We may not be Nasa, but we can reach the stars

25th September 2009 at 01:00

There is a chill wind blowing, and it's not solely the onset of autumn. The inspectors are coming and, like a flock of ravens, their slow descent is blocking light and creating a chill around our hearts. Mutterings have begun about quitting teaching, so the advert for "volunteers to eat chocolate for a year" was intriguing. It stipulated eating two pieces of Belgian chocolate a day for 365 days. Not exactly challenging - I eat that much by morning break.

Interest was further awakened by a radio advert for a full-time zombie to work at the London Bridge Experience at a salary of #163;30k. Picture the scene: you are a young postgraduate with a mountain of student debt and a starting salary of less than #163;20k. Enter teaching or, for more money, take a job that requires no more skill than looking as if you've been raised from the dead?

Even better was the advert to be the new witch of Wookey Hole on #163;50k a year. I was not surprised to find out that two teachers made the shortlist. Job skills included the ability to cackle maniacally. Well, we can all do that when faced with the latest policy "initiative" to check up on how well we are "delivering outcomes".

Then I spotted my real dream job: to be part of a three-year Nasa crew to Mars. I was six years old when my father plonked me down in front of the TV set to watch the Apollo 11 moon landing: "This is history. You'll remember this all your life."

And I have. I still gaze up at the Sea of Tranquillity and want to go there - oh, how I want to go there, if only as an Ofsted-free zone. As a child I wrote to Nasa asking what the job requirements were and, amazingly, got a reply. The initial excitement was dampened, however, when I was told I would need to focus on sciences and maths as well as languages. I was thanked for my interest and invited to reapply when I was past 21 years of age.

I dig out my CV. To be part of the right stuff I need a degree in engineering or maths. Not good. Nor am I a pilot - I guess that's tougher than being qualified to drive the school minibus. Bizarrely, 65 per cent of astronauts have been in the Scouts; for one who was expelled from the Brownies, that doesn't bode well. Health-wise, one needs stable blood pressure. Teaching + inspection = stable blood pressure? Answer: no.

Back down to earth, I remember that I do actually love my job. Being a teacher isn't what I do, it's what I am. This happy glow doesn't last as I read the recent think-tank report, one of whose authors is the former Ofsted chief Chris Woodhead, claiming that England's primary school teachers are the least educated in the developed world. Some 95 per cent of them have at least a 2:2 degree; maybe not enough to make the Nasa elite, yet certainly better than most.

Do the report's writers pause to consider what role they have played in making our profession so unattractive to top graduates? "Join teaching and deliver outcomes! Endure mediocre pay, along with endless interfering from policy writers." I didn't join to "deliver outcomes" but to unlock minds, hearts and imaginations.

I won't make it to Mars. I doubt I will get to the moon. But I can help children reach for the stars, which is more than any "initiative" dreamt up by a think tank will ever do.

Julie Greenhough, English teacher at an independent school in London.

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