'You don't have to be tough to be a teacher' - @olivermbeach looks back on one year since Tough Young Teachers

23rd January 2015 at 17:00

Former Tough Young Teacher Oliver Beach writes:

This month marks the one-year anniversary of me crying in the toilets, not knowing who Marilyn Monroe is, quoting Oscar Wilde and playing classical music from cheesy Richard Curtis movies.

The experiences I’ve had since are unforgettable: having tea with David Starkey, being a substitute for Michael Gove at a speaking event and appearing on BBC Breakfast with the beautiful Susanna Reid,to name but a few.

Most of all, I’m just happy to be working in education. I'm in it for the long haul (and I want to quash the misconceptions about Teach First teacher lifespans).

So, to sum up my whirlwind of a year, here are the four things I’ve learned since broadcast:

1. Teachers are undervalued

Despite various education secretaries preaching about the value of teachers in our society, the profession is perpetually subjected to clichés such as: “You get great holidays” or “You get to leave at half past three”.

But there are signs of a change: over the past couple of years, the world has been witness to the incredible amount of work teachers do for their schools and students thanks to documentaries like the Educating… series and many others. The public has become rapacious for these moments of TV gold. Although these shows dramatise the school setting and, at times, portray it like a circus, they have been crucial in educating the public about the contribution school staff make to students' lives – from support assistants to headteachers. This is important as it’s not just fresh-faced young teachers who are working 12-hour days, it’s everyone who choses to go the extra mile, organise extra enrichment, spend more time with the weakest students and mark every book in detail.

We didn’t come into teaching because we wanted a standing ovation: our rewards come from 9pm thank-you-emails from students, D-grade students attaining a B or your form group winning on sports day. We know we’re making a difference, we know about the lives we change.

2. Every child needs a champion

We’re all guilty of making flippant comments about students and therefore we’re guilty of forgetting that we were once them. As we continue to work in a challenging profession where the landscape is littered with change, curriculum obstaclesand data mazes, we’re likely to become aggrieved.

But every child needs an adult who will not give up on them. It’s our duty to leave our views on education policy at the door – we must ensure we are completely committed to our students. Kids inspire you when you least expect it, they tell you stories, they say thank you for having an impact on their lives, they tell you jokes and make you laugh and ultimately, they want to learn from you. Never give up on your students; no matter how much they challenge you.

3. No child’s socio-economic background should limit their success

That’s pretty self-explanatory and there’s so much work to do.

4. You don’t need to be tough to teach

On reflection, Tough Young Teachers is a flawed title. You don’t need to be tough to be a teacher. Teachers are fortunate to work in an environment dedicated to the welfare of others, working with (hopefully) like-minded people committed to collaboration and positive change (in an ideal world). Teachers are not ruthless, money-hungry or selfish. There’s no out-to-get-you mentality or a race to climb to the top. We don’t need to be tough with each other; we need to be supportive, engaging and empathetic. We also don’t need to be tough with the kids. The creators of the show decided that due to the location of our schools, and the backgrounds of our students that we’d need to be tough. Being consistent with high expectations in achievement and behaviour is crucial, yes, but even for a PGCE student thrown in at the deep end, "tough" is not a requisite. Just be you, be fair and be consistent.

So, one year on, I’m still wearing bow ties to school, reciting Nietzsche quotes and professing my love for Beyoncé in the classroom. Most importantly, though, I’ve discovered that teaching is the best job in the world – it really is. We can have such a brilliant time and make a transformative impact on people’s lives and collaborate to create systemic change. Here’s to many more great years ahead.

Oliver Beach is now second-in-charge of economics and business Studies at Central Foundation Boys' School in London


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