THE reason I became a teacher, if I’m honest, is that I didn’t have a clue what to do when my job broke down due to redundancy.
On the face of it, I felt it was time at 27 to try to put down some roots and pay my way.
Although this is what I wanted to do, I was unsure how to go about it. I am reminded of the quote by US D-Day soldiers when asked how it was all going, the reply was: “Snafu” (meaning, situation normal: all fucked up). Life really was that bad.
Teaching was an easy step from moving from the voluntary-sector youth service, which was then being cut or “restructured” — whichever term you prefer.
I had experienced the absolute chaos that was trying to make ends meet with funding bids from companies and matched funding with bizarre and unrelated firms, which were clearly only in it for the money or for some marketing ploy that was using their connection with the disadvantaged to further their own advantage.
It had become a world that seemed to me to be at complete odds with what we were all there for.
It was a desolate world where projects disappeared overnight, jobs became absorbed into others and the people for whom the service was supposed to support were hardly spoken of.
It was almost as if it was universally acknowledged that they were damn unfortunate and were lucky to be helped at all once all this change had stopped happening.
Some might say that people enter the teaching profession for different reasons. However, I would assert that we came into teaching for the very same reason.
We may have had different circumstances or opportunities or come from different directions, but the very reason for choosing to become a teacher is one that is common to us all.
A reason that transcends personal ambition or monetary gain or altruism: it was that we felt we were part of a movement that connected the experience of education with a direct improvement in living and working conditions for children and their families.
Simply put, it was about changing society for in the hope of creating a better, more equal one. We all know you’re never going to get rich being a teacher.
Why on Earth does this sound so ridiculous now? Why does this sentiment seem so far away from the way young teachers are receiving their “training” in the profession? Why are we made to feel so remote from what education now encompasses when we suggest that it is about creating greater opportunities in the world and readjusting the gap in inequality?
A colleague recently commented that we used to put in so many hours. The concerts, the school plays, the camping trips, etc all spent with little personal concern because it was to the benefit of the children.
It was part of a movement that was felt and seen to be equal, fully valued and held up as the reason we were called educators, that these activities were integral to what we did as teachers.
We were happy to do it. The commitment was worth it. It was what schools did. We could see the benefit to the students and they did too. The parents and the community were on board. Management was utterly supportive and free to invest time in such fundamentals. My god, that was a long time ago.
We are now in an environment where teachers are required to work longer. That’s right. We are “required” to work longer.
Am I suggesting that teachers are not doing their best or trying as hard as they can? Has the trust disappeared so far that the management is saying that we should be made to work extra hours? How have they got it so wrong?
Teachers, and students, only work when there is complicity, when there is harmony.
Subjects need to be seen in conjunction with one another. Each student studies a range of subjects. These subjects must be seen in equal and fundamental balance with one another.
In no way should science be seen as more important than art.
Why are our private schools funding the arts when our state-run schools are having to make devastating budgetary decisions resulting in the arts being cut? This is clearly wrong and needs addressing as a matter of urgency.
There are some who thrive while others stagnate. Teachers, of course, should be nurtured, encouraged and affirmed.
Some are. Many are not. There are many examples where teachers are being explicitly compared to each other to justify pay restraint and limit professional development.
Young teachers are joining the profession and are clearly unaware of the history and context of schools.
Unions and rights at work and the history of the struggle for teachers’ pay and conditions are unknown to them. Worse, many do not seem interested.
The divisions that are painfully felt by staff in schools have left a very dark shadow over what schools will be in the future.
There is very little harmony between teachers and the departments in which they teach.
There are doubtless examples of schools where teachers are proving the opposite: teachers excited by educational concepts, well-funded and encouraged by their sponsors. This will always work. But is it sustainable and will it work for us all?
To me the future seems bleak. Funding formulas have allowed this government to push through fatal funding cuts, forcing schools to make budget decisions that play to the lowest denominator and we at the coalface have to deal with a pathetic make-ends-meet philosophy.
All those years ago, teaching was a means to achieving some moral compass, a meaningful and useful contribution to society.
Snafu is now more appropriate, it seems to me.
If we are not careful and we do not change our priorities for education, then Snafu will be the new normal.