Henry Hepburn

Teaching offers a richness that few professions can match

Educating young people is not the easiest profession but it has the potential to be the most rewarding, says Henry Hepburn

Teachings offers more than other professions

It’s that time of year. Primark’s rails of white shirts have been ransacked. Schoolbags still have functioning zips and do not yet carry the whiff of lunchbox detritus. The rain, with sadistic timing, may even subside as school gates prepare to open. And news bulletins are grinding salt into wounds with their breezy mentions of the ongoing holidays (because, of course, there are a few weeks to go until the English schools are back).

In the circle of school life, this is both a fraught and exciting time. For teachers, the anticipation of a fresh start may mingle with a foreboding about what lies ahead.

Those who have been through it all before know the damage caused by budget cuts and seemingly haphazard reforms.

Meanwhile, those just entering the profession can be beset by fear of the unknown and doubts about whether this really is the career for them.

Yet, for all that, we mustn’t lose sight of the positives. At this time of year – with many teachers already at work and others preparing to head back next week – there can be a sense of renewal and opportunity.

That’s certainly the view of secondary teacher Sammy McHugh, who compares the anticipation before the start of a new school year to the excitement of the run-up to Christmas (see bit.ly/SMcHugh).

But teachers can’t just blunder into school like a toddler rampaging through their presents on Christmas morning. Here’s how primary teacher Susan Ward puts it (see bit.ly/Ward_S). “August is like the moment just before you swim a length underwater: technique really matters,” she writes. “If you don’t breathe deep enough, get steady enough, you’ll never make it to the other side.”

In this week’s magazine, we’ve got nuggets of advice for the new school year from educators all over Scotland. One counsels fellow teachers to make sure that pupils who “need our time, energy and love the most get it in abundance, even when they don’t realise they need it”. Another says that everyone who walks through the door should be greeted with a smile, adding: “Be the educator that children deserve and remember.”

Or, as one teacher puts it more succinctly: “If in doubt, be nice.”

There’s a common theme that emerges, then, and it’s this: teaching is a profession fuelled by altruism, by the desire to help others. Erin McAuley knows this more than most. She recalls how, as a pupil, teachers “saved and transformed my life”.

Education and “immeasurable support”, she says, “took me out of a dark, uncertain and chaotic situation in my young adult life to a place that is now full of hope and stability”.

Now aged 21, she has found this stability in the profession of – you guessed it – teaching. She’s a modern studies and history probationer at Dunblane High School.

“I fundamentally believe that the best possible way to change the world is through education,” McAuley says in her longer article on tes.com/news. “That is what motivates me every day to be a teacher.”

It would be disingenuous, of course, to paint teaching as a profession with a constant glow of fulfilment and endless pats on the back for the difference you’re making – it doesn’t work like that. Teaching is hard and the demands can feel relentless.

Chris Smith, who was named Scotland’s teacher of the year in 2018, knows this well. In our feature (under the handle @aap03102), he says when, as a teacher, you are confronted by “something that scunners you”, look around at the “brilliant young people” in your school and “let their enthusiasm, creativity and joy revitalise you”.

To all teachers, but especially those making their first tentative steps into the profession, we wish you all the very best for the year ahead. It won’t always be easy but, when things click into place, teaching offers a richness that few professions can match.


This article originally appeared in the 16 August 2019 issue under the headline “Why teaching offers a richness that few professions can match”

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