What keeps me awake at night - Inspirational? Yes, but not every day

26th October 2012 at 01:00

Is there a teacher anywhere who has not dreamed of single-handedly turning a class that barely registers their presence into a class that sits in quiet, tidy rows, waiting with bated breath for the next lesson on calculus?

Is there a teacher who has not secretly imagined becoming the "quirky" teacher; the only one to get through to the surly pupils loitering at the school gate; the one who rounds them up and instils such passion for learning that they all go off to study law at university, coming back one day to say tearfully that if it wasn't for you they would be dealing drugs in the local park?

Countless Hollywood films depict these scenarios, but I watch with cynicism. It's not that I don't think they can happen. It's more that I'm frustrated that, no matter how great your commitment to your pupils or your enthusiasm to inspire them to reach their potential, in the real world you are often just too short of time or too exhausted to be as consistent as you need to be to achieve this kind of outcome.

And now these films are responsible for me lying awake at night. It's time for a change, and I have started thinking about job applications and reading TESjobs from cover to cover.

I have taught quite successfully for years now and my CV is up to date and impressive. But what deters me from applying for anything are the personal qualities demanded by schools. Adjectives such as "dynamic", "passionate", "inspirational", "creative", "exceptional" and "innovative" abound. It seems to me that some people have been watching too many films.

I can be all of these things. I can be "inspirational": there have been moments of glorious satisfaction when pupils have left a lesson actually talking among themselves about the poem we studied, their mobile phones untouched in their bags. I can be dynamic: classes of mine have sometimes charged around the room exchanging Shakespearean lines with each other and protesting when the bell went. My creative use of a whiteboard knows no limits (when it is working and correctly aligned). I think I may even have been "exceptional": a Year 10 pupil once thanked me for the lesson as he left the room.

But, however much I aspire to these qualities and however much I care passionately (and I do) about my pupils, I cannot pretend that I am consistent. I am rarely dynamic in the first lesson on a Monday morning, for example, and neither am I inspirational if I have to teach in a science lab. Generally I am highly motivated, but even that suffers after a lunchtime staff meeting.

Of course, no school wants mediocre staff. They want the type of teacher we all dream of being, but the reality is that these exist only in films. Perhaps, in my application letters, I can impress with my honesty instead.

The writer is an English teacher from Essex. To tell us what keeps you awake at night, email david.marley@tes.co.uk.

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