'If Jeremy Corbyn looks like a geography teacher, then so do Chris Martin, Lionel Messi and Jarvis Cocker'

29th September 2015 at 06:00
picture of jeremy corbyn
The rise of the Labour leader has given new impetus to sartorial clichés about the teaching profession – it's time to cast them down once and for all

The human geography of the world may be in a state of flux. A grasp of geography has never seemed more essential. And yet this, of course, has done nothing to prevent the world's geography teachers from being lampooned and stereotyped in an unabashed and unabated manner.

The most recent instance is, of course, the new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (pictured), who has been regularly ridiculed for apparently looking like one. In fact Corbyn-as-geography-teacher has already become so overused a cliché that one desperate (but still quite lazy) journalist opted instead for the breathtakingly original “looks like a geography supply teacher”. A “geography supply teacher”?  Anyone ever met one of those?

I used to think this "geography teacher lookalike" thing was all about people sporting a beard and a threadbare jacket, but this no longer seems essential. Liam Gallagher has famously likened Chris Martin of Coldplay to one, in an intended put-down. Former England footballer and coach Glen Hoddle has been compared to “a geography teacher with a dark secret”. (Surely none of us is safe if even Glen can be described in this way.) Indeed, a brief internet trawl reveals that as diverse a bunch as Jarvis Cocker, Arsene Wenger, Nicolas Cage, Lionel Messi and an entire (presumably bearded) audience at a Led Zeppelin concert have all been given the geography-teacher treatment in recent times.

It’s time we hit back and played these stereotypers at their own game. Let’s lump together instead all those sections of the public who are so free with their disparaging opinions about geography teachers and about teachers in general.

Let’s start, indeed, with those people who allude to geography teachers in such a way. Their attitude usually betrays a basic contempt for our profession as a whole. We might call this sector of public opinion the “Real Worlders”. Teachers, they believe, don’t live in the “real world”. They consider us to be all comfortably cocooned in the public sector. No matter how narrow and niche their own particular “world” might be (futures adviser, working in prawns, dog food tester, etc) they work in private sector business, so they feel that they must know more about reality than any of us can ever know.  

Some of you may also know the “Canonisers” out there – so called because they assume that only the most saintly could possibly choose to work in a school. When we first reveal our occupation to them they commonly respond with “Rather you than me. I honestly don’t know how you cope.” It way be a much warmer, kinder attitude than that of the aforementioned Real Worlder, yet it still jars. It never occurs to them that we might actually enjoy our work, that teaching is not entirely about dealing with unruly classes and riots in the playground.

We can’t cover all the irritating groups, of course, but let’s not end before mentioning the “Initfor” community. Some of the Initfors can be quite good friends and yet their only question to us about our job is “So how many weeks is it now before the holidays?” Again this rather grates, as the implication is that holidays must be our only possible reason for working as a teacher. They assume that the holidays are all that we are “in it for”.

None of these people really understand what we are about. And yet there’s perhaps a tiny grain of truth in some of what they say – which, of course, makes them even more annoying.

Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams's School in Thame, Oxfordshire


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