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Why I Like Being a Teacher

February 25, 2007

I like being a teacher, because I like teaching.

This is not a tautology: a statement that is trivially true (I thought I’d explain that for any geography teachers reading). In fact far from being obviously true it sometimes feels like something that teachers are not meant to admit. Many teachers wouldn’t say that being a teacher is about teaching. A lot of teachers would say “I like being a teacher, because I like children”. A large number of teachers would say “I don’t like being a teacher. What am I doing with my life? Help!” I also suspect a certain number of teachers might think (but daren’t say) “I like being a teacher because I have long holidays, can be off ill for weeks without anybody minding, and I have no worries about my work because I just let the kids colour in pictures or draw posters in most of my lessons.”

But for me, I like explaining my subject to people so that they will learn. I’ve probably crossed the line now. I’ve all but admitted that I’d enjoy teaching adults as much as I do children. I’ve just put my academic function ahead of my pastoral function. Anybody hearing the above in a job interview would now be writing in their notepad: “Only interested in his subject, hates children. Suspected as much when I saw he had a good degree.”

Despite my disdain for Chantel and Jordan and their efforts to disrupt the learning of others I don’t actually hate children. Even the most challenging classes grow on me over time. I have never met a child I disliked anywhere near as much as I have disliked the average member of SMT. Most of the children I teach I actually quite like. However, (unlike some of my colleagues who find children to be wondrous, precious, innocent beings, uncorrupted by the world, who enrich our lives with their joyous exuberance,) I do find that children have a particular fault: they don’t know very much. I have never met a child who couldn’t be improved by learning more. I get the most satisfaction out of my relationship with the children I teach when I cause them to learn. Ignorance is not bliss, it’s annoying and must be dealt with. That is the purpose of my work.

Sometimes this is confusing to children who aren’t used to being expected to learn. One girl at Stafford Grove School complained to me: “You don’t teach us properly, you just tell us things we need to know”. Sometimes it’s confusing to my superiors. Again, at Stafford Green I was told “Don’t keep trying to teach your year 11 classes, just give them old exam papers to practise” and told that none of them would achieve the grade I was trying to get them to (in the end three did). But to me it is the only point of teaching. When it comes down to it the teachers that make a difference for the rest of your life are the ones that get you to learn.

As it happens I’m not actually that interested in my subject, I like it but I don’t subscribe to the latest academic journals, or plan to study it further in the future. When you get much beyond what is taught at A-Level it’s fairly tedious. I just enjoy teaching it and I enjoy getting children to learn it. I’m sure in some eras, some cultures, this might even be considered a good thing for a teacher to gain satisfaction from and a good attitude for a teacher to have.

Discussion of this entry has now appeared on TES.

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7 comments

  1. There’s a balance to be struck between teaching your class the basics of socialisation (which for some reason their parents appeared to have omitted), causing them to progress in learning NC material and skills, and managing disruptive behaviour. There is satisfaction to be had in successfully effecting any and/or all of them but the only one High School teachers get credit for is the one that shoves the results up and involves least effort from SMT.

    I have spent whole years taming certain classes at the expense of failing to teach the two or three kids in each who needed teaching, not taming; and at the expense of any progress towards the Sacred Cow of 5 A*-Cs. I felt I’d done a good job with those classes but since my satisfaction was unlikely to be shared, I concealed what I’d been doing.

    I have had other classes where five minutes out of the sixty were spent teaching the NC because it took that long to get my own way about uniform, chewing, phones, basic equipment, make-up, hairdressing and chatting. Since it was taking that long at the end of the term as it had at the beginning, I can’t say I felt it was a particularly successful use of anyone’s time, plus it wore me out.

    Then you get those classes whose parents have taken the trouble to equip with the basic skills necessary for learning effectively, who, even if they don’t especially like your subject, can see success in it as the key to the next step – or just put up with it for an hour without making a fuss. These are the classes that make me feel like a successful teacher. Instead of coming home shredded, I think I’ve had a good day.

    Sadly in some schools the latter group are a disappearing minority. It makes it very hard for me to enjoy teaching without them.


  2. I like teaching too. I also like most of the pupils I have taught – even in the sebd school I taught in. There have always been individual pupils I have actively disliked and I didn’t much care for teaching them as they are often the pupils with no interest in learning and even less interest in allowing others to learn.

    Throughout my career I have always taught the kids with learning difficulties of one type or another and there is nothing to beat the kick you get out of it when you see the penny drop after you’ve finally found the route into a concept which allows them to understand it.

    Teaching is far from all bad.


  3. ‘Thinking is the hardest work in the world, that’s why so few of us do it’ – Ralph waldo Emerson. With so many distracting influences in today’s [western] world, it is no wonder the capacity for imagination, awe and wonder seemingly reduces by the day, not only in the mind of the child but across what passes for society as a whole. I do not envy teachers entering the profession in recent years. The ‘apocalypse’ of an imploding teaching service will have to be faced by those poor souls, God help them.


  4. Thank you for a heartfelt insight into your passion for teaching.

    Some questions:

    Do people change when they move into SMT or does it just attract a particular type of person?

    Would you ever be prepared to become a member of an SMT?


  5. I think you acquire a whole new set of hoops to jump through and boxes to tick when you join SMT. Meeting your new targets seems to become more important that supporting the poor sods who are still doing the job you couldn’t wait to leave. Selective amnesia.


  6. I think lily’s comments are spot on. I do enjoy teaching, and all but one of my classes this year are easy to teach without disruption.

    For the class that is not, it is like being told that you have to make 24 kids who hate eating marmite eat marmite for a full hour every week. The challenge comes in ‘tempting’ them into doing the work in the guise of competitions, games etc.

    Their main focus in lessons is on continuing their social lives, spreading gossip about which boy is doing what to each boy, and about the expensive clothes that they are going to buy. This is pretty soul-destroying at times…


  7. I am in the midst of interviewing to teach in Britain next year, and of course this is one of the questions everyone asks. Mind if I take your answer? I’ve always liked teaching, but a person can’t just answer, ‘Why did you become a teacher?” with that, can she? Well, you’ve changed my mind. Thanks for the positive perspective.



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