A Year of Teaching

Nearly a whole year has passed since I popped out of my training bubble and was let loose as an NQT (Newly Qualified Teacher). This will come as a huge relief to the Department of Education, who is in the midst of an epic recruitment crisis.

People simply are not applying to become teachers anymore. And those that do, often leave within a couple of years on the job.

As a physicist, I am on the critically-endangered list of teaching skills. And as such, I was wooed into the profession by grants and bursaries to essentially ease my transition from a well-paid career to a much-less-well-paid career. Interestingly, despite this crisis, which covers all subject areas, a PGCE (Post Graduate Certificate in Education) still costs £9,000. There are not many other careers that require you to pay for your own job-specific training, certainly not to the value of £9,000!

This poses the first and probably most significant block to aspiring or curious future teachers. Day one, -£9k. Not a great start. If the potential candidates are not already Googling other possible career options, they might go on to find out that teachers salaries in England are well below the OECD average. In fact, we don’t even make it into the top 20 countries.

It gets worse… When you compare the working hours against the salary, we fall even further down the list. A trainee teacher, even one with a £26,000 bursary, can expect that to equate to far less than minimum wage when spread over the year. And that’s before you deduct the £9,000 PGCE fee!

For me, there is also an issue with the leadership. Schools don’t operate like a business. Although with the academy model slowly taking over many schools, they are being financially run like one (money goes to the pockets of CEOs, not to the students). Despite this shift, most of the people I have met in high-level positions at schools have only ever been teachers. They’ve gone to university then gone straight into teaching. Which is great. We need these people, who have always wanted to be a teacher! But… they have zero experience of how the rest of the working world operates. Teachers and schools are in their own little bubble. A bubble which is completely alien to a non-teaching professional. It’s really, really weird. Trust me.

This lack of real-world business and management experience is blindingly apparent to anyone who has worked outside of a school for more than a few months. Schools need to recruit non-teachers to fill some of the management roles. This would massively streamline – everything. Reducing workloads. Cutting down pointless admin, and generally improving workplace morale. Teambuilding doesn’t exist in teaching. Instead its called CPD, which is just a one-way meeting about how great we could all be if we did just a little bit more work.

To make my point. Go to any modern office space. You’ll find great food, comfortable seating, fast (unrestricted WiFi), a premium coffee machine (or even an iPad controlled coffee tap, Google it), booths/pods for private chats or lunches, IT that works, well-designed surroundings and maybe even some interesting art. You might even, if you’re lucky, find people that look comfortable in the clothes they’re wearing! Gosh. Compare this to any staff room in a school. Dull, crappy seating, a half-arsed attempt at a kitchen unit, and a 5kg tub of stale coffee from Costco. If schools cared as much about their teachers as any decent city firm cared about its employees, there would not be a retainment crisis. End of conversation.

My next issue is the level of respect given to teachers. To put it simply, there isn’t any. Students don’t respect teachers, teaching is no longer an aspirational job. Knowledge is not cool. Knowing stuff has no value. Stupidity is a badge of honor. Morons walk the catwalks. They’re on our TVs, they’re on YouTube, they’re in our ruddy parliament, running the country! We, with our multiple degrees, are seen as people who couldn’t get a job elsewhere. We failed to find a ‘cool’ job. We’re stuck in a crumbling 1960’s tower block filled with asbestos, teaching 14-year-olds about specific heat capacity.

With the recruitment crisis getting worse, this grim misconception may turn out to be true. Teachers will continue to leave, only to be replaced by less qualified and undertrained replacements. Soon, you may even be able to teach science with only a degree in Biology! For crying out loud!

I get asked multiple times a week by teachers, students and parents – “Why on earth did you leave your last job to do this?!”. Because I want to teach! I didn’t accidentally quit my job, move continents, enroll in a training programme, complete a PGCE (and pay for it) and then stumble into a teaching role!

Parents don’t respect us. Every parent thinks that you’re not doing enough for their child. Or that because you gave their child a detention for throwing a pork pie at another child, which then became partially lodged in his ear, you are somehow against their child. I’m not, your child is a prat, trust me, I spend more time with him than you do.

Don’t get me started on parenting… It should be put on one of those lists of skills that our society has lost. Like whittling spoons, outdoor survival and voting based on facts in referendums.

The school doesn’t respect teachers (see my point about the staff areas). Schools are 100% designed for the students. Very little effort has gone into making the staff areas adult-friendly, productive or relaxing, which is a shame, as most staff spend up to 10-hours a day on site!

Finally, the government doesn’t respect teachers. Money is being ripped away from schools. The workload is increasing. Teachers are leaving. Government reduces funding further… Enough said about that. And who can forget when our very own secretary of the environment, that glorified sock puppet, Michael Gove said: “We’re fed up of experts”. I could write an entire blog post on that spam-faced wank crumpet. But I won’t. This is about teaching. Teachers are experts! Experts are exactly what this country does need!

All of this reinforces that popular misquote of the teaching recruitment adverts – ‘Those who can’t, teach’. It’s damaging to the profession, and therefore the next generations.

Teaching needs a huge PR overhaul. Money needs to flood back into schools, they need to be updated. Teachers will not stay in schools with rotting tower blocks and equipment that was last serviced as part of the war effort.

Interestingly only teachers that have taught for their entire professional life say it’s the best job in the world… How would they know? They’ve never had another job. Other jobs pay well, other jobs can choose when to go on holiday, other jobs don’t have compulsory unpaid overtime (yes, that’s a real thing – yes, it is in our contracts – yes, it does mean we don’t get paid for a huge amount of work that we do – yes, it is bullshit).

Please don’t sit there and CPD the life out of me telling me that this is the best job in the world. It’s not. Are you insane? Have you not seen the guys at DARPA who are developing running robots? Get a grip.

Despite this. I still want to teach. I love it. Well, I hate a lot of it. But the bit’s I love make me wake up at 06:30 every day and begrudgingly put on a tie.

I love it when a student comes to find me, out of the whole school, to tell me about a problem they have. I love it when they ‘get it’. I love it when they hate my shirts/music/jokes, I love it when they love my shirts/music/jokes, I love it when they tell me about something awesome they found on YouTube and how they understood it because of my 20-minute off-topic rant about black holes. I love it when they come to my room at lunch, just for a chat. I love it when they get their exam results and they’ve done way better than they expected. I love it when they realise that school is just the beginning, a stepping stone onto the next part of their life, and the more they put in, the more they’ll get out.

Still not as good as making a robot that can run. Come on.

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