Thursday, 26 April 2012


Remember the old saying'"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but harsh words never hurt me?" Well in long years of teaching I often had cause to recall those words and although long retired, they still apply today.
Whenever I read yet another tirade blaming teachers I get angry - unnecessarily so now that I am no longer involved. But I get angry for those who are.

For years I was a Head of Department in a large Comprehensive School. I had a staff of around eight to ten working in my department and I can honestly say - hand on heart - that in all those years I never had a single teacher who was not totally committed to his/her job; not a single one who did not pull his/her weight; not a single one who did not meet the task with cheerfulness most of the time.

I do agree that there are some idle teachers, some who are not committed, some who are - frankly - pretty useless at the job. But isn't that so in every profession? But I do get angry when teachers en masse are blamed for all the ills of education.

Today there is a letter in the Times, suggesting that if the teaching unions did away with their annual "angerfests" as the writer calls them, the image of teachers would improve. If teaching is anything like when I was in it (and I suspect it is much worse in these days of sticking to a curriculum in such detail), then - believe me - only a fool would be without Union backing at all times. It is not a profession without numerous hazards every day. And getting together with other Union members once a year does give one a feeling of solidarity, a feeling that at least someone else understands the problems.

I have seen teachers reduced to tears on many occasions - by bad behaviour, by parents' comments, and - not least - by the fact that every thing one tries fails to work with some children.

The area of my expertise - Compensatory education - i.e. the teaching of English as a Second Language to children from the Punjab who had come into the country with no English; the teaching of reading skills to children who had come up from Primary School unable to read to anything like their actual age (and before anyone says this is the "fault" of the Primary School - just remember that many of these children would have come into Primary school having never seen or held a book or a pencil and with very poor language skills) -meant that every teacher in my Department had to try as many different methods as he or she could until one was found which touched a nerve in the child. Often it happened and the child raced away - to the delight of everyone. Sometimes it didn't work and we would spend long hours - after school and in that last week of the holidays when most of us would be in school planning the next term's work - working out another strategy.

I go to the supermarket and I pass mums with their toddlers - the toddlers are sitting in pushchairs, their mums are on their mobiles - rarely in the supermarket itself do I see a mum involving the child in the shopping. When I do it is a delight to watch. I saw one the other day -
"Find me a jar of coffee - no not that one, the one next to it." The child found it and put it in the trolley and the mum said, "Well done!" Then they went off to look for biscuits. That's the way to do it! Early language skills are not developed from watching the television or playing with toys, they are developed from talking with mum and dad, looking at things as you go along in your push chair, singing nursery rhymes together.

Sorry about that but the letter in the Times touched a still-raw nerve in me and I needed to get it off my chest. Enjoy your day unless you are swimming in water. Here for a moment the rain stopped and a weak sun came out. It has just disappeared again.


mrsnesbitt said...

I agree whole heartedly Pat! Each morning our radio alarm wakes us at 7am. News headlines. Rarely a day goes by without a comment on schools - teachers...not doing something correctly i am a firm believer in what goes around comes around. In the 25 years I taught we were constantly told to re-invent the wheel. The methods of teaching changed - but on a rotation basis. what was out one minute was all the rage the next. The teachers just did what the government think tanks told them...and so it goes.
Phew! Now I need a cuppa! (fancy a cake?) lol!
Good points though. I need a lie down now - but will put my soap box away first!

steven said...

thanks for the rant on behalf of teachers pat. i teach for the love of seeing kids who come from nothing become something . . . they become who they're intended to be! i ignore the papers, the t.v., and anything political to do with my work. it's entirely disconnected from the reality which is a beautiful and amazing place to be! steven

Heather said...

Well said Pat. I was lucky enough to be able to read, write and do simple sums before I went to school and had plenty of encouragement to do my homework when the time came.
I don't like those buggies where the child faces forward and can't see it's mother - there is no communication between the two with one of those.

Titus said...

I'll go with 'Well Said' too, as I know the feeling only too well, being an ex-police officer, another occupation that takes its share of blame on a pretty regular basis.

I take my hat off to teachers - anyone who can handle 30 children in a classroom for an hour, then hear a bell, at which point another 30 children troop in, etc. for the rest of the day deserves some form of medal. I know in primary you have the same class all day, but still, I can think of nothing more wearing! A vocation indeed.

And I make mine do the fetching and the adding-up at the supermarket so that I know what the bill will come to before we get there. No calculators allowed!
I wish they'd get the hang of packing though. Soft fruit does not get on so well in the bottom of the bag!

Mac n' Janet said...

I'm a retired teacher and I agree completely. I was a Bilingual teacher transitioning Spanish speaking students into English. Most of my parents were wonderful, some were horrible, but you learn to work with them all.
I'm enjoying retirement, but I must say it's a bit of fun when one of my old students finds me on Facebook.

angryparsnip said...

I so agree with what you said.
I think teachers, police, firemen should be paid more. We spend millions on thugs in American sports but so little on our teachers.
In all the schools my children were in I was always a volunteer helper.
Now it seems people have children and then expect the school system to raise them.
I have a teacher friend who once told me why she disliked the holidays especially summer break. Most of her Hispanic 3rd grade children would come back to school after every break, hearing not one word of English, no reading or homework done. She then had to explain to the higer-ups why her class tests scores were so low. The joy of living in a border state.
What ever she did in class never matter. She was a wonderful teacher and was left counting down the days till she could retire.
What a huge waste.

cheers, parsnip

Elizabeth said...

An excellent post!

Teaching was incredibly hard work and worth (almost!) every minute of it.
I still hear from my former students which gives me great joy. Several of them are teachers themselves now.
I do think teaching is harder today than when I was at it --longer hours and more standardized tests.
I had lots of fun sharing poems I loved.

As regards the tinies in supermarkets --yes, it is very discouraging when parents ignore their children.

It takes a bit longer if you allow the children to 'help'
but utterly worth it.
I do think some modern mums ( like mums through the ages) get overwhelmed.
All credit to them......and to the long suffering teachers.

Rachel said...

We all work hard and we are all dedicated to what we do. Ask the farmer.

Reader Wil said...

Nowadays it is very difficult to be a teacher. The problems I had at school were caused by the parents, not by the pupils. They were not quite satisfied about the marks or something else. Most of the time I had a great time at the elementary school and most parents were very kind.
I believe that you were an excellent teacher.

John Gray said...

to me, good teachers in any job are like drops of rain in a desert
in nursing that are vital as the ones you "meet" in schools...
but you make a good point about the responsibilities of parents... I read recently that some primary school teachers are "expected" to help potty train some of their pupils by parents who adhere to the notion of a nanny styate?
the mind boggles

elizabethm said...

I agree entirely Pat. It was a delight to me last week when my daughter and her family were staying to see how she and her husband related to their two year old, talking to him, involving him, giving him little jobs to do. No television, books, games and doing things. I see so many children whose parents don't engage with them in supermarkets and on the streets. There is only so much that the best of teachers can compensate for!

Tom Stephenson said...

You should have gone to my school, in Surrey. The teachers were a bunch of maladjusted sadists, but there again, so were the pupils. I am NOT joking.

Cloudia said...

" I pass mums with their toddlers - the toddlers are sitting in pushchairs, their mums are on their mobiles - rarely in the supermarket itself do I see a mum involving the child in the shopping. When I do it is a delight to watch. "

Agree deeply with you!

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Dominic Rivron said...

My sentiments exactly.

My work takes me to the corridors and classrooms of 14 different schools every week. What do I see? Dedicated class teachers doing a great job.

rkbsnana said...

Very well said.

Pondside said...

Teachers - we ask so much of them...more every year. The sense of entitlement that is pervasive in our North American society had invaded schools, where parents think that their darlings should be top of the class.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks for the comments. Glad I got that off my chest!