In praise of our devoted teachers

Teaching is still a vocation. Most teachers who enter the profession believe they have one. More remarkably, targets, tests and league tables fail to shake their calling. A TES survey published today reveals the enduring nature of teachers' commitment to their pupils. More than 70 per cent of them said they saw the job as a vocation when they began their careers. All but 12 per cent of these have retained that belief.

Yet a teacher's job is harder than ever. The survey shows that they are working longer hours than they were three years ago despite the promised time for planning and lesson preparation. Senior teachers in particular have found a pile of difficult changes in their intrays this term such as new management allowances and a different inspection regime. Many teachers are coping daily with pupils with special needs in mainstream classes without proper support.

Last year a series of television documentaries painted a picture of chaotic classrooms where pupils went on the rampage while beleaguered teachers struggled to stay sane. A government inquiry into discipline that recommended strengthening teachers' powers appeared to reinforce the atmosphere of crisis.

Teachers think differently. Unlike tabloid newspapers, they do not believe that young people are out of control. They like most of their pupils. They may dissent from the government teacher recruitment advertisement's claim that "children are better than any anti-ageing cream", but they find helping them to progress rewarding.

The big increase in the number of people leaving other professions to join teaching in recent years - nearly a third of entrants now begin their training after the age of 30 - underlines the attractions of teaching.

Money is a secondary consideration though better pay and inducements for trainees have undoubtedly helped to recruit and keep teachers.

Anna Hassan, head of an east London primary, and 26 other heads and teachers who were given honours this New Year are a reminder of the enthusiasm and commitment of thousands of others. The Government is lucky to have them. So are their pupils.

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