Say it loud: I love teaching

23rd April 2004 at 01:00
It might be unfashionable, but Ted Wragg is happy to be reminded of the reasons he entered the profession

A PASSION FOR TEACHING. By Christopher Day. RoutledgeFalmer pound;21.99.

Passion? Steady on. "Passion" and "passionate" are words that have been socially dry-cleaned. They might be used privately about teaching, among consenting adults, so to speak, but to proclaim publicly your devotion to your profession is to invite scorn for your embarrassing sentimentality, or at best a nervous giggle.

The reason is that we British are supposed to be cool about life, especially anything to do with work (traditionally people have to say they hate their jobs, in locations such as the pub). Upper lips must be firmly non-quivering at all times. We can be "keen", "committed", or "enthusiastic", but for goodness' sake don't ever exude passion publicly, or you may embarrass society to the point where its representatives, in their white coats, lead you gently away to the Kenneth Baker Rest Home for Knackered Teachers.

So I congratulate Christopher Day, professor of education at Nottingham University, for having the courage to put the word up front in the title of this interesting and unusual book. It might have been safer to conceal it in a subtitle, as in "Emotions and the Teaching Profession: a special study of the concept of passion", or even skip it altogether and call the book "Emotional Aspects of Teaching", but he is confident enough to go the whole hog.

Only Robert Fried, the US educationist who writes a thought-provoking foreword, has gone further, by titling his own book The Passionate Teacher, thereby risking its appearance on the newsagent's top shelf, beyond the reach of the young and impressionable. Love of teaching is not a topic that has inspired a wealth of literature.

Fortunately this book offers a comprehensive account of the topic. The chapter headings are as up-front as the book title suggests: "Why passion is essential"; "The passion of commitment: job satisfaction, motivation and self-efficacy"; "A passion for learning and development". Other chapters cover moral purposes, emotions and identities, building knowledge about practice, learning communities, and how teachers can sustain their passion for teaching.

Such notions inevitably clash with the standards and accountability agenda.

In sections covering these topics the book reminds me a little of Marshall McLuhan, who wrote about hot and cold media (radio was hot, because we have to imagine ourselves into its sounds; television was colder). Government policies are cold, detached, impersonal, embodied in print, whereas teachers' personal enthusiasms are alive and warm-blooded.

The author argues that measurable standards, the contemporary driving force in education, account for little in teaching and learning. He laments that the use of behavioural competencies hides broader moral purposes and that this dreary climate inhibits the recruitment and eventual retention of teachers. Personal emotions and mechanical target-setting are unhappy bedfellows.

Passion has to have a context, and children's learning and well-being lie at the heart of it. Day warns about compassion fatigue, whereby teachers become drained through getting too close to children's personal circumstances and problems. The reward, of course, is that many children appreciate what teachers do for them, as they are sometimes the only form of stability in their lives.

He quotes children's views of teachers in their own words: "She had an ability to make us all feel important. I thought she was my friend; everyone in the class did too. I hated history, but I liked her, and so I paid particular attention"; "His energy captures me even after 10 years.


I found the chapter on the passion of commitment to be one of the most interesting and illuminating sections. "Every day's a challengeI I've no wish to do anything other than what I'm doingI Over the years, enthusiasm seems to grow rather than wane," says one headteacher. Many teachers quoted by Day stress that it is their personal passion for teaching that has kept them going, even when they dissent from official policy, often because they work in a supportive environment.

The notion of collegiality is explored in the chapter on passionate learning communities. The stress is on respect, caring, inclusiveness, trust, empowerment and commitment. More importantly, the author looks at change. It would be easy to see passion as a force for conservatism: "I am passionate about what I do, so I don't want to change." Day argues that successful leaders capitalise on teachers' personal values, so that change is not merely structural, but rather tailored to individuals and their beliefs.

The final chapter is about sustaining passion. It is all very well generating an occasional burst of enthusiasm, but teaching is more for stayers than for sprinters. There are quotes from teachers who have simply ground to a halt, such as the one who states: "After teaching for 14 years, I became physically and mentally fatigued".Another says: "Even though the school was one of the worst in the area, I enjoyed myself because the children were wonderful. However, things gradually wore me down."

The balance between life and work has become crucial in a profession where the demands of the job can be debilitating. Teachers describe how their child sits watching a video, or their partner takes the children out somewhere, so they can get on with their lesson preparation and marking.

Day urges teachers to stay connected, support one another, reaffirm their fundamental passion for the job.

He ends the book by saying that passionate teachers are driven by hope rather than optimism; they know their craft and they like their pupils.

"They are not heroes and heroines, but they are heroic." Inevitably, in a book such as this, the central topic has spilled over into teaching itself: those who do it and the circumstances in which they work.

I found the book engaging, a good blend of theoretical considerations and practical examples. Certainly, at a time when many teachers are over 40 and feel the strains of a demanding job, it is good to be reminded of the fundamental reasons why most entered the profession. Those who are wilting, and indeed those who are not, will enjoy reading it.

Ted Wragg is emeritus professor of education at Exeter University

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today