Too many “justs” make the whole thing unjust

How many times have you heard someone say – or even said yourself:

“I might just become a teacher.”

“‘I’ll do my Arts course, and if nothing comes up straight away in [insert particular field], I can always just do my Dip. Ed, and become a teacher.”

“If my daughter doesn’t enjoy being a scientist, at least she can always just become a teacher.”

“At least you can always just do teaching.”

It is a common term used amongst Arts graduates, but also amongst scholars in specific fields of studies. There is the general assumption that, failing finding work or vocation in a particular field, one with a degree in anything (as long as it, or a version of it, is taught generally in schools) can be comfortable in the thought that teaching is an option.

A one year Diploma of Education, full-time, will see you trained and qualified to teach the next generation. Perfect! A great little ‘fall back on’ option, a brilliant little Plan B.

Right?

Wrong!

No one just teaches. Teaching should not be a PLAN B. Doing the most important job in the world should not be considered a BACK UP ITINERARY. Teaching is not science’s understudy and education is not second-rate to working in a company.

Was there not a time in the past when teachers were the most revered in society? Great scholars were teachers like Aristotle and Socrates, and knowledge was what gave one power. Study was a lifelong quest for the great minds, and institutions that had money, like the church, would use this to nurture intellect and breed dynamic thinkers.

If you could read and write, speak languages, recite poetry, create art, read the stars, do mathematical formulas or recognise varieties of plants, you were considered great. Great minds like this would take on apprentices, and create further masterminds through their proteges.

Where is this respect for knowledge now?

Perhaps it still remains in the respect we show for holders of Doctorates and Masters Degrees, writers of books and receivers of awards – but why not the humble school teacher?

Moreover, someone teaching in a tertiary institution gets paid packets more than those teaching the little ruffians in primary and secondary schools. Yes, they are specialists in their field, and yes tertiary education is, I guess, a higher level of education… But… school teachers are not just teaching content to our young minds.

Teachers (good teachers) morph at any point of the school day into parent or guardian,  counsellor or confidant, personal tutor or study guide etc, etc, taking on any number of roles, ranging from sorting out bullying issues, to teaching a child how to tie their shoe laces. Good teachers might be aware of which girls are skipping lunch, which families of students are feuding, which students are living at two different homes during the week,  and which students need a bit of self-esteem boost because they are mentally not very strong.

Some teachers are achieving massive academic feats with their students: helping their students to leap ahead in their results – so important for VCE students needing that extra push to obtain the score they need to enter the course they desire.

These teachers are working hard, putting their students first, being creative in their study plans, giving up their lunchtimes and giving much-needed support and positive influence.

But what about a teacher in a less elite school, with  students in less stable home environments, in a less affluent suburb, perhaps students who have struggled to cope with mainstream schooling? What about a teacher who also works hard, also puts these students first and gives up their precious time to provide support and guidance, but whose major success with these students is getting them to come to school, even bring their books? What about that teacher who spends her lunchtimes patrolling the yard, wondering if the toilet block is going to be set on fire again?

There is not an easy way to revolutionise teachers’ pay. But there is certainly some ways that are WRONG.

Clearly (as demonstrated in the above comparison) – merit pay based on academic performance cannot be just. (Not if the aim of teaching is to keep students in school, provide support, and teach content as much as if possible – all relative to students’ and schools in which teachers work.)

Good teachers spend their day helping students learn, and providing support, as a role model that is positive.

Great teachers help students learn – differentiating for their abilities and personalities, putting in their lunchtimes, after-school time and sometimes holidays and weekends and are supportive, positive role models in students’ lives.

Put Mr Baillieu (and quite frankly, anyone else in the world who thinks that teaching is playing with kids 8:30-3:30 and having holidays all the time – corrections anyone?) in a few different schools over a few different weeks, and let them see what teaching is really about.

Send the Premier around to one teacher’s lessons all week, let him sit with them at lunchtime whilst students knock at their door, let them go together to meetings and spend some time doing reports in the library after school. Let them go home together and do some planning, let them spend some of their Sunday night preparing lesson tools for the week.

Let him do this in the most elite schools, as well as the most challenging schools. Let him do this at private and public schools all over the state. Let him see teachers who have been teaching for twenty years, and newbies who have only just begun.

Let politicians and critics really see what just being a teacher is really like.

Then everyone can sit down together, and have a chat.

P.S. Even if this exercise doesn’t open Baillieu’s eyes to the work of teachers, perhaps it will make him rethink his own work ethic… and question whether he himself would be eligible for any ‘merit pay’ on results achieved…

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Wanting others to fail, and feeling guilty (immediately) after.

I watched this guy do the Rubik’s cube in front of me. Like really, he DID the Rubik’s cube, got all the colours lined up, made it all pretty and co-ordinated. He was a genius. Amazing. I had been trying for so long. But couldn’t do it. I felt some elation, some pride, some great admiration for this man, taking on this challenge, and absolutely smashing it.

But inside, I felt a little spark of jealousy spring forth, a little dash of anger at myself – why couldn’t I complete this task? Why couldn’t I be successful? Why couldn’t I succeed at this THING that I had put my mind to?

And then the revulsion at my feelings; why can’t I be happy for other people’s success? Why do I want to hear that other people have failed where I have also failed?

The above never really happened. I made that up. Sorry. But I was trying to simplify something that has long bothered me: teaching. I struggled at being a teacher. It was hard. It was taxing. It mentally bruised me, it tired me out.

In my first years, and now, I listen to people who have begun teaching tell of their stress-free transition, their joy, their EASE at their new profession, and I ask myself, WHY? WHY couldn’t I find it easy? Why couldn’t I be a GOOD teacher? WHY couldn’t I be one of those people?! Why was it hard for me – and what was wrong with me?

And when I try to explain – people say “maybe it’s not the job for you, maybe it’s not your thing” and that makes me feel even worse. Because, hey – I think it IS my thing, I think I’m meant to be a teacher. I think it’s what I’m meant to do in this world, or one of the things I really CAN do… And obviously I can’t blame people for trying to make me feel better about my struggle with teaching. Of course they’re going to try to make me feel as though there’s something better for me to do out there.

And what was so hard about it, I hear you say? Well, everyone’s experience is different – but I completed my Dip Ed. while I taught, I wrote essays and studied, whilst being thrown into the deep end, teaching full time, for the first time – I hadn’t had any placement, I hadn’t had any training. But you know what? That was okay, I learnt every day, but noone came in and watched me, noone supervised my classes. I needed support, and yet I was too proud to seek it. I hate criticism, and that is a clear downfall in my character. I thought, I can do anything that anyone else can do – I’ll just work hard, and I’ll get through this, without letting on that I’m struggling.

There’s a lot of pressure in teaching, and if you really care, there’s even more. I put in the hours, I put in the love, I put in my heart. And over three years, I got a LOT better, but it was the hardest three years of my life.

My life became very darkened. I felt like shit, and I didn’t realise anything was wrong until I came out the other side of this dark tunnel, and realised that I had been walking along without the lights on. “Oh!” I said, “I remember what it’s like to be happy.” That’s not necessary teaching, that was just me, in a situation that needed a lot of time, a lot of organisation, and a lot of care for all those souls that you were touching every day.

So anyway, last night, I talked to a new teacher. And I’m sure he will be fine. Not everyone fails, not everyone struggles like I did. But isn’t it sad that I like to hear people say “You know what? Teaching was hard, I really struggled.” I like to think that there are other people sailing me with me in this boat, not just me. Isn’t it sad that some people who actually really care, and love the impact they can make in the classroom, burn out in a few years, or burn out later after ten, or twenty years?

Someone attempting a Rubik’s Cube should be positive – they should believe that they can achieve the ultimate goal of lining up those colours. But realistically – they may struggle, they may need time, they may need help. I definitely don’t really want anyone to fail… I want to know that any new teacher will get the support they need and good working conditions while they get their head around this very important job, and find their feet – always looking after those they teach, but importantly, looking after themselves.