At the chalkface: Spring fever

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What’s good about teaching is the teaching. It can often be the best job in world. The classroom is a tragi-comic theatre, a magic space, a perpetual, protean flux and a satellite of larks and frolics and insight. No lesson is ever the same.

I’m with them on most of this. I’ve had quite enough of 80-hour weeks, sacks of pointless paperwork, banshee imperatives, baseline tests for the recently born, and the measuring of mites to the last syllabus of recorded time. It’s not the teaching that does you in, it’s the white noise chorus that attend it, those pettifogging snapshot clots with their clipboards. They did for me in the end.

It took them one short hour’s assessment after 35 years of teaching. I suddenly couldn’t meet or even comprehend their targets. I even believed in them. I felt useless. I was meant to. I wanted to throw the inspector out of the window, but it wouldn’t have looked good on the CV – or the local news.

But, hey, let’s banish all gloom and let silly optimism reign. I’m in a Spring and vernal mode and here to perk you up. It’s time to remind ourselves of some basic happy truths.

What’s good about teaching is the teaching. It can often be the best job in world. The classroom is a tragi-comic theatre, a magic space, a perpetual, protean flux and a satellite of larks and frolics and insight. No lesson is ever the same. No other job else has such variety. There’s nothing else quite like its frontline, visceral thrills. They keep you sharp, honest, fast and fulfilled.

And you get to teach your subject, your real passion. Mine, English, is especially good. With a bit of luck, you can help most find their own voices, tell their stories, become literate and even creative. You get to explore literature, the best words in the best order and watch the pupils’ lightbulb moments. Nothing’s really off message. It all connects. You can bang on about your enthusiasms. 

“Here, sir, you get paid for this?”

Well, a pittance most of the time.

“It must beat working.”

“What lesson is this? What’s Little Richard got to do with Macbeth?”

Rather a lot. Just wait.

“Is this a lesson, sir?”

Of course it is. “Making a difference” is such a tacky phrase, but you probably do – especially if you’re trusted to teach what you want.

A new term beckons. Don’t let the bad stuff get to you. Don’t jack it in. You’re too good to go. Reclaim the classroom. It’s yours, not theirs. Discard their barbarous static, their malign imperatives. Get lazy. Get happy. You won’t burn-out, you’ll blossom. That’s what any strike should really be about.

  • Ian Whitwham is a former inner city London teacher.


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