“When we are green, still half-created, we believe that our dreams are rights, that the world is disposed to act in our best interests, and that falling and dying are for quitters. We live on the innocent and monstrous assurance that we alone, of all the people ever born, have a special arrangement whereby we will be allowed to stay green forever…That assurance burns very bright at certain times…”
Tobias Wolfe ‘This Boy’s Life’
We’ve had student teachers in our Department recently and, as it usually does, it has sent me on a wee trip down amnesia lane. I recall the fear, the constant expectation that things would go horribly wrong. I remember the thrill of the first great lesson, the learning from experienced English teachers. There were also the constant sniffles, the never-ending shirts to be ironed, the sleepless nights; sleepless because I was worrying so much about the next day’s lessons. It seems like a lifetime ago.
It is then not difficult to recognise those same feelings and experiences in the students we have with us now. As I always tell them, learning to teach is very similar to learning to drive. We begin by clutching tightly to that first lesson plan like the white knuckle clamp of fear on the steering wheel. We see nothing else. Then we begin to raise our eyes and see what’s going on in front of us. We might even spot potential dangers in our path, possible pitfalls. It does take a lot of practice and a lot of failure but eventually we can see a mile down the road and very little fazes us. It is worth it, isn’t it? Best job in the world.
One of the biggest challenges we face every year, every week, every day is to retain that optimism, the bounce, the energy. Who was it who said that if you could find a job you loved you’d never work a day in your life. Well, I do. But there are days when I struggle to deal with barriers which are placed in front of me. What I try to get across to the students I mentor is that the work level never gets any less, the marking never goes away. It seems to me that resilience is the key to life as a teacher; but we can never forget the reason why we do it. To pass on our knowledge and skills to children, perhaps providing them with a platform better than we had.
I recall a piece of advice given to me ten years ago when I found myself sat beside the staffroom curmudgeon very early on in my career. ‘Put your coat on, turn around, walk out and never even think of coming back.’ I can laugh about it now but I was shocked then. Hardly inspiring to the potential teacher. Perhaps the best lesson I learned from that was to ensure that I remained as supportive and as positive as possible to any new teacher who crosses my path. I like to think that, mostly, I’ve succeeded.
At times I can understand the cynicism, perhaps even the realisation that this will never be an easy job. It is hard to remain optimistic in the face of cutbacks and a society which undervalues us. But if we believe that education is a fundamental right then we experienced teachers have a duty to ensure that the next generation are also served well. We should remember every day that, despite the knocks and the criticism, this is an important job which affects everyone around us.
If you love your job then go into school tomorrow and tell someone. If you have training teachers then tell them what they are in for. If you don’t agree then keep it to yourself. These new teachers deserve the right to be optimistic. The world is lit by lightning when you’re teaching. Never let that feeling fade.