The Department for Education’s advertising for the Get into teaching campaign is dangerously laughable. My favourite has to be the one where they entirely forget about the actual teaching side of being a teacher, focusing instead on the £20,000 training allowance, the ample opportunity for promotion, and that funny little encumbrance of holding “the odd meeting now and again”. It provides the most one-dimensional portrayal of an occupation I’ve seen since the airing of those Army Be the Best videos attempting to sell a profession like it’s a scene from Transformers.
I wanted to push aside all of the media appearances the teaching occupation clocks each year, whether they are due to classroom sizes, Academy statuses or the new imperialist history syllabus. To find out what it is actually like on the other side of the desk, I contacted a young teacher already in her second academic year on the job. She explained her own experiences from the beginning – her first day:
I was so excited about my first placement! I wore a lovely Laura Ashley suit on my first day, thinking that I would look the part and fit right in with the other teachers. As I drove up for the first time, I realised that the school had been divided amongst mobile homes since the actual buildings had been burnt down four months beforehand in an arson attack. Two boys walked past me and my placement partner and spat in my partner’s face. Just as I was about to leave at the end of the day, I realised that my car had been keyed from bonnet to boot. Brilliant: just brilliant.
The Get into teaching advertisement is suddenly, bitterly laughable. This is the other extreme on the teaching scale: the school of terrorising students, lacking direction and struggling through a shortage of funding and support. This is one side of the reality of teaching that must be addressed before we make applications: the high chance that you will not land on your feet in a girls’ grammar school in the country. And even if you do get an outwardly cushy placement; every school has its difficulties and its politics, its long hours, and its bloodthirsty staff room hierarchy with the SLT (Senior Leadership Team), gossips and caffeine addicts.
The teacher I spoke to stayed and pushed on despite the early set-backs, and now loves her job. Yes, there are the long hours attempting to decipher the handwriting of eleven year-olds, but the rewards of the job are unbeatable for the truly passionate teacher. My source speaks of the times students have shown improvement or have told her they liked her class or that she is their favourite teacher; or when peers have positively commented upon her teaching. The students themselves provide enough entertainment for a comedy sketch, as one current PGCE trainee helpfully shows through the provision of a dialogue from his placement:
Tom: Timmy, you smell of wee!
Timmy: No I don’t.
Tom: Yeah you do, you smell of wee!
Teacher: Tom, I’m standing right next to him, and he definitely doesn’t smell of wee.
Tom: Have you got a blocked nose sir?
Teacher: No I haven’t, I think he just doesn’t smell of wee.
Tom [increasingly disgruntled]: He does; he smells of wee and poo.
Teacher: You’re in year nine Tom, can you not think up any more intelligent insults?
Tom: I can, but they’re rude.
Instead of going by those rosy government campaign slogans that hark back to wartime propaganda machines, we need some real advice from real teachers.
Firstly, you must seriously consider whether this is what you want to do, and get as much experience in the system before applying. Over 60% of teachers entering the profession leave after 4 years. Don’t go into teaching for the alluring grant: it really isn’t about the money. As a teacher you become a role model for future generations, and many of your students will come from broken families and abusive home-lives, or have never even met a person with a university education. Your guidance becomes an important influence on their futures: a serious responsibility that should not be taken lightly.
A stereotype constantly floats around declaring that teaching is easy. According to certain government advertising campaigns, it is. Contact an actual teacher, or get some experience working behind the teacher’s desk for a change, and realise that a PGCE is more than just a paid gateway to employment. And don’t expect to be teaching a room full of lovely Matilda genius children – no matter how much you see yourself as the next Miss Honey.