Some years ago I recall watching the first series of Channel 4’s Educating Essex, and in one particular episode, the wonderful Mr Drew says whilst chatting to his GCSE History class, “You have no idea how much I like teaching you”.
The pleasure in how he expresses this remarkably simple statement of affection is tangible to see. The students kick back in their chairs laughing, but they are not laughing at Mr Drew, as you can see on their faces that they are thinking something similar, perhaps “But Mr Drew, you have no idea how much we like being taught by you!”
The scene has always stuck with me because I have felt the same about particular students in the past, but this year I am incredibly lucky to have an entire class that I feel that way about.
I know that it could be described as unprofessional to have a ‘favourite class’ and when I was training this was described as a definite no-no, but on a day-to-day basis, I firmly believe that this labelling does not interfere with my other classes, all of whom I equally enjoy teaching. But there is something about this class; it could be down to the expressive joy in how you approach your learning, your individual inquisitive natures, the camaraderie that you express to one another in the class, or all of the above. But I look forward to each and every single lesson. There is something truly magical about it.
Some of you have asked about my reasons for leaving the school at the end of this academic year; why couldn’t I stay? At least to see you through until you head off into the big, wide world next year. I can assure you that my decision has nothing to do with you or any of the students that I teach.
I have been teaching for nearly a decade and worked in a variety of schools and over the years I have seen so much change. In many respects I thought that I had evolved along with the changes rung in by successive governments and school leadership teams; I have always done what has been required and more in most cases, I have put in the hours and have been rewarded by receiving additional responsibilities.
As the years have rolled by, I have become more confident in my own value as a teacher and as an individual; I have always been keen to develop professionally and have supported my teams in doing the same. I also found my voice and will speak up when I have felt it necessary, occasionally ruffling a few management feathers as a result. I don’t speak up to deliberately throw things off balance, but to hopefully provide some healthy dialogue about the rationale behind the purpose and practicality of some school initiatives even if I am left dissatisfied with the end result.
But then I moved to our school and found that the management did not appreciate or even tolerate questions being asked. By anyone. To them, asking questions is a direct challenge to their authority.
Last year when I submitted a formal complaint about a member of the senior leadership team about how he had failed to deal with what should have been a simple department related issue, and his subsequent insulting manner in how he spoke to a colleague and myself, I had hoped that by following a formal process that I was protected to some extent from any backlash. I was wrong and naive. As well as being ‘encouraged’ to retract the complaint, otherwise ensuring a significant blemish on any future references, I was also reminded that my management responsibility could be taken away at any point. In the end, I backed down, I didn’t want to potentially ruin the years I had put into my career and I quickly learnt not to question the management again.
The irony of this, of course, is that we wish to encourage our students to do just that – to ask questions. As teachers we want students to develop skills of analysis and evaluation, yet as adults, if you question the legitimacy of certain actions you are vilified for it. Therefore, over a few short years of working at the school and with a drip-drip effect of what has felt like my actions and those of colleagues being constantly undermined that is also supported by a culture of blame, and in some cases blatant sexism and racism, it has meant that I have become another passive member of the teaching body. I don’t speak up even to protect my colleagues and students by what appears to be bullying tactics from some of the management team. I am not only angry at myself because of this but I have gradually lost the passion that I once had for teaching, at least in this school.
My decision to leave the school has not been an easy one. However, in the past year or so the periods of depression that I have experienced, I believe can be at least partly attributed to burnout from the job and I have slowly come to accept that my mental health is more important than attempting to please any manager who sees the staff as mere commodities and students just as figures on spreadsheets. None of the management has thought to reflect on the reasons why over a third of the teaching faculty are leaving this summer because surely, it can’t be anything to do with them.
You’ve also asked if I will cry on my last day – I most definitely will! You genuinely have no idea how much I have enjoyed teaching you and so I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Ps. Ask questions. Ask lots of them.