Never say die hard

31st January 2014 at 00:00

I've just seen BBC Three's Tough Young Teachers. The series follows the fortunes of a bunch of bright young graduates recruited to the Teach First programme as they try to "make a difference" to the lives of inner-city students after only six weeks' training.

The trainee teachers' superior social backgrounds - they all look as though they write thank you letters and drive to work in horse-drawn carriages - clash with the grittier social milieu of the kids, so at times it feels like the narrative love child of Brideshead Revisited and The Wire. But otherwise the series relies on the stock school documentary conventions, with panoramas of desolate buildings, disruptive students and inspirational posters.

This tightly edited version of classroom life offers a skewed view of teaching in an inner-city school. The leader of one of the participating institutions has already complained that he was misled about the intention of the programme; he thought the producers wanted to show how Teach First worked, not spotlight troubled kids. But since aspirational recruitment initiatives aren't half as compelling as watching teenagers roll their eyes, the camera lens clings to the students. As a result, the series delivers another hyped-up view of the profession.

Teaching is rarely the all-action adventure that television companies would have us believe. Those seconds we spend chasing villains across school or talking students down from top-storey psychological ledges are nothing compared with the mind-numbing hours devoted to inputting data into columns. But sad-eyed, grey-faced people staring hopelessly at their keyboards doesn't make for gripping viewing.

Of course, there's a danger that this will attract the wrong sort of people to teaching. Wannabe action heroes will be disappointed when they discover that instead of rodeo riding rebels into submission, they'll be perusing a 36-page document outlining the school's data policy. The fact that almost half of all new teaching staff leave the profession within the first five years is, I suspect, because they had signed up to be superheroes, not desk jockeys.

For similar reasons, I nearly left my job last week. I was interviewed for a non-teaching post with a gentler gradient: every hour didn't give rise to a further two hours of uphill admin. But on the day of my interview, my former non-teaching life flashed before my eyes: as a teacher I make a difference, in this job I'd just make meetings. Finally, the news that one of my students had been offered a place at the University of Cambridge put some fire back in my belly. I may wear the wide-fitting shoes of a middle-aged teacher, but I have the vest and stomach of John McClane. So I'm going stick to pulling kids from burning buildings, shouting "Yippee-ki-yay, spreadsheets!" as I go.

Beverley Briggs is a secondary school teacher from County Durham, England.

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