After 22 years at the chalkface, a Labour-voting teacher warns the Government that it faces a huge task if it is to win over staff tired of subsidising a bankrupt society
I admit it, mea culpa, I am a staffroom whinger, the horrible cynic who belittles all the wonderful progress that New Labour is going to make with the education system. I've been in the job since 1976, and I'm 46.
That gives me 22 years as a teacher and I'm very good because I've learned a lot over the years. In that time, I've introduced CSE examinations, Certificate of Education, GCSE and then tiered GCSE ... and now I'm girding my loins for the new A-level orders. I have written and discarded more courses in my subject than I care to remember.
I did my bit for flexible learning, differentiated learning, the national curriculum, assertive discipline, the Manpower Services Commission, technical and vocational education initiatives, GNVQs, governing bodies and the rest.
I've emphasised literacy, eased back on formal grammar teaching, reintroduced grammar teaching and re-emphasised literacy. Now I am learning to apply assertive discipline techniques after years of behaviour modification analysis and control methodologies.
I became a coursework examiner because I teach GCSE. I did my MEd, another Dip Ed, and a subject-specific certificate of education, as well as my initial degree and PGCE. I paid for all that additional training myself and invested thousands I could have spent on holidays with my family.
I never miss any offered and relevant in-service training after school, but draw the line at taking the time from school unless it is unavoidable. Along the way I became computer literate and a technophile, so I could pass on skills to my pupils.
I've done school trips and late nights without a "thank you". I subsidise my school by buying books and materials and attending PTA meetings and fund-raisers. I support the children I teach in all sorts of ways and still write to some ex-pupils.
I've been appraised, inspected, observed, interviewed, chewed-up and spat out by all manner of experts telling me what to do. In most cases they've been extremely nice in their reports but it does not mean a thing for my status or pay, and I really hated the experience.
My point is that I have been rewarded for my efforts and have two additional points on top of my regular salary and that is where my pay stops. It isn't good pay and it does not reflect my ability or my effort, but I'm far luckier than lots of equally good colleagues who will never go higher than main scale. I won't get promoted again now, because only the young are allowed the privilege of fresh ideas.
I work with 14-year-old children who have 39-year-old grandparents, whose families are fourth or fifth-generation unemployed and whom the police deem "out of control". Many started their sex lives at 12 and already smoke and drink heavily. We manage and they pass some exams but they won't get jobs because there aren't any.
I don't have carpet in any room I work in and the furniture is broken. I don't even work in the same room all the time. My office is a chair in the staff room and I don't have a personal phone or computer terminal. The windows and roof leak. Bright displays cover holes in the walls. It is cold in winter and too hot in summer. The building is unhealthy, badly designed, and, until recently, full of asbestos.
Some of my classes have more than 30 children, all of whom have a right to individual attention and some of whom have special needs. I haven't had a full set of textbooks in years and produce photocopies and worksheets in my own time. If children misbehave, it is, apparently, my fault for inadequate child-management skills.
I have been hectored by the press, badgered by parents, pressured by management, and insulted by politicians just for being a teacher. And in all that time, I voted Labour, hoping for the New Jerusalem of a well-funded and high-status education system.
It is going to take more than offering a lot of pay to one or two "superteachers" or maths graduates within my school to make me change my mind about how I feel about the education system.
Every time some bright-eyed and enthusiastic sixth-former says to me, "I'd like to be a teacher", my honest reply is, "Think hard, you'll get more satisfaction from a worthwhile career, and manual work is better paid." Not many teachers encourage their own children into the job.
I look at the people I work with and I haven't seen the incompetents described by Chris Woodhead. I see friends who care about other people's children and who could have earned far more outside their chosen profession if they had left teaching at the right time.
I see people who are exhausted, who are insulted daily by the children in their care, and who know that they are not valued by anyone very much. I've tried, really tried, because I felt that teaching was a mission to help others but at the end of the day - teaching is just a bloody awful job.
I don't want more pay personally, although it would help. As the pupils say, without irony "Teachers' cars aren't worth the effort of stealing!" I certainly don't want superteacher status because I can think of at least 10 or more people in my school who would deserve it better. Personally, I want credit for my achievements, a little status in my community, more time for my own children and significantly better conditions in which to work.
Professionally, I want peace to consolidate and reflect on my job. I've seen too many Government initiatives flower, wither, and then die to care about any more targets or aims, White Papers, league tables, curriculum Orders or standing Orders. I've worked through innumerable Secretaries of State for Education, and I feel that I can wear my despair and cynicism as the professional equivalent of a long service and good conduct medal.
I have earned a privileged insight into my job the hard way and - unlike some politicians - I know exactly what I am talking about. I am a good teacher because I appreciate and like children. I enjoy my subject, and I admire learning, but I am going to need a lot of help to trust a politician again.
The Government and my management will have to support me in order to get back some of the loyalty and sense of vocation that has been squandered needlessly. The years to retirement are going to be a long, hard haul and if I could leave teaching, I'd go tomorrow. I'm subsidising a bankrupt society with a lot more than charity, and I'm not sure I have much hope or faith left.
The writer, who teaches in a state comprehensive school, has asked to remain anonymous