Dear Mr. Tristram Hunt,
To be honest, it’s very hard to put the reality of teaching into words. How would I even begin to explain to an ‘outsider’ about the job that gives me so much joy & so much frustration; the job that lifts my spirits & saps all my energies; the job that I willingly give so much to and yet it is never enough.
I think after that contradictory start, I need to explain further.
The students, my colleagues and the wonderful Tweachers are everything that’s amazing about education.
The students keep me inspired through their never ending fight to be better, to understand and to grow.
Sadly, so many of my students have to keep fighting at home. I was fortunate enough not to grow up facing the struggles of many students: abuse, parents fighting addiction; the care system; neglect. Every day they amaze me with how strong & courageous they are just to put on their school blazer and walk through the front doors. They make me want to be a better teacher. They make me fight for them until I have nothing left. I do not want them to face a life where they have to keep fighting every day once they leave my care. But this takes a toll. This drains you as a teacher, and a person, especially when you teach several students in this situation each year.
All of the students I have taught have left a lasting impression on my life, my heart & my teaching. (sadly, I can’t remember all their names, but I am USELESS with names – better with faces luckily!) I can think back through every year of my teaching career and recall countless students who have brought something positive into my life. Even the ones who have destroyed lessons, hurled abuse at me or just plain thrown things at me all come with at least on positive memory.
My colleagues support & inspire me.
My current school is going through a hard time at the moment (the DfE & Ofsted in the same week, was hopefully the end of the chapter of waiting and the start of a new one) and we’re EXHAUSTED. Not because we’re lazy and struggle to work 9-3 for 6 weeks at a time like the press & some politicians would like the public to believe, but because we haven’t stopped driving for success since September. Our staffroom is a mix of enthusiasm, drive and passion but this can only be sustained for short times before you burn out. And this is why I love my colleagues. We push each other on. We motivate each other. And when all else fails we help each other to keep going. This was only too evident when we got the Ofsted call – the flashes of panic on people’s faces was quickly replaced by light hearted reassurance to make sure those who had never experienced an inspection weren’t paralysed by fear. And then the children went home and the work really started! I’ve never seen so many staff still planning, filing, marking & tidying until 10pm (and this happened at the end of the first inspection day too). This wasn’t done because we hadn’t worked until this point – the DfE were in the day before so surely everything was already in place? But trusting that alone was not good enough for us. We wanted perfection for ourselves, our school and our students. Yet amidst all this panic, fear & mild delirium we stopped and came together for Dominos. I’d never experienced anything like it: SLT, middle leaders & teachers sat together ate, joked & supported one another. No one was too caught up in their own lesson or worries that they couldn’t take the time for everyone else. (I wonder if Performance Related Pay will affect this mentality?)
The Tweachers provide me with the best CPD & guidance all day, everyday.
It’s great that you have promised to read our contributions to #blogsync but if you want the real truth follow us on Twitter. Read about our days, our successes and our failures. Get involved in #SLTChat or #EngChatUK or any of the other wonderful moments where Tweachers come together to support total strangers.
We use Twitter to find out about CPD events. Without Twitter I never would have known what a TeachMeet is (and if you don’t, you really need to if you’re going to do good in the world of parliamentary education), let alone presented at one & signed up to present at another. I would not have had the opportunity to attend and be part of the LATE / BFI winter conference or #TLT13 (Teaching & Learning Takeover).
Twitter is where you’ll find the realities of teaching, as are the TeachMeets & CPD events that are advertised through the many education related tweets.
I’ve tried to give you a balanced impression of what my current realities of teaching and education are so far. But I feel I would be doing an injustice to myself (and education) if I didn’t tell you about the realities that are long standing & have a, sadly, powerful impact. The countless policies and the endlessly moving goal posts make our job so much harder than it needs to be (not to mention the name calling, “enemies of promise”. Seriously?!) It’s hard to do your job when you feel unsupported by the ‘big bosses’, it’s even harder when you feel like we are constantly at war with each other. It’s ridiculous really as we seem to be fighting over the same core issue: what’s best for the students.
To be honest, I’ve never met you or Michael Gove so it would seem rather churlish to judge you both but then, from my research, you two don’t know much about being a teacher. I think you can see where this could head…
It would be very easy to go on the ‘You have no idea what you’re talking about’ rant, but where’s that going to get us? However, it does genuinely concern me that something as vital for a country’s future as education is being run by people who don’t know the ins and outs of it. I don’t wish to seem like I’m doubting your intentions, ambitions or ability to do good as shadow secretary for education but I am concerned, and a little confused, by the lack of experience held by many of the people who have held the posts both you & Gove hold.
People have flippantly thrown around petitions & invitations for politicians to come into schools, but I would honestly welcome you into my job for a week. I would happily show you the data of the 130 children I work with each fortnight and give you a detailed description of the personality, learning styles, disruptive tendencies and personal issues of each one. Then, I could tell you where each class was in the scheme of learning and the assessments they are working towards, as well as the deadlines! This would lead nicely into me teaching you how to find the resources, books, way round the school, my diary and all the contact details for parents – just in case. Oh and my marking pile – that damn thing never gets smaller, only bigger! Before I left you to plan for the week ahead.
I’m not beginning to suggest that I could do your job, I don’t have enough experience for that… yet! But if you are genuinely interested in the realities of teaching (and I so hope you are, because then my faith in those that are in charge of my job, my vocation and my passion would start to be restored) you need to experience it firsthand as well as talking to teachers honestly and listening to them being honest.
But if you ever fancy being ‘Mr Hunt, English supply teacher in for Mrs Keenan’ for a week you know where to find me.