Inside story

14th August 2015 at 01:00

To say that I love my job teaching English is an understatement. I could bore for England about it. Thankfully, many of my friends are medics and never seem to tire of hearing stories about what we do. It's not that their jobs aren't worthwhile - my tales of William's exquisite creative writing pale in comparison with lives saved and blood spilled - but I can always marshal up something extraordinary from the previous term.

I'm off to a party this weekend so I'm beginning to gather speed with the tales I will weave. I know that no one really wants to hear about the seemingly endless trips to Dubai that some of my students have been on, and that generally people are more inclined to lean in to a story about a child learning to read through an Argos catalogue (I kid you not).

But I do think that our profession has something of a fairy-tale quality about it which utterly delights those who are not involved. The daily grind of books marked (or not, depending on your social life), playground duty in the howling wind and horizontal rain and constant government initiatives are more than enough to make a grown woman cry, yet still the faces of strangers light up when they hear that you're a teacher.

Is it that they remember their teachers of yesteryear? Possibly. All of us have one teacher who changed the course of our lives. (Mine was Mr Paul DeQuincy; he was my secondary English teacher. If you're reading this: THANK YOU.) The nostalgic way in which many of us remember our teachers is evident in the "My Best Teacher" section in this magazine (see page 28).

Perhaps it's more to do with economics - lay folk are equal parts aghast and in awe that intelligent people go into a profession with such rubbish pay. They would do it "for the children" too, of course, but they couldn't possibly give up the second home in the south of France.

I do have another idea, however: jealousy. Perhaps they are overwhelmed with envy at the hope and possibility that is embedded in every day that we walk into a school. We have the lives of our students in our hands; we can light up their dreams and ambitions with a single word or a look. Now that, my friends, is true - and terrifying - power.

Whether you've been teaching for a year, a quarter of a century or somewhere in between, I am sure that you have had those moments of pure joy when a student's light bulb flicks on. They may not come thick and fast - in fact, they may come only rarely - but come they do and come they will.

So, as I settle back to choosing my outfit, washing my hair and readying my stories for this weekend's outing (at a venue I would no doubt not be able to afford for my own party), I remind myself of that staggeringly beautiful Mark Twain quote: "The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why."

Zareena Huber teaches English at a school in North London

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