10 things you thought you knew about teaching but now realise are entirely wrong

13th January 2006 at 00:00
Anthea Davey tries to shatter a few illusions

Were teachers ever pupils? It's h ard for some of our young charges to believe we ever had to suffer the terrible indignities heaped upon them, such as school uniform, homework and standing outside in the rain during break. It's even harder for them to conceive of teachers having lives outside school (hence that amazed cry on a Monday morning "We saw you in the supermarket on Saturday, Miss!" and the ceaseless quest for that most magical of secrets - your first name).

But if we cast our minds back, we may remember many more myths about teachers and teaching. From the mysteries that lay behind the staffroom door to the impressive authority of not having to join the lunch queue, there are many aspects of teaching that you will already have discovered do not meet our lingering childlike expectations. Here, I present to you the reality of life on the other side of the classroom divide.


As a pupil you thought that the most powerful people were the strictest teachers and the headteacher. They could shout at you, call your parents, put you in detention and even expel you. Now you are a teacher you know that the real power base that runs the school, and to which even the most senior teachers kowtow, is the office staff and the caretaker. You know if you forget this fact you will never again get your classroom keys replaced when you lose them or be allowed to use the fax machine.


You thought there could be no greater fun as a teacher than getting to write on the board. Especially with different coloured pens. You now know that getting indelible ink over your clothes is an occupational hazard and your hands always look like they've been painted with woad, which is not a stylish look on a Friday night at the pub.


You thought you'd make your mark in life one day, as you sat studying the great and the good. As a teacher you would influence thousands of tiny minds. Now you know it's your marking workload which never ends and reveals that no one was paying any attention to your words of wisdom in class. Instead, they were deciding who to vote for on X Factor.


You thought it would be great to inspire other children one day and be admired and respected. Now you appreciate the reality that the backs of rough books contain the students' real opinions - as does the graffiti in the toilets.


You thought that grumpy, bad tempered people became teachers and you would be different. You now know that teachers become grumpy people.


You used to believe teachers spent all their free time reading up on their subjects, visiting museums or undertaking other worthwhile, cultural activities. Now you appreciate holidays are best spent in bed, recovering from the obligatory cold and watching mindless daytime TV.


You thought that pupils were made to wear uniform to suppress their individuality and youthful fashion sense. You now appreciate that it's the only way you can recognise those from your school on the way home so you know whether to tell them off for misbehaving or whether you'd be better off ignoring them. It's embarrassing to be cursed by strange pupils.


You imagined that teachers had secret gadgets, possibly adapted from James Bond, which allowed them to detect that you had the answers to the questions in the exam written in tiny print on your sleeve. You now know that they are too busy playing games to relieve the boredom of invigilation to notice anything the pupils are up to.


You thought the staffroom was a hotbed of intrigue and gossip. Now you see that it is dull and consists of arguments about who stole your pen, your cup, your Sellotape and other vitally important issues.


When you went on school holidays abroad as a pupil, it was a chance to run amok, drink alcohol, conduct improper relationships and generally misbehave, while the teachers were asleep. Now you realise that school trips are all of the above - and more sometimes - but for the teachers, after the kids are all safely tucked up in bed.

Finally, as a pupil you thought that teaching was the worst job in the world and no sane person could ever want to do it. You now know that for all its stresses and strains, there's no job that's more varied, challenging and rewarding. And the joy of seeing pupils succeed makes up for a lot.

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