"Teachers have it easy – look at the holidays they get.”
If there’s one sentiment guaranteed to make a teacher’s blood boil, it’s any variation of the above. It betrays not only an ignorance of what a teacher’s job entails, but also a more deep-seated problem: a disdain for the profession, or at least a sense that it’s a relatively easy career option, something anyone can do.
We know that’s not true. Go to any school and you’ll hear tales of people who have quit almost before they’ve started, from qualified-to-the-hilt probationers to scientists who changed tack after leaving the oil and gas industry. A few weeks in, and anyone who thinks they can saunter into teaching and survive on their wits will be found out.
Teacher-retention rates are rightly an area of concern, but some departures from the profession are a necessary separation of wheat from chaff. To turn that old George Bernard Shaw canard on its head, “He who can, teaches; he who cannot might want to volunteer in a few schools before deciding he can fall back on teaching when all else fails.”
Scotland, of course, has been trying to turn teaching into a Master’s-level profession, à la Finland – notwithstanding the recent “Scottish Teach First” controversy.
Everyone has an opinion on teaching
But public attitudes often take an age to catch up with reality: everyone has an opinion on teaching because everyone went to school. Never mind that a teacher’s lot several decades ago bears little comparison with a job that has changed dramatically through the years – whether by adapting to inclusion and technological change, giving pupils and parents ever-greater influence, or by teachers breaking out of classroom silos to collaborate with colleagues on a global scale.
For all the pride and satisfaction teaching can fill you with when it goes well, it’s always been a hard job, and many would argue it’s never been harder. It’s galling, therefore, to have people snipe about a career that many choose out of a sense of altruism rather than monetary gain. Then, when they start having digs about your holidays after you burrow out of the workload mountain for another year, it must all seem like a thankless task.
Having a proper break is essential, however, and no one should feel guilty about it. As the philosopher Bertrand Russell said in his 1930 book, The Conquest of Happiness, “One of the symptoms of approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important, and that to take a holiday would bring all kinds of disaster.”
Yes, it’s only a few weeks until the exam results, and it’s often tempting to keep on top of work over the summer. Yes, there is troubling stuff happening in schools and in children’s lives – this week we focus on gender inequality and continued funding woes, although there is happier news, too, with Scotland looking at taking a lead in ensuring that school libraries prosper in the digital age.
Meanwhile, if you set aside your planning for the next school year and turn on the news, North Korea is rattling a barrowload of sabres, Donald Trump is blundering around the international stage and Brexit continues to create an unprecedented logjam in domestic politics.
The world, at close quarters and at large, has the potential to be overwhelming. Sometimes, the best thing to do is forget about it for a while. So find a beach or a bothy, settle into a book or a bath, and switch off. Everything will still be there in a few weeks’ time – and the world might even seem a better place.