Bad, wasn't it, when the most positive thing I could think of to say was, “Oh well, at least no one’s called me the c-word yet…”?
The point of opinion is to spark discussion. I’ve been writing this column since it was “all fields round these parts”, and I often learn the most from people who respond with views that are different to mine. And who wouldn't welcome debate? It’s a workout for the empathy muscle.
After the publication of what I thought was a fairly anodyne column about why the teaching profession doesn't have the monopoly on tiredness (because that would be a truly bonkers claim), a number of teachers retaliated with foaming rage.
I had some really interesting online conversations with colleagues who challenged my views in a friendly and professional manner. But there was also some communication from teachers who didn’t.
Read more: 'There is no such thing as teacher-tired'
That lot attempted to demonstrate that their professional insight was superior to mine by calling me names, swearing at me and making statements about my work ethic and assumptions about my personal life. The majority of those who passed judgements admitted that they hadn't even bothered to treat themselves to a read. Funny that.
I have a fairly low bar for tolerating… let’s say “eccentrics”. I was an actress for a long time in pre-internet days of yore, and doing the odd bit of telly work elicited a chocolate box of surprises from strangers.
I am on a train so I’m delighted to be answering all the confused teachers on Facebook who are currently calling me aaaaaall sorts without reading the piece. At least read it first. I should ignore & it doesn’t upset me at all, but some of the stuff...Nah mate, don’t be so RUDE! https://t.co/bVhNXCkUIo— Sarah Simons (@MrsSarahSimons) February 9, 2019
The vast majority of communication was pleasant, but I don't remember that. I do remember the death threats, the creepy perv letters, the poor souls who felt brutalised by my appearance and needed to give me feedback on it.
A particular low was when Tesco security guards hustled me into their staffroom because a woman who confused real life with telly-pretend accosted me up the cheese aisle. She thought I (my character) had behaved disrespectfully and was having none of it. I’d only gone in for binbags.
Teachers disrespecting teachers
So, in comparison, a disgruntled educator furiously tapping away on their phone doesn't even touch the sides, abuse-wise. And I would just give it the “U OK HUN?” treatment were it not for one thing: they are teachers, not random telly viewers.
Why would teachers – people in positions of responsibility – be so casually and purposefully rude? And in open forums, too, where their colleagues or their boss could see how they present themselves. This is the stuff we tell our students not to do. It was a bamboozler, I can tell you.
I thought,"‘NO. You don't get to speak to me like that. I am a real-life human. We are both teachers. THIS IS NOT OK." The most irritating were those who told me that I don't get tired (not what I said, read the mutha-flappin' piece) because… I work in FE.
Now, if you go after me, I will challenge you (or ignore you, dependent on mood). But if you go after my sector, I will slowly reach for my Walter White Heisenberg hat and, with a focused half-smile, calmly suggest you "tread lightly".
The 'What is FE?' cheat sheet
So for those fellow professionals working in any area of education who either don't know what FE is (fair enough) or assume that teaching in our sector doesn't really count (not fair at all), here’s a quick cheat-sheet to shove up your knowledge base. You're welcome.
I hope that, with this info, the teachers who questioned the FE sector’s validity can see fit to give my dedicated, hard-working, brilliant colleagues the respect they deserve. Even if those charmers still maintain that I'm an arsehole.
FE, work-based, and adult community education works with a vast array of groups:
- We teach 16- to 18-year-olds working at all levels. Those with a grade 3 in GCSE English and maths have to resit – often multiple times – until they reach the promised land of a grade 4.
- We teach in prisons, in family learning, in workplaces, in every community venue imaginable, accessing every student demographic.
- I teach English in an FE college to people who Jobcentre Plus compels to attend classes with the threat of removing benefit payments.
- I also teach adults with learning difficulties and disabilities in a community setting and in residential care.
- If it’s not in school (but sometimes it is), if it’s not HE level (but sometimes it is), it is FE.
In FE it’s rare to have groups of 30-plus, but it does happen. Our group sizes are usually smaller than in schools – lots of our students are old enough to have complicated lives and many of the adults we work with need time spent on guidance and support. This obviously takes longer and necessitates smaller groups. That’s not to say that school pupils don’t need intensive support. FE is different to the school sector, not less.
'Fewer holidays and less pay'
Lots of our students come to us looking for a second chance and they need us to get them to where they want to be. We have to undo their perceptions of schooling and break down barriers of steel built by their previous experience of education before we can start the business of learning. School is not the enemy, but students’ perceptions of it often are.
The FE teaching day usually ends at 5pm, and some lecturers have additional sessions in the evening. The vast majority have fewer holidays than school teachers and we are on far less pay – an average £7,000 pay gap between school and college teachers.
The FE sector is the most underfunded area of education. Colleges do what they can to get by, but the government’s funding failure is felt every day. The UK’s adult education system is successful despite being run on tuppence ha’penny and a mountain of goodwill. Of course, schools suffer from cuts, but FE suffers more. I'm not getting my violin out, I’m stating a fact.
Sarah Simons works in colleges and adult community education in the East Midlands and is the director of UKFEchat. She tweets @MrsSarahSimons