Teachers moan a lot. We like moaning and we’ve got stuff to moan about, so it happens pretty constantly.
Why moan? Teaching (properly) isn’t easy: I’m only just mastering the basics, two whole years in. There’s a ton of pressure. You juggle a million things you can’t possibly keep in the air all at once. The work seeps into your home life. You lose sleep. You cry. And always, it’s never good enough.
If that sounds like I’m moaning, sorry about that. There are many reasons to moan. Well just give up then, you might helpfully suggest. But I want to explain the reasons why, despite the moaning, it’s still a career that’s worth clinging on to, if you can.
Most of all, it is a privilege to be handed over thirty-odd tiny human beings in the morning, each of whom means the entire world to their parents. Even if you don’t teach them anything, that’s just amazing. It’s a big deal. These little bumbling babbling human beings trust you instantly with their safety, care and happiness. They assume you’re going to look after them. They don’t question that. If you stop and think – and I do sometimes, especially as I approach parenthood myself – it’s an enormous responsibility. But a responsibility that’s there to be enjoyed rather than feared.
Recently, I’ve been working with smaller children than usual. You get an even greater sense of your role in the classroom being one not just of shuffling data points of progress, but actually inspiring, engaging, entertaining, sparking little minds. Again, what a privilege.
When a tiny person tugs at your trouserleg and asks you to referee an argument, or look at a picture, or read their carefully-crafted phonically-plausible attempts at words hovering around the lines on a page, they come to you because they need validation, approval, amazement, interest. I may come across as a curmudgeonly, grumpy old sod at the best of times in adult company, but I know how important it is to say “wow!” and not just fake it, but mean it. When a child makes a mark, writes a story, draws a picture, haphazardly (or so it seems) sticks an eggbox to a toilet roll with sellotape, they’re putting themselves out into the world. They are, in some small but brilliant way, creating a relationship with the world, and explaining their part in it, showing how their mind takes part in everything around them.
I wonder if we lose that a bit in Key Stage 2 and beyond, where we become obsessed with stuffing sentences full of fronted adverbials, relative clauses and grammatical pyrotechnics. I think we need to make sure there’s still a place for the messiness of creativity, adventure, mistake-making and wonder. The best schools I’ve been in do this, of course. Learning is still fun, though there’s an awful lot of drudgery to wade through. It’s harder and harder to keep that balance if the carousel of learning walks, book scrutinies, inspections, observations and so on can encourage conservative, rigid, risk-free teaching.
So, yes, there is a lot to moan about, but so much to enjoy. The longer we can keep that sparkle of magic alive, the more fun it can be, for us maybe but, more importantly, for those 30-odd tiny humans we send home every afternoon back home, hopefully full of curiosity, ideas and wonder.