Friday, 8 November 2013

Day 8: The truth about teaching

Back in May, when I was blogging every day, one of the posts that attracted most interest was the one about a day in the life of a teacher.  The thing about teaching is, almost everyone has been to school, so everyone thinks they know what the job entails.  It's all about a 9am start, sitting at the front of a classroom for five hours ticking some books, before going home at 3pm.  Right?

The people who don't think teaching is one big blag seem to go to the opposite extreme.  "Ooh, I couldn't do that," they wince, when I tell them my occupation.  "Working with teenagers, do you get danger money thrown in?  I bet they're a nightmare."

Media coverage runs roughly along these lines, too.  Teachers are either lazy layabouts who need to get off their arses and work more than five hours a day (and stop bloody striking while they're at it); or alternatively, we must have the combined skills of a bouncer working the 3am shift and a soldier fighting on the frontline.

And the truth about teaching? The truth is, there are lots of truths.  

The Pupils
Hopefully shows like Educating Yorkshire have demonstrated that, rather than the horde of thugs the media seems keen to portray them as, most school kids are pretty wonderful.  Likewise, that programme has gone a long way to prove just how vituperatively fake and vile most of Gove's claims about teachers are, showing the lengths we go to to ensure good outcomes for our pupils.
Truth 1
Far from being a feral host of immoral yobs, most young people - yes, even the teenagers - are keen and eager to learn and essentially enjoy school.  They're engaged and interested in the world around them, interested in justice and ideas of right and wrong.  They are fabulous company, and come out with the most wonderful comments.  However...

Truth 2
... Some pupils are everything you read about it the tabloids: angry, violent, disruptive and destructive.  They are in the minority but they do exist in every school.  Of those kids, most of them behave like this for very good reasons.  Often they have complex needs and learning disabilities which cause them to be disruptive. Sometimes they have gone through horrendous experiences at home in their short lives that you and I can barely comprehend. Occasionally, they really are just being dicks and there's no reason or excuse for their behaviour.  Regardless, when they are causing chaos in your classroom, it's hard to remember that there may be an explanation for their acting out.

The Hours
I think the thing that winds teachers up more than anything is the assumption that we work short hours.  The number of people I know who say, "Oh I might become a teacher so I can drop the kids off at school and then be home at 3."  Well... I get to work just after 7am, so if your child starts school at 6.50am then you're in luck!  From then on, I'm tutoring, teaching, marking and planning right through until the school day ends.  When you're in the building, there is no such thing as 'free' time: you are always on call and in demand.  Breaktime and lunchtime? Usually spent talking to kids and supervising work, or marking and planning in my classroom.  If I'm lucky then my day ends like this....

Truth 3
Some days, you can walk out of the classroom at 3pm and get home quickly.  Now, this doesn't mean the work is done - teaching very much being a job where the work is never done - but rather that you've reached your limit and need to reclaim some me-time after eight solid hours of work.  Doing this, though, just means that the pile of marking or planning will be bigger the next day, so most people either take it home with them.

Truth 4
But other days, you'll be at school until 5 or 6pm, in seemingly endless meetings or grappling with a pile of marking that threatens to create an avalanche on your desk.  And, quite a few times a term, you'll only get home at 8 or 9pm after a parents evening, concert, open evening or other event.  Teaching is not a job with great work/life balance.

The Job
But what do teachers actually doThis post, and this one, go some way to explaining some of my duties and responsibilities.

Truth 5
There are very few teachers who do only that.  Most of us have a whole host of other responsibilities within school, for which we (if we're lucky) get a small amount of extra money.  For example, as well as teaching English for an average of nineteen classroom hours a week, I also look after provision for Gifted & Talented pupils within the school, and mentor PGCE students and organise everything to do with Initial Teacher Training.  In other words, once the actual teaching is over, my other duties kick in.  Meetings, emails, phone calls, organising trips, endless paperwork... in the unlikely event that I've finished all the marking and planning for my classes, there is always plenty of other work to keep me busy.

Truth 6
Finally, what isn't really recognised is that teaching can be a fabulous job.  Not for the holidays (although those are nice, not least because after six or seven weeks at school the average child is exhausted and incapable of learning anything more), but for the kids.  They really are the most difficult, wonderful, unpredictable, funny, silly, intelligent people to work alongside.  Day after day of little adult contact can send you somewhat doolally, but my gosh it's worth it.  If you like a tidy desk, always knowing what will come next, and to switch off from work when you go home then trust me, teaching is not the job for you.  But - the endless derision and constant attacks we face from politicians and the media aside - I really wouldn't want to be doing anything else.


  1. It's lovely to hear you're happy in your teaching job - i have a friend who taught Maths at a school for around 8 years who had to quit this year due to stress and health problems and my dad is working in a struggling inner city school and really not enjoying it - not because of the kids but because of the bureaucracy and other things going on from the powers above. It's a shame, but glad to hear that it's not the same everywhere, and brilliant that you're also encouraging others too take up the career as I think it must be one of the most rewarding out there (I bawled my eyes out watching the final 'Educating Yorkshire' episode too!) x

    1. The bureaucracy and constant government meddling are what will do for me in the end, too. I try to block as much of it out as I can, but it's getting harder.

  2. Thank goodness someone is putting the reality out there. I'm an ex-English teacher and recognise that description from my own experience!

  3. Great post! I work quite a bit with schools, and pretty much every teacher I've met takes work home with them. Its so easy to assume that the day ends when the children go home but the reality is far from that. It's not an easy job, but its good that you enjoy what you do. That in itself is half the battle sometimes.

  4. Super post! Well written. I love ny job too but it IS exhausting and relentless! X

    1. It's good to hear from other teachers who feel the same!

  5. Brilliant! As a teacher, who if honest is struggling with cping with stress at the moment, I've read your teaching blog posts with great interest. My weekend this weekend is one like yours last weekend where I've cancelled all my plans. Hopefully I'll feel better on Monday too! Xxx

    1. I really hope your weekend off helped. This is really the first time I have admitted to struggling with stress, I hope that recognising it will help me deal with it and I hope the same is true for you x

  6. Ahh what a wonderful post! I think you've really hit the nail on the head! It's bloody tiring, but such a worthwhile job. :) xo