There’s no getting away from it: teaching is really, really tough.
We put ourselves through the mill every single year, taking on an array of mental, physical and emotional challenges as we try to do our very best. Often, we achieve success not because of the powers that be but in spite in them – some of the individuals in our classes might make the job more difficult than it needs to be but their efforts can pale in comparison to the impact of Education Scotland, the Scottish Qualifications Authority and the Scottish government.
Enormous workload, real-terms pay cuts, constant false dawns and the grinding monotony of being used as a political football (did you hear that we’re living in the early days of a “renaissance” in Scottish education?) all take a toll. And it’s normal to feel that this combination of factors is chipping away – soundbite by soundbite, form by form, pointless meeting by pointless meeting – at our love for the job. We work within a system predicated on the exploitation of our dedication and an endless supply of free labour.
A thank-you makes all the difference
Yet most of us keep coming back every August, ready to go through it all again and hoping – albeit recently in vain – that this year might be a bit less traumatic than the last. Sure, the job security is valuable when people have bills to pay, and the holidays are great, but I’ve long believed that if a teacher’s primary motivation is anything other than helping people then they should go and find another profession. PR perhaps. Or politics. Education is about improving lives, and being an educator is about improving other people’s lives. We don’t often get to see the real fruit of our efforts; often we aren’t even thanked for them. It doesn’t matter, because that’s not why we’re teachers.
But then, every so often, a student takes a little bit of time out of their life to do something as simple as say “thank you”, just like one of my students did a few weeks after the end of their exams when they wrote me this letter:
Thank you for this year. I really enjoyed studying English. I am very grateful to you for teaching us, particularly about War Photographer [Carol Ann Duffy], Spiritual Damage [Fergal Keane] and Refugee Mother and Child [Chinua Achebe], as the insight into these pieces and their context are what has inspired me to know what I want to do in my adult life. Learning about Rwanda, in particular, changed how I view the world and opened my eyes significantly. Have a wonderful summer and thank you!
Teaching is exhausting, maddening and almost certainly life-shortening – and it’s totally worth it.
James McEnaney is an FE lecturer and journalist, who previously worked as a secondary English teacher