Romance of holidays

14th November 2003 at 00:00
Our 'TES' survey confirms the widely held view that the most attractive aspects of teaching are the holidays and job security. But, as Phil Revell reports, the results also address contentious and negative views

More than half the group of would-be teachers who took part in our TES survey rated the 14-weeks' holiday and employment security as the most attractive aspects of the job.

Other attractive factors were the availability of jobs across the country and the opportunities for promotion.

One student talked about the "better quality of life", another stressed that he would be able to see his children more often that he currently does.

Asked to explain the figures, one PGCE tutor pointed out that the average age of the TES group is 28, a figure that reflects the age of initial teacher training students generally. "These people aren't fresh out of college," he said. "They've worked in other jobs, they know what it's like to have just four or five weeks' holiday a year."

Asked to rate the most positive aspects of working as a teacher, our group went for strikingly traditional answers. They wanted to make a difference to children's lives and pass on knowledge and skills. "Working with children" came out high on the list, but being involved in an academic discipline trailed at fourth.

This reignites the debate about whether teaching is a vocation or a job.

Our question on this topic divided opinions. "I find it demeaning to refer to it as a vocation," said one. "The phrase is too often used to justify teachers' pay and working conditions. Teaching is at least as demanding as any other graduate profession."

In contrast, another respondent said: "Teaching has to have a vocational aspect to it. Too many people get into teaching for the wrong reasons and it's the pupils and the reputation of other teachers that suffer."

But that student went on to emphasise: "I feel that few jobs are true vocations. I may wish to move out of teaching. I think teachers should be encouraged to apply the same levels of professionalism and commitment as in the rest of the job market, and not be scared of moving jobs."

On balance, the majority of our sample saw the job of teaching as being different to other work. This outlook was typical: "In order to be a successful teacher one cannot simply view it as a way to earn a crust for oneself. However, I have no intention of letting teaching become my life."

Ministers need to take note of the group's opinions on the least attractive aspects of teaching. Weeks before taking a class, they felt that workload and government prescription were the biggest negatives. "I'm worried about the preparation and marking," said one. "It's to be what teachers talk about most."

Pupil behaviour came third on the least-attractive list, with many of the group nervous about how they would fare in the classroom. When asked for their greatest concern about their fast-approaching classroom experience, one replied: "Discipline and the unruly elements."

This preoccupation was underlined by one GTP (graduate teacher programme) student, who commented: "Behaviour management is a big concern, especially on the GTP programme where there is a solo teaching element from the first week."

For some, the training course was the realisation of an ambition they had held for years. "I have wanted to be a teacher since the age of 14," said one. "This is something I've wanted to do since leaving school," said another.

But a number of the group were hedging their bets. "I'm still undecided about whether teaching will be the career for me," admitted one of the students. "I like the classroom side. But I need to know about the bureaucratic side. It will depend on whether the scare stories about workload and bureaucracy are as bad as have been painted."

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