are ten years old. I definitely do not want to tell children their dreams won’t come true.

The changes I have seen since the coalition government took over are transforming my job beyond recognition. It is not the admin (although that sucks) nor the demands from Ofsted, which are the real pernicious influences on my everyday working life, but rather a creeping philosophy of competition.

Inside the classroom, and between schools: the marketisation of education has tainted the language and therefore the perception of schooling; its purpose and aims. The idea that everyone should aspire to be ‘better’ than their neighbour: to have more; to get higher marks; to be ‘more successful’ – whatever that means; these are adult concerns, they are not good ones either.

My effectiveness at my job is being increasingly measured in terms I do not recognise: have my children ‘progressed’? not: are the children in my class happy? Are they confident? Can they tell you what they want to do with their lives?

The idea that education is becoming bespoke and creative through the introduction of free schools and academy chains is blatantly laughable. What children are getting is homogenised teaching and schools. There is a new era dawning containing educationalists with visions of cost effective schooling that can be scaled and taken to market. The argument from the neoliberal, crusaders is that poor children need to play by the rules to get a better deal in life.

Children, in this model, are viewed in numerical terms. They are no longer allowed to surprise us. They are manipulable and possible to categorise – those who add more value to a school are easily recognisable, they increase percentages of progress, others have become less worthwhile, and these need to shape up or ship out.

In a competitive world where silent obedience is demanded, the message is that conformity will be rewarded, although this message is disingenuous. Everyone knows that breaking the rules sometimes gets you places. The real trailblazers in life are not conformists.

I think I have a few years of teaching left in me, but I am reaching tipping point. Much of what I am obliged to do as my job is becoming unpalatable. The language of mastery and progress makes me balk. I do not want silent, accepting children in my class; children who think the have to play by the rules all the time just to get by. I want children to rage against life’s unfairness, and to go out and grab it with both hands. I want them to stay honest to themselves, for as long as they possibly can. I want them to be who they want to be, and not accept the often incredibly sh** hand life has dealt them.

Courtesy of Miss Smith at Splogs

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