My job isn’t like that: Teacher
We’re led to believe that teaching is for anyone passionate, enthusiastic and imaginative. But is that really the case? There are plenty of films about life in schools, yet the focus is usually on the beautiful but geeky high school student. So what’s life really like for a teacher? We take some of the biggest teaching myths and find out the truth.
Short days, long holidays
The school day might be 9am-3pm but that’s just the time teachers spend actually teaching. Planning lessons, ordering equipment and marking work all has to be done in your own time. Plus there are parents’ evenings, end of term concerts, clubs etc. that take place before and after school.
Emma*, a primary school teacher in London, has anything but a short day. “I work from 7.15am to 6pm minimum every day and mark 60 books each evening. I use my holidays to plan lessons, seating plans and my classroom displays. Right now I’m working even longer days because we have Ofsted coming in and everything has to be perfect. I’ve got so much paperwork!”.
Supply teachers are lazy
We’d all have loved Jack Black to rock up to our school and help us form a band. Unfortunately many experienced supply teachers have to resort to dull activities because they didn’t have enough information or notice to plan a proper lesson. No wonder kids see them as easy targets.
Alex, an ex-supply teacher from Plymouth, knows there’s a stigma attached. “Obviously we don’t know the pupils so full-time teachers think we don’t care as much. Some supply teachers just get the kids to make posters, but most of us do care and try to teach a proper lesson, even if we’ve only had a few hours’ notice. The kids who want to learn will do their best anyway and those that don’t are going to play up no matter what you do. I just make sure I give as good as I get.”
Anyone can be a teacher
Those that can’t, teach. Right? Wrong. Teaching isn’t something anyone can do. Yes you have to be passionate (and knowledgeable) about your subject, but you’ve also got to hold the attention of 20+ children for at least an hour!
Teachers can spend four or more years at university and you also need a lot of practical skills. If you’re a primary school teacher you might have to teach art, music and sport, while secondary teachers need to be able to interact with students of all ages.
Becky, a secondary science teacher from Bristol, gets really irritated by this. “Saying anyone can be a teacher is ridiculous. Some people are too intelligent and some aren’t clever enough. Many academics struggle because they want to pass on their mountain of knowledge, but don’t have the patience to teach people who don’t grasp concepts as fast as them. Other people are disorganised and get flustered, or are too nice and get walked over by the kids!”
“Teaching is challenging and I know people who’ve gone into teaching on a whim, they’re stuck in schools they hate with a job they can’t hack. I love my job, but you’ve got to do it for the right reasons.”
Teachers can turn lives around
It’s a common movie theme: a problem child is on the path to destruction when they suddenly see the light because of their amazing teacher. Every teacher wants to have this kind of impact on their students but it’s quite rare. Yes, you might be able to make a difference to these kids’ lives and they might look back on you with fond memories, but don’t hold your breath.
Teachers want everyone in their class to do well (not just in tests, but in life), but it’s not their responsibility alone. Family life is a huge part of education and there are too many Matildas in this world, if students aren’t supported by their parents, they may struggle to reach their potential.
Jo*, a primary school teacher from London has seen this too often. “Kids are tough, but they do get hurt easily. My last school had its own social services and I used to feel so helpless because I couldn’t solve all their problems.”
“Some families really neglect their kids, I get really frustrated when kids come into school without breakfast or their homework because mummy’s too busy or on holiday again.”
Teaching little kids is easy
People think if you teach younger children you’re just playing games and having fun. They’re small and sweet, how much trouble could they be? Anyone else remember the scene in Kindergarten Cop where Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character pops out of the classroom for a few seconds? Yup, thought so, did somebody say war zone?
“Teaching small children is exhausting,” explains reception teacher Lindsey from Hampshire. “You’re on your own with more than 20 children in a classroom and you can’t leave them alone for one minute.”
“It’s not like an office, I can’t make a quick coffee or even go to the loo! I rarely sit down and my back aches from bending down so much. I sometimes go all day without a proper grown-up conversation and I don’t even get a break at lunchtime because I’m with my kids teaching them table manners!”.
*names have been changed
So what do the films get right?
- Teachers have lives outside of school. But not as secret as in the films so don’t forget that if you live in the same town that you teach in you’ll frequently bump into parents and pupils.
- Teachers are passionate and creative people. You might not be as inspirational as John Keating in Dead Poets Society but enthusiasm is catching so pick the right subject to teach.
- Teachers make mistakes. You can’t know everything about the subject you teach and sometimes a pupil will catch you out. Although maybe you were just testing them…
Still want to be a teacher? Why not check out the latest teaching vacancies on Totaljobs.com?
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