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Blog: So... What do you do?
Our anonymous blogger is a teacher from London. These are his own views.
At last, May is on the horizon. What a glorious time of year! Summer is nearly upon us, and as year 11 leave and the sun starts to make more of an appearance, teachers across the land begin to breathe a sigh of relief: “Just one more term. You can do it. Keep going”- we mumble in unison, rocking less vigorously than usual as the end of the year draws closer.
No doubt the media will soon be presenting us with a series of summer montages, endless diagrams of the UK covered in swooping red heat wave arrows, and patronising weather warnings urging old folk to stay indoors, and parents to slap factor 50 over the hat covered faces of their tan-less toddlers.
But of all the British summer clichés we know and love, the humble barbeque seems to be the one we look forward to the most. What’s not to love? Hovering in the kitchen doorway, watching a determined dad struggle to cook charcoal-flavoured chicken drumsticks, whilst he huddles under an umbrella? Why on earth would you want to spend your Sunday afternoon any other way?
I have to say, as a vegetarian and someone who is not very good at conversing with other human beings, the friendly neighbourhood barbeque is not something I look forward to. My mum makes a nice pasta salad, and Auntie Dee always brings a nice quiche, but other than that, it becomes another opportunity for people I barely know to quiz me about my life choices.
It’s the inevitable question that has hovered over every social gathering I have attended since I left university. The question that sends shivers down my spine. The question that I know will lead to a barrage of more questions and requests for anecdotes:
“So… what do you do?”
At this point, I’m usually stuffing bread rolls in my mouth to avoid having to reply. But they never get the hint, sadly.
“I’m a teacher!” I say eventually, a beaming grin slapped across my chops, and a longing plea for no further probing in my eyes. It’s not because I’m ashamed of my job- quite the opposite. It’s more that I don’t want to end up getting in to a debate about education with my Uncle John’s football mate.
There’s always a pause after you say, “I’m a teacher”. And then, after they’ve got over the initial shock, they respond in one of a few different ways.
Response #1: The Enthusiastic
“Wow! Oh my GOD! That’s AMAZING!”
I can’t help but wonder whether they are being sarcastic. Nobody can really find my job that amazing, can they? It’s not like I’m a secret agent, or a superhero, or an astronaut- those jobs really are amazing. Half a million people in the UK alone are teachers. At first it seems far too zealous to use such adjectives. But then I think about how much I love what I do, and I nod, feeling like I got off lightly this time around, and say: “Yes. Yes it is amazing. I love it and I’m very lucky.”
Response #2: The Curious
“So what’s that like then?”
This response always unnerves me a little. I’m never sure what they are getting at. Is it a trap? Are they trying to catch me out? People who ask this question usually do so with an inquisitive expression, so I try to see the best in them and assume that they are just curious.
In my head, I’m thinking: “Well, it’s great in lots of ways, but it’s not in others. The bureaucracy and bad ideas are annoying, and prevent me from actually getting on with my job, but I grin and bear it because I love the kids and I love my subject.”
But I can’t say that. I would be opening a very nasty can of worms if I did. I have made this error in the past and have got lots of “teachers always complain” remarks in response. Most people don’t know much about the current debates in education, but they do read newspapers. They think I mean what the papers tell them: that all teachers are against academies; that all teachers hate Gove; that all teachers want the government to dispense with exams and Ofsted.
So once more, I grin, and give a lukewarm “It’s great; I enjoy it a lot” response. I feel disappointed in myself, but I realise I’m probably not going to be able to properly raise awareness of the many problems with the profession over burnt hot dogs and chicken drumsticks. Now is not the time or place to start challenging the status quo.
Response #3: The Suspicious
“Oh! So you’ll be going out on strike soon then!”
Of all the responses I get, this is the one where I am most inclined to actually speak my mind. I wouldn’t feel the need to prance about with pleasantries or self-deprecation this time round. It’s one part of my teacher identity that I’m not willing to shy from.
“No. I certainly will not be going on strike any time soon. May I explain why?
Because I, and many teachers like me, happen not to think what the media says teachers think. I’m not angry about everything the media says teachers are angry about, and so I won’t be walking out. I’ll be at school on the strike day.”
They usually look a bit flabbergasted at this point, but I’m glad. For too long, some voices have purported to represent all teachers. The general public, quite reasonably, have come to form an opinion about teachers on the basis of the opinions espoused by those who make the most noise. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, and if some teachers want to go on strike, I shan’t stand in their way. But equally, if I don’t disagree with what the government are doing to schools, or if I don’t think striking is the answer, I should feel confident enough to be able to express my views too. I shouldn’t have to worry that I’m being too controversial or that I’m going against the grain. I should be able to challenge the status quo and for that to be acceptable.
I shouldn’t be placed into the category of ‘all teachers’ just because that’s how the media presents us. We need a wider, more nuanced understanding of the debates in education, and those with views that oppose the mainstream should be given the opportunity to express them.
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