Teaching: a Caring Profession

As a retired teacher I want to extol the virtues of my profession. There has been much hype in the media about the role of teachers – and the difficulties of keeping children in school safely during this pandemic. This week I have been so heartened by a message sent by my granddaughter’s (Year 9) English teacher, saying how pleased she was that my granddaughter had worked so hard, and gone ‘above and beyond’ in her lessons.

What could the lasting effects of that communication from school be? My granddaughter will continue to do her best, knowing that she is being commented upon. My daughter and myself will continue to feel proud of her. We will all share in her success because of that simple, yet highly effective, reward.

As an ex-teacher, I miss my work so much. Why? It isn’t the long hours – but the children! What I miss most is that vital communication between teacher and learner: that inspires a love of learning and a strong desire to achieve.

In 1979, I spent my first (probationary) year of teaching in a Blackburn high school, where I taught maths to the bottom set. Why? Probably because the teachers assumed it was okay to give less able kids the most inexperienced teachers. But that particular debate is for another blog. The result: I soon realised that I had to get those kids on board if I was to survive as a teacher. Discipline alone was never going to get secondary-aged learners engaged and motivated. So I invented games: snap, bingo, happy families – you would be amazed at how much fun maths can turn out to be. What did I discover? That teaching is about communicating with learners – that teaching and learning is a two way process – and that success emerges through the positive psychology and sociology of the classroom.

Much later, I ended up teaching children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) – and found myself reaching out to children with different kinds of learning difficulties: discovering where their gaps in learning were – focusing on filling them in – and enabling those learners to succeed to the best of their ability.

Why am I telling you this? It’s because teaching is not just a job – with a salary and pension at the end of it. It’s a vocation – like nursing and many other jobs working with people. It is a caring profession: one that is particularly difficult and delicate, because working with children and young people, especially those with SEND, is far more difficult than working with independent and mature adults.

Teachers, in common with other workers who deal with people: for example, social workers, police and health professionals, are also contributors: the nature of the job meaning that they give themselves to their profession in a wholistic way. The specified hours of work are mere guidelines: the totality of the job being open-ended. Frequently, at the end of a working day, I have found a parent waiting to discuss a problem with me – or I have wanted to have a private word with a child. Such is the nature of a job that aims to guide young people along the right path – and solve any problems that arise.

It is a pity that so many teachers have emerged from this pandemic feeling like they want to quit. Something needs to change. Burn out is not good. I have also read that, as a result of parents having enjoyed teaching their children during this pandemic, there has been a huge rise in applications for post-graduate teacher training. That is good!

But change is needed. The National Curriculum needs an overhaul. The balance of teaching and learning needs to be reconsidered to allow far more teachers to find joy and inspiration in their vocational role. I did! How lucky I was. So any school think tank must ask some basic questions that will lead to many more: what are the educational problems following this pandemic? How can they be resolved? How can all learners be helped to reach their potential? How can classroom stress be alleviated as much as possible so that teaching becomes enjoyable?

Since retirement, I have spent some time tutoring privately, and thought, because of this pandemic, that I had finished with it: until this week when I had a call from a sixteen year old who ‘misses me’. I was so touched. Imagine a teenager missing my humble efforts.

Teaching is far from simply delivering the National Curriculum. A good teacher can inspire a child for life – as my own secondary maths teacher did. I still adore maths! A bad teacher can do the opposite – turn children away from the subject. Teaching is such a caring profession – that we need to care about the teachers too.

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