Twenty years on, what will I miss?

26th August 2005 at 01:00
I have just given up teaching due to ill-health. After 20 years at the chalkface, there are things I will miss and others I am more than happy to leave behind.

On the plus side, I have enjoyed seeing pupils grow in confidence in my subject, chemistry. It is a great pleasure when pupils "get it" - when arcane concepts such as covalent bonding, electrochemistry and industrial processes at last become clear to them. And the contented buzz of pupils doing chemistry practical - much more enjoyable than theory - was always music to my ears.

I have admired hard-working pupils of whatever ability, and gained immense satisfaction from their C-grade GCSEs on results day. The disappointment - as well as the euphoria - of results day itself has impressed me: pupils who fail usually blame themselves and not the teacher. The highlight of my year was the superb drama production where less confident pupils blossomed, while hot summer sports days often gave the less able the opportunity to excel.

I will experience no more the Year 11 "worry time" just before GCSEs, and the pupils' anticipation of the big wide world beckoning; the losing of friends and the human side, at last, shown to much-admired teachers. I'll no longer laugh at the amusing wrong answers in tests and exams, so logical to them, of the less able pupils. To the question "name an element," one pupil replied: "There's one in my electric kettle but I don't know his name."

Every year saw the arrival of fresh-faced, starry-eyed Year 7 pupils with equipment all bright and shiny. I will miss the thanks, letters and presents from grateful pupils. And there will be no more parents' evenings, where so much gratitude is shown for what you have done for their offspring.

The camaraderie of colleagues will be much missed, too: the quizzes in the lunch hour, the catharsis of moaning together about recalcitrant pupils, and the helping hand willingly given to struggling colleagues.

Some things I definitely won't miss. Former secretary of state for education Kenneth Baker will be remembered for the training days that bear his name, but little else: never have so many teachers gathered together to do so little of value. Never again will I have to wrestle with all-important government and local authority initiatives, which, not long after, find themselves prostrate on the funeral pyre with other plans and policies. Then there were the assemblies, where hundreds of voices were raised in supplication to a God in whom very few truly believed, and the same well-meaning stories were expounded by teachers leading the sessions.

I'll no longer be regimented by the constant tintinnabulation governing my day, heralding the arrival of yet another class. I won't have to contend with those who tried to wreck my lessons, hindering the education of the well- behaved pupils. I hated the bullying - rare, thankfully - where the excluded and friendless one felt wretched and lacked self esteem.

The cover list, designed to inject gloom into the happiest teacher, will also be behind me. While covering a lesson, I would watch the clock thinking "what am I doing here?" - and "why me again?" I also want to forget exam invigilation, where picking up a dropped pencil was the highlight of a mind-numbingly boring hour.

My time will not be wasted by any more staff initiatives with which one had to comply, though I wanted to scream "How stupid!" I won't have to sit through meetings for the sake of meetings. My mind and best pedagogic endeavours will not be taxed by lethargy and indifference on the part of pupils who had ability.

The spectacle of irrational teachers in whom panic was engendered by an Estyn inspection will be a distant memory. And those old policies, dusted off for the inspectors to thumb through to check if we were compliant, can be placed back on the shelves.

Finally - no more non-school uniform days. They were used as an excuse by some pupils to disrespect staff, while they drove some of the poorer pupils to stay at home.

Would I do it all again? It's a close-run thing, but probably.

Jim Goodall is a retired chemistry teacher and secretary of the NASUWT's Torfaen branch

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