Preaching for teaching

16th August 2013 at 01:00

I think my partner, Jack, would make a great teacher. I really do. The only trouble is, I'm a teacher and so he's heard me by turns whingeing, self-pitying, enthused, exasperated, inspired and exhausted.

And yet, his job as an accountant at a small, family-run firm can sometimes make stop-sign holders at roadworks look as if they have the edge on excitement. I just know mathematics teaching would butter his biscuit, and that's exactly what I planned to tell him the other night when he invited me round for dinner.

When I arrived at Jack's, I'd had one of those days: a lesson sabotaged by a flicked bogey; locked out of my classroom by a rampaging, energy drink-fuelled student; a lunchtime full of exam-panicked 17- and 18-year-olds; and, to top it all off, an after-school meeting on implementing the new Australian curriculum. After a couple of hours spent weaving strands and sub-strands into content, I felt so tied up in knots I honestly no longer gave a Gonski about any of it.

So I arrived late to the wholesome smell of bubbling stew, plonked my box of marking down on the table, gave an apology that contained a gripe, downed half a glass of red wine and asked him about his own day, which had not gone well.

I knew how he felt, I told him. No one wants to be frustrated, undervalued, not consulted. "It is certainly not that way in teaching," I assured him. "Not all the time, anyway." He looked at me enquiringly, so I blurted out, "If you're considering a career change, I think you'd make a great mathematics teacher!"

Jack slowly stirred his stew and took thoughtful sips from his wine glass while I gesticulated wildly, telling him that the school system desperately needs people like him, with real life experience and knowledge. And, in between gulps from my own glass, I held forth on the joys of varied and unexpected days; the chance to communicate your passion to lively young minds; the personal and professional challenges you face; the euphoria in your success; the opportunities for growth and development in your failures. I climbed higher on my soap box as I espoused education as a means of effecting real social change.

I noticed that Jack had walked over to my box of marking and took this as a positive sign. I declaimed the importance of nurturing creativity, independence, lifelong learning - not filling a pail but lighting a fire, as the saying goes. He was leafing through the folders and I felt a proprietorial pride. A rosy glow suffused me as I thought of how my students and I had grasped concepts together, explored ideas, made sense of the world we live in.

"What are you looking at?" I asked expectantly. Jack held up a folder with angry black lettering across it: "SCHOOL SUCKS." I put my wine glass down and blew air from my mouth that seemed to take with it all the warmth and satisfaction I had been feeling. "What the hell do the students know, anyway?" I said.

Jack returned to his stew. "The holidays are good," I added, and picked up my wine glass again.

Ellie Ward was the winner of a TES competition in Australia to find a new columnist.

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