There’s an argument to be made for whether teachers should be allowed to be political activists. We’re not technically civil servants, so the rules of purdah don’t apply to us. But is it a conflict of interest?
These cases were usually non-malicious – or at least that was the intention – but they were all political opinions that teachers should have kept to themselves. Unless, that is, they fancied offering a balanced alternative perspective.
I recently ran for Parliament as the Brexit Party candidate for Broxtowe, in Nottinghamshire, standing against Remainer-in-Chief Anna Soubry.
Or, at least, I almost did. I was one of the 317 candidates who stood down to give the Conservative Party a clear shot at a majority – and thank God we did, too.
But not a single one of my pupils even knew I was running, never mind what my views were.
Should teachers give their opinion on Brexit?
I firmly believe the United Kingdom will do better as an independent, self-governing nation in control of our own money, borders and laws – but my pupils do not need to know that. Any more than they need to know you think the EU is a glorious mechanism that has saved our human rights and funded the arts.
Yes, I’m a swivel-eyed Brexit loon. But does that make me inherently evil? I do wish we could have a conversation about the pros and cons of the EU without resorting to personal attacks.
A few of my favourite comments – all from fellow teachers – that I’ve received throughout the election campaign:
- "Failed narcissist."
- "Out of touch with the common folk."
- "Are you on drugs?"
If I’m even failing at being a narcissist, I suppose I should be worried. "Out of touch with the common folk" is a rich one, given the results of last week’s general election. I’m not and never have done drugs, even when they were considered cool. But it’s not the first time someone’s called me that last one, so they might be on to something.
Keeping politics out of the staffroom
But my all-time favourite insult has to be “gammon”. You only have to glance at my Twitter avatar to understand why that’s completely the wrong racial slur.
These all come from a place of love, I’m sure. A love for their own world-view, and pure unadulterated anger for anyone who dares to disagree with them.
I’ve been more careful about openly sharing my views in the staffroom since the EU referendum, but I won’t lie about them when asked. It does make for some interesting conversations.
I noticed during this election that teachers didn't generally ask who you were voting for. Instead, they tended to start with the assumption that you were voting for Corbyn.
What was hilarious were the facial expressions people made when you corrected them, letting them know you couldn’t possibly support an anti-semitic terrorist sympathiser, and that your vote was going with Boris so he can get Brexit done.
Perhaps I wouldn’t use those words exactly. But, if you’ve ever seen a cartoon character’s jaw drop to the floor, that’s pretty much the reaction I’ve come to expect.
I often receive DMs on Twitter from other Right-leaning teachers, who tell me they just swallow their pride and stay silent on such occasions. It’s better to stay schtum than to go against the grain and potentially damage your career prospects.
Diversity in the workplace
Isn’t it a sad state of affairs when teachers are afraid of speaking up for their principles, through fear of retribution?
On a school trip to a hustings event, I had to politely ask a parent volunteer to stop handing out Lib Dem literature to our kids, unless he was planning on providing them with a full set of Tory and Labour leaflets for balance. I didn’t think that was an unreasonable request, but I was more surprised by my colleagues’ complacency than his outrage at my request. How is it OK to let this kind of thing happen?
I wonder, now that the country has voted for Brexit for a fourth and seemingly final time, and we’re soon to be leaving the European Union, will we be able to get to a point as a group of professionals where we consider that perhaps our opinion: a) should be kept out of the classroom when it comes to politics; b) may not be inherently “right”; and, most importantly, c) isn’t the only one that matters?
With between 70 and 90 per cent of teachers supporting Remain, it’d be fantastic if we could consider what diversity in the workplace truly means. It’s not that superficial tick-box form we append to the end of a job application: my skin colour has nothing to do with anything.
True diversity, especially in an academic setting, is diversity of thought and opinion. Surely we should hold that in the highest regard.
Calvin Robinson is a secondary computer-science teacher, and former parliamentary candidate for the Brexit Party. He tweets @calvinrobinson