He stays because of the children

16th March 2007 at 00:00
Kate Figes has always respected teachers, now she's in awe of what they do I now have three children in school. They are 13, 17 and 52 and there is no contest over who needs the most support. My husband is a newly qualified teacher in a primary school in the east London borough of Hackney. Say no more.

The teenagers brazen through normal daily difficulties with peers, early mornings and the pressures of coursework and homework deadlines with comparative ease. But my husband's life and sense of self worth seems to have been sucked up by lesson planning, trying to control appalling behaviour (he has the naughtiest class in the school) and grappling with the moral question as to whether they are actually learning anything.

Most evenings are spent trying to bolster his confidence and keep him going back to complete this year. If anyone says to us, "Ahh, but the holidays..."

I want to punch them, for I have never known him work so hard, or go to bed so early or sleep so little. He has to work most of the holidays just to catch up with the paperwork.

I have always had the greatest respect for teachers. Now I am simply in awe of what they do.

My husband also has several children with special needs in his class, which has a range of abilities that seem to go from the very stupid to the very bright, and he is expected to help them all without streaming or much in the way of support. A skilled teacher with a decade of experience might be able to do it, but someone as sensitive and good as my husband just comes home each day feeling as if he has failed and our entire family bears the brunt of that consequence.

When he came home after a bad day working in foreign news at the BBC he did at least have the energy to bark at me like I was his PA until I reminded him where he was. When he left the BBC to work for charities, for Business in the Community and then as chief executive of Children's Express, he came home angry about the state of the world and passionate about education and improving the lot of children.

The next logical step was to train as a teacher. Now he comes home looking grey, shattered and too hoarse from "talking" to the kids to bark at all.

I support him as much as I can but inevitably that tries my patience. You can only say: "You're going to be a brilliant teacher and of course they are learning something," so many times and still sound believable.

At other times I feel more like Lady Macbeth. Just get on with it, find a way to get through this year, toughen up. There are women who do this with their own families to support at the end of the day. Maybe that's why there are so few men teaching in primary schools - women may be tougher but it is the men who are simply not prepared to put up with these conditions.

Instead of patting himself on the back for still being there, my husband insists that it is only meeting the right "satisfactory" standards that matter. But what I see are all the other ways that he has succeeded supremely. He has provided a difficult class, where the boys far outweigh the girls, with a stable male role model.

Their behaviour used to be appalling all of the time. Now, because he has made them happier, there are large enough spaces for them to learn. He is gentle and engaging with children with special needs. He sees the person inside that difficult child and connects. He has inspired them with history, twice as much as it seems he should have taught in one term according to the national curriculum. He gets notes from some of the children saying, "You are the best teacher I have ever had."

He says he hates the job, but he stays because of the children. He has great experience of the wider world, a sense of humour and stamina and much to give. That's why he is and will be a fantastic teacher. I just hope I have enough of what it takes to keep him there...

Kate Figes is an author. Her latest book, The Big Fat Bitch Book, is published by Virago at pound;9.99

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