I am really struggling at the moment. I’m in the process of making some big life changes and my job is killing me. Well – my health, physical and mental, anyway.

Most people have an inkling of just how dreadful teaching is at the moment, especially if you have a teacher friend or relative. I cannot find adequate words to express the pressure bearing down on us, particularly English teachers. I remember having important meetings in my previous jobs, the stress of preparing and presenting. Now I have the displeasure of that feeling 5, sometimes 6, times a day. And because there’s so much accountability now, we are essentially personally blamed if a student is ‘under performing’ (from a grade calculated when they were 11 years old – yeah, sure, nowt can possibly happen in the next 5 years to render that grade unachievable) – what are YOU doing about it? What intervention have YOU/can YOU put in place? 

QUESTION FROM MANAGEMENT: “Why is he/she underachieving?”

INTERNAL RESPONSE: “Because he/she is unable to sit still/has no lunch or just a packet of biscuits or energy drinks every day/looks after 3 siblings/has an eating disorder/stays up late doing housework because mum and dad can’t/is allowed to play on their X-Box until 3am every night/itches from unclean clothes/would rather impress their mates/speaks a different language at home/has just started their period/takes acne meds so feels shit all the time/has parents who tell them they’re worthless/feels depressed/has no friends/lost a family member/pet etc etc etc…ie THEY ARE REAL PEOPLE WITH A REAL HUMAN LIFE” 

<bring back any memories of being a teenager?>

OUR EXTERNAL, EXPECTED RESPONSE: “I haven’t differentiated enough for their needs, I will do more work and apply more pressure*”

 [*to force upon them a grade that is currently completely unachievable]

I teach approx 150 students overall, sometimes (on a Weds for example) in one day. I pinball from 12 year olds to 18 year olds, back to 14 year olds then 16 year olds. Now, anyone that knows or has ever been a teenager can appreciate the different social/hormonal/physical/mental variations of each age. I’m somehow meant to traverse the “What’s a paragraph?” or indeed “What’s a period?” queries from the young ‘uns and then run the gamut to year 11/12 asking about Grice’s Maxim or a friend’s termination. Not that we talk about such personal issues every lesson, just examples that go beyond the machines we’re meant to treat our students like (we also really need to confront just how many young people have no one to talk to about this stuff at home). 

The problem is, the teachers that can breeze it (and there aren’t many of them anymore, and certainly not in English) are the ones that turn up, teach from the front, worksheet it and have little time to treat your child like a person. Some people want teachers like that. I don’t. But neither can I continue working 70 hour 6 day weeks just to keep my fingers clinging to the cliff. And the best part of that 70 hours? The 22 spent in the classroom. WTF is the rest being spent on? Marking and marking and data and marking. Now, I still am not able to sit upright for long periods of time, so not only psychologically is this utterly overwhelming, but physically too.

Today’s teenagers need more discussion not less, more modern examples and texts (not just jingoistic 1800s patriarchal fiction) and more technologically-appropriate resources and teaching as they are more savvy and socially aware than any preceding generation, yet also so startlingly vulnerable. 

Instead of adapting and evolving with their lives and needs we are regressing to an elitist system from the 1950s that ‘worked’ for our privately educated government representatives. If all of our kids wanted to be such resounding ‘successes’, the system could work. Thank f*ck, they don’t. Doing more of the same (exams) and expecting different results (ie to shoot up the world league tables despite using bell curves which only allows for a fixed number to ‘succeed’) is the very definition of insanity. {© Einstein}

Real teaching is about encouraging and facilitating the questions, the ideas, the imagination that every young person walks through the door with – we must retain professional boundaries but mustn’t stifle that curiosity. It has to be more than just a tickbox-yes-we-found-the-metaphors hour. By subscribing to our current exam system and data-not-person ideology we are crushing initiative, desiccating the creative parts of the brain and reducing our young people into exam-trained monkeys.

Which is why I’m out.

Unplugging myself: in progress.


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