Society has to “grow another level of respect” for teachers, who can end up being “beaten down” by a heavy workload and a lack of recognition, England cricket legend Matt Prior has said.
Speaking exclusively to Tes on the eve of the Ashes, Mr Prior also said schools selling off playing fields was a “sad state of affairs” and that professional sportsmen trash talking their opponents set a bad example to children.
As England’s wicketkeeper, Mr Prior won 79 Test caps and helped his country to three Ashes series victories before retiring from the sport in 2015. He spoke to Tes from Manchester where he had just helped the Chance to Shine charity launch a new range of free digital cricket resources for primary schools.
Mr Prior told Tes: “The role of a teacher is just so important…it would be sad if teachers felt put off in any way, shape or form, because the responsibility is in their hands to inspire this next generation.”
He said one of his relatives is a teacher, and that he also has friends in the profession who have been “beaten down a little bit” by the pressures of teaching.
“When they started they were so inspired and driven to go and help the next generation and educate and teach and watch people grow,” he said.
“Over the years they’ve just been beaten down a little bit, so that it now becomes a bit of a chore.
“That’s very, very dangerous because kids, when they see a teacher, they need to see passion. You don’t want to see a teacher that’s been pulled from pillar to post and really doesn’t have a lot to give anymore.”
'Lack of respect'
Mr Prior said he thought people did not appreciate teachers’ workload “particularly as class sizes grow”, but that a lack of recognition probably had a bigger impact on morale.
“I think the thing that would be draining…from people I’ve spoken to, is actually the lack of respect that people have for teachers,” he said.
“This constant battle, that they’re 'the enemy'. That’s not just from kids but from parents as well – the parents will always side with the child.”
Society “probably has to grow another level of respect for teachers and the job they’re doing,” he said.
Discussing school sport, Mr Prior said it was “pleasing” to see how “adaptable” schools and teachers could be in getting the most out of sometimes limited facilities.
However, he said it was “sad” when schools sold off playing fields because of stretched budgets.
“I understand why it would need to happen if you have no other option, but [it’s] a sad state of affairs.”
One of the most positive developments in school sport, he said, was the increasing number of girls participating in sports like cricket that have in the past been viewed as the preserve of boys.
“You can see women’s sport is just on an upward trend…which I think is absolutely fantastic. You saw the [England] Women’s team win the [Cricket] World Cup.”
“That’s only going to be good news for gender equality in sport in schools because girls will have these role models to look up to.”
“It should be no different for boys playing perceived girls' sports,” he added. “Sport is sport at the end of the day; if it’s something you enjoy doing, I think that’s the most important thing.”
Setting a bad example
Ahead of the start of England’s contest with Australia, which starts tonight in Brisbane, Mr Prior has seen himself drawn into the pre-Ashes hype.
Australian cricketer Nathan Lyon claimed Mr Prior had been so “scared” by Australia’s fast bowling when the England team was last Down Under, that he had “wanted to fly home”. Mr Lyon also said he wanted to “end the careers” of other England cricketers this series.
Mr Prior dismissed the comments about himself as “laughable”, but suggested Mr Lyons was setting a bad example to young people.
“When you start saying you want to end players' careers, I think that’s pretty disrespectful,” he said.
“These guys are role models, and children will be looking up to the behaviours and what these guys are saying. I think we’ve got to be very careful we don’t hide behind ‘oh it’s just banter’.”
However, Mr Prior said he thought England would have the last laugh, predicting a 3-1 victory for the tourists.
“I think [England] are going to surprise people,” he said. “They’re still underdogs, there’s no doubt about that, but I think they’ve got a team that could just pull something off.”