First encounters

7th July 2000 at 01:00
Hannah Wroe writes in praise of teaching

Hands up all those who have ever been told how brave they are to be teachers. I have. Does the following scenario sound familiar? You bump into an old friend, who, sooner or later, asks what you are doing now. You explain that you are training to be a teacher. The friend either grimaces or looks vaguely impressed. Then he or she invariably says something like:

"Oh aren't you brave, I couldn't do that."

This reaction suggests that although the person admires what you are doing in some way, he or she is not quite sure why you would want to do it. I wonder if marathon runners get a similar sort of reaction when they tell people how exhausting their last race was.

You don't have to look too far to understand how this opinion is formed. Pick up any newspaper or listen to any news bulletin and you are likely to get the impression that teaching is far more about endurance than enjoyment; that teachers are constantly having to adjust to whatever demands the political climate makes of them just to survive in the job; that we are all stubbornly putting one weary foot in front of the other with one eye on the horizon in the vain hope of some encouragement; that morale is so low that all any teacher ever thinks about is giving up and getting out while he or she still has a future. Where is the joy in that? Where is the satisfaction? Why on earth would you want to do this job?

They say there are two sides to every story. Here is mine. The last year has been full of challenges. Every PGCE student will recognise them - having to overcome the stage fright, juggling the demands of school and university and what used to be my life, dealing with the honesty of the assessment process.

Yet, forall the rigours, I have never taken so much pride in what I do as I do now. I can think of no other job that puts me in the privileged position teaching does. It has so much to offer - the sense of mutual achievement when a child succeeds, the creative pleasure in producing a good lesson, the chance to get up in the morning knowing there is something meaningful to do that day. The list goes on. There is so much good to talk about. So why don't we start talking about it?

Don't get me wrong. I want a decent wage too. I want to be trusted by the Government to do my job properly. I want to work with a national strategy that acknowledges the realities of the classroom for a change. But it seems to me that there is so much we can still do to improve the status of our profession ourselves.

The irony is that the skills we need to do this are the same skills we use successfully in the classroom every day. How do you help a pupil with low self-esteem? You find out what he or she does well, you celebrate that achievement, you talk to the child's family about it, you actively encourage that pupil in any way you can, you tell other teachers about how well he or she is doing, you set targets for the future.

We are experts in enhancing the opinions of others. If we try to take every opportunity to accentuate the positive about what we achieve, I believe we can improve the environment in which we achieve it. Who knows, maybe one day you will bump into another old friend. Sooner or later he or she will ask what you are doing now. You will say you are a teacher. Think how refreshing it would be if the person said: "Oh aren't you lucky, I wouldn't mind doing that."

Hannah Wroe is studying for a PGCE in English at Bristol university

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