From the Editor - Reasons to be cheerful in 'interesting' times

6th January 2012 at 00:00

Few years have started as inauspiciously as 2012. There may have been a nastier whiff around the opening of 1939, but the forecasts for this year have been especially bleak. We should have been looking forward to Olympic hysteria and royal hangovers. Instead we are threatened with euro meltdown, everlasting debt and never-ending austerity. Even Cheryl Cole is unemployed.

We live, as the old Chinese curse says, in interesting times. "Interesting" to the Chinese meant plague, famine, dynastic collapse and the odd Mongol invasion. They didn't have in mind anaemic economic growth and a slight dip in the housing market. Times are bad for a lot of people and they will get worse for more. But it's not as if the four horsemen of the Apocalypse are saddled up and ready to wreak havoc on Woking. Things are bad, sure, but desperate they are not.

Teachers have several reasons to be cheerful. Admittedly, joy may not be the signature emotion on display this week as teachers contemplate a pension grab, frozen pay and surly Year 10s forcibly prized from their new Xboxes. But take a moment to reflect on a few positives.

For a start, teachers work in a growth industry. That may come as a surprise to those schools facing falling enrolments and budget cuts, but generally it's true. Education is not Woolworths, or publishing, or Greece. It may suffer difficulties, but it's not going to contract dramatically or disappear. The population is increasing and intakes will expand. Teaching is a relatively safe berth in a world pummelled by uncertainty.

And should you find yourself tossed overboard, take heart. Teaching skills make you highly employable. You manage, inspire and mould the most difficult customers on the planet: children. Some years back, the education department initiated a pilot to place teachers in non-teaching employment. It was so successful it was shut down lest a brain drain ensue.

Moreover, you get to work with kids daily. That's a plus, honest. However deep the mental scarring, it is undeniable that children are never dull and, as a rule, do not insist on sharing their holiday snaps, relationship problems or low-carb diets. And they are natural optimists. When the rest of the world is determined to wallow in the mire of despond, could you be in better company?

There is a further reason for optimism: teachers are on the cusp of becoming a strategic resource. Yep. Teaching is the new Opec. This is the knowledge economy and you control the well heads. At some point all that rhetoric about future wealth flowing from excellent education will crystallise into a realisation that good teachers have power and governments should panic. "We're not striking, just moving to Dubai." That should focus minds and open wallets.

Not convinced? Well, is there any profit in continually rehearsing doom? Churchill, at a slightly more desperate hour than this, did not say, "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat, so what's the point?".

A few months after that speech, in October 1940, our grandparents, dodging air raids, started work on what would become the 1944 Education Act. Five years before victory and facing a Nazi invasion, they were contemplating a future educational world in which "the privileges which hitherto have been enjoyed only by the few, shall be far more widely shared".

Do we really have any excuse to feel sorry for ourselves? Happy New Year. And tell the doom-mongers to bugger off.

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