Thursday, 27 March 2014

Powerless at the Chalkface

Teachers, don't we get a sweet deal. Our short hours. Our long holidays. Our glorified, overpaid babysitting job, when kids pretty much teach themselves all that mickey-mouse shit these days anyway, not like the real subjects kids used to learn. The odious nonsense about teaching, a career so singled-out for media scorn and political hacky-sacking, is so pervasive that we teachers even believe it ourselves. We buy in to the idea that we should be grateful to have our jobs, and wake up every morning with a smile on our faces and a song in our hearts, thankful that we have such a gentle, not-even-a-real-job career that pays enough that usually we only need the one job.

We look like this just before we burst into song, you know
As anyone who knows anything about human nature might surmise, this attitude causes problems when it butts up against the realities of the modern chalkface. We are told in the gaslighting style of an abusive partner that our jobs are easy, that we're slackers, that we're letting the side down. While this constant stream of ego-mashing abuse is whispered in our ears, we're given yet more chores to perform, given new rules often without being told fully what they are till they're broken, have targets set higher and further away than make sense or are feasible (because everyone can be above average, right?). Every so often, we are paraded in front of unfeeling strangers who judge us on nothing beyond a quick leer and a ticked box.
"The children seemed to act unnaturally when we were all in the room. Poor classroom management!"
All the while, we are told to say yes. To be compliant. Your student's parents can only make a 7pm meeting? Then you must say yes, and sit alone in a silent classroom for parents who may or may not come to a ten minute chat about results they've already seen. The government decides to completely change their focus so everything you've worked on creating and resourcing before is now useless? Smile, nod and get back to that drawing board, often late at night once your kids are in bed.
We are made to guilty for being human beings outside the classroom. A day off is not taken lightly, our sick days and illnesses carefully weighed up against the feeling of letting our classes and our colleagues down. Relief work is set late at night with splitting headaches or between frantic trips to the toilet, and often the decision is made to just go in anyway. I once broke my ankle and was frantically texting my relief for the next day as they wheeled me into X-ray. Even high on morphine the shame of taking a sick day with chores undone was too great.
"...and year 12 should do page....AAAAAARGH!"

We're denied time to to attend weddings, funerals, life events of those we love, because much as we try, sometimes real life and externally-set holidays do not always synchronise. We can be refused unpaid leave for no reason at all, despite our reasons being the most joyous, the most humanly valid. Hindu? No unpaid day at home with your family to prepare Diwali's feast for you, no matter how many of your colleagues offer to step up. Daughter arriving home for the first time in years? Hope that flight gets in outside of school hours or she'll be taking a taxi home while you try to concentrate on teaching 8C how to draw graphs.

Your ancient celebration of light is too foreign, no day off for you!

 In a world that increasingly seeks to divorce the demands of work from the basic human need to raise children, those who are told to raise them in your absence are treated with a level of professional and social disdain that makes it a wonder we're trusted with children at all. This discordant, manipulative relationship between teacher and system leaves us bewildered, exhausted, and ready not so much for divorce as a midnight flight to freedom.

"At least in the private sector we'll be considered hardworking!"
 After nearly a decade wielding a whiteboard marker, I am nearly done. Not with the profession, to which I have a burning desire to keep doing until I'm no longer enjoying the thrill of helping young people learn new things, but with the culture. I'm done with acting like my job is worth more than my mental wellbeing. I'm done with putting the capricious demands of ministers and committees ahead of the needs of the students I work with.

I'm done with saying yes.


  1. In a nutshell..... There are thousands of teachers across the globe who are with you on this!