'Teaching is, quite simply, the best job in the world...'

12th January 2001 at 00:00
It does mean your work is never done, and that you'll be cursed with mind-numbing fatigue. But nothing can match the sense of achievement you feel at the end of the day, says Gemma Warren.

Welcome to the most stimulating, energising, fascinating, frustrating, downright infuriating job in the world. You're right to be apprehensive, and beside yourself with excitement - during your years of teaching practice and induction, you'll find yourself, quite literally, on an emotional and intellectual roller coaster.

Don't think for one minute that I can give you an exemplary guide to how to do it right. Some of my teaching practice mistakes read like a cross between a Monty Python sketch and your worst nightmare. But I am now entering my third year of teaching - which makes me practically an OAP.

One of the best things about teaching is the support you get from your colleagues. When you enter a school, you really do enter a community of teachers, parents and, most importantly, children. There are horror stories, but they are the exception. Sharing coffee, expertise, anecdotes, nights out, aspirin and laughs are what teachers do best.

Newly-qualified teachers are analysed like laboratory specimens. We are discussed, dissected and treated in the media like we must have just escaped the last passage back to Mars. No one can understand why you're doing it and, at some points, you won't be able to either. But be reassured: you have made the right decision.

First, let's get all the bad things out of the way. Let's deal with the problems - because there are some - and the reasons why all your friends think you've taken leave of your senses. There are certain things that I can't stand about being a teacher.

To start: marking, preparation, marking, marking, marking. A teacher's work is never done, and anyone who thinks you just walk into your classroom at 8.30 every morning and begin to teach, is bonkers.

There's the admin: lots of forms to fill in - especially from the DfEE - money to store in a variety of ancient tins, timetables to organise, huge amounts of written planning, information about children to collect and, for secondary teachers, paperwork for exam boards, who seem to think you've got nothing better to do than fill in endless forms for endless children. Forms which, rumour has it, are never even read when you finally send them in!

Then there's the fatigue. I am cursed with needing eight hours' sleep a night, and sometimes you realise that there simply isn't enough time in the day. Children don't understand about tiredness, especially boys, who don't learn to walk rather than run until they hit Year 9. You have to work over the weekend, and you get no sympathy. You get long holidays, and with them, resentment from all your non-teaching friends and family. You become incapable of leaving your work at home, and spend the last few weeks of the summer pining for school, and hating yourself for doing it, and generally working yourself up into such an emotional state that by the time term starts, you're knackered again.

Children can sometimes be rude and arrogant. Parents can sometimes be rude and arrogant. I didn't learn to take responsibility for m own learning until I was at university, but we expect children to do it from a very young age, and it's frustrating when you know that they really don't care about what you're teaching them. They can take and take and it doesn't feel like they're giving anything back.

You've got to be realistic about all of this, because teaching does have its down sides, and these can hit student teachers and NQTs hard. I don't think there's any point not being honest about what you will face. But there has to be a reason why I keep on doing it, and why lots of your colleagues have done it for 20 years or more - and it goes beyond needing to pay the mortgage.

Teaching is, quite simply, the best job in the world. It will give you highs that no amount of caffeine can ever achieve, and it inspires such passionate debate nationally and internationally precisely because it is a job that involves real people, real emotions and real experiences. Children don't break down or crash like computers. You can't put them on call-waiting, or refuse to return their letters.

You get the opportunity to be creative and imaginative - you never stop thinking and re-thinking. There are some interesting ways of teaching about eggs and sperm and it's up to you to discover them. You're surfing a continuous learning curve and you develop personally as well as professionally. You face tests and challenges every day, and each new lesson brings the chance to try something new, or to re-work something that needs thought, or to think "what if?" Nothing can match the sense of achievement you feel at the end of the day. Plus, you will get the most supportive, humorous colleagues in the world. You will belong to a true community which means being served by your sixth-formers in Sainsbury's, or having an impromptu game of football with your Year 5s when you run into them in the park, comforting children (and often parents too) when there's a family crisis, or simply admiring Cynthia's new shoes.

You work with children at all stages of their lives, which is a true privilege. The enthusiasm of younger children, the vulnerability of teenagers, the earnestness of sixth-formers and the chance to value their achievements is a continuous incentive. You have an emotional engagement that comes with your work that will find you furiously arguing with strangers in the pub when you hear someone abusing children or the education system. Your pastoral work will never fail to move and inspire you and, occasionally, you will get the feeling that you are "making things better".

And there is the moral superiority. And the holidays. And the detailed knowledge of the top 40 which you can put down to professional development. The pros really do outweigh the cons. Every teacher experiences their professional life in different ways, and as your time in teaching progresses, you'll be able to add your own highs and lows to my list.

more on page 46 Gemma Warren teaches at the Latymer School, Edmonton, in north London. She is also a columnist in Friday magazine. This is an extract from a guide she has written for new teachers. Price: pound;2.99. Order from the TES bookshop at www.tes.co.uk, or call the shop on 01454 617370.

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