Within the same week, World Teachers’ Day and World Mental Health Day are being celebrated. As an educator myself, there didn’t seem a better occasion may arise to reflect on the meaning of the job I chose almost five years ago and what it means to be a teacher. Click here for the dedicated World Mental Health Day article.
More than just a teacher
As a teacher, there is so much more to the job than simply sharing information with students. In a society that is privileged to benefit from access to health services, widespread access to the internet and an active media the job of a teacher is now much broader. Parent-teacher-nurse-counsellor-role model-parole officer-careers advisor would be a more accurate name for the job. This has two main consequences. 1) The job is fantastically rewarding. 2) Teachers seem like constantly exhausted pigeons during term time. So why do it? So many reasons, some of which I’ve decided to outline in an acrostic below in keeping with my English literary background.
T is for Teenagers. There is much comment in the news about the time students are willing to commit to learning vs indulging in pleasurable pursuits. But without a shadow of a doubt, teenagers are the funniest and most refreshing part of any day spent in a school. Young people have a phenomenal ability to comprehend and conceptualise learning in unexpected ways. For example, when discussing the merits of a given political system, a student once spent an entire lesson devising their own system that would use Artificial Intelligence to govern as that could make it ‘fair’ as only positive outcomes would be input therefore eliminating human errors of judgement. They had a fully justified parliamentary plan drawn up and made a convincing argument, all in less than an hour.
E is for Evolution. The aforementioned student’s ideas about politics are indicative of another element of modern teaching – evolution. A key role of schooling is to prepare students for the ‘real world’. What will our planet look like in 15-20 years? None of us know. As a result, schools and teachers are constantly adapting and changing their skillsets, provision and approaches to move with the times and ensure our learners are best prepared for their futures. Sometimes it can feel like the blind leading the blind but more often than not it inspires great interest in supporting those who will one day rule the world.
A is for Adaptation. Children and young people in our society are constantly adapting. They are expected to meet so many expectations – from schools’ and colleges’ to their parents’ and peers’. This requires the flexibility that could only be demanded of young people as their minds are supple enough to adapt. I’ve personally taught children with extremely difficult home lives whose priorities are different than their peers, but for the 6 hours a day spent in a classroom they can behave like children. Similarly, I’ve had the privilege of supporting students who have chosen a career path that requires dedication and commitment from an early age – aspiring to be doctors or sportspeople – and they constantly improve and adapt towards their goals.
C is for Comedy gold. They say from ‘the mouths of babes comes praise’…which I’m yet to see! What does emerge from the mouths of students though are a range of earnestly intended and hilarious comments such as:
- “Why do my f’s look like octopusses?” (And a quick reply from a peer: “No. You mean ‘octopi’.”)
- “I wasn’t supposed to put these chemicals together? I thought you said MAKE ammonia!”
- “No, really, the dog ate my homework.”
Additionally, students prompt a whole range of silly sentences that as a grown woman you’d not expect to say. Many of these are too embarrassing to repeat, but suffice to say that working with children keeps you young, as the laughter-lines on most lifelong teachers’ faces prove.
H is for Hormones. Young people have a lot to deal with. Conflict. Fear. Frustration. When these emotions are created within their own developing bodies though it can be overwhelming. Children rely on their teachers to understand and to help them to understand their growing minds and bodies. This is where some also begin to struggle with their mental health. Increasingly, schools are educating their staff and students on the benefits of exercise, openness and access to services as mental well-being is becoming a priority for all.
E is for Eating. All. The. Time. And not just the children either. Staff rooms are a hotbed of hidden snack drawers and birthday cakes. The best days of the year are charity events. Row upon row of homebaked snacks (with a quick check as to which student or staff member made it, just in case) are torture and delight in equal measure. We earn it though; the average child asks between 250 to 300 questions per day, so that’s a lot of energy burned. Students however, take the calorie count to the next level and with youthful metabolisms to protect them don’t always suffer the consequences. Hmph.
R is for Revolution. The world is theirs for the taking. So a little anarchy and a gentle shove towards activism is sometimes required. It may be unethical to do this as a teacher, but thankfully young people like Greta Thunberg lead the way for us instead. Seeing the youth of the world strike for climate change, or demand better treatment/legislation around education in their countries, brings hope and joy to the heart of an educator. They learned something, even if they missed a day of school. When push comes to shove, life is about taking opportunities and I believe a little revolution is good for the soul. After all, many people I’ve told I’m a teacher think my students revolting, so why not prove them right?
I have been a teacher for five years in the UK, working in a range of schools. Each day children make me laugh, think, question myself and force me to bring my best self to the fore. I can’t think of a better job, or a more engaging way to spend my working life.