Are you a ‘moany’ teacher?

Written by: Dr Bernard Trafford | Published:
Dr Bernard Trafford, head, Royal Grammar School, Newcastle

Do teachers moan too much? Dr Bernard Trafford says it is too easy to brand our profession as one of cynics and moaners

Teachers are too “moany”: that’s the view of Heath Monk, executive director of the King Edward VI Foundation in Birmingham. The former English teacher told the TES: “I got a bit sick of teachers, actually. I love teaching but I think teachers can sometimes be maybe not as appreciative of how good their job is. They are quite moany places, staffrooms. And also quite political, with a small p, and cynical.”

Feeling like that, perhaps he was right to get out of school, becoming a civil servant in 2000. He joined the King Edward VI Foundation as its first executive director in 2016.

I’m not about to take issue with Mr Monk, but his comments made me think. Are we teachers particularly “moany”? And are our staffrooms really political and cynical? Perhaps they are: but perhaps it’s just regular workplace behaviour.

As workplaces, however, schools are distinctive. How many personal interactions take place in one school every day? Tens of thousands, I’d guess. And each is, in effect, a negotiation. Teaching isn’t just a matter of telling kids what to do. Good teachers are focused on every individual learner: a separate transaction with each child ensures that all are maximising their learning.

Then there are those distracting or easily distracted pupils. For each there will be a different approach: teachers routinely play small-scale mind games with them to keep the group on task. Cunning interpersonal strategies are in play in every lesson: should we be surprised that teachers think politically?

And a workforce that is berated more often than praised by both policy-makers and the press is bound to become cynical. Too many incoming secretaries of state (maybe not the present one) have started by lavishing praise – and ended by putting the boot in with yet another hostile system of accountability.

Throughout this extended period of austerity, teachers have suffered either pay freeze or salary cap. Resources are desperately short, too. Schools currently face a funding crisis: so redundancies within schools are commonplace, classes get bigger, minority subjects are axed. All a recipe for cynicism, surely?

Nonetheless, many school staffrooms are neither cynical nor political. Where vision is shared, where there’s a real sense of purpose in the school, negative attitudes are less common. Moreover, when teachers get a positive response from their pupils, they experience the buzz they crave, an intellectual and emotional reward that’s a powerful antidote to cynical tendencies.

I’ll confess. In June, heads do find teachers moany. During the last full month of the school year, schools swelter in the heat. Teachers soldier on and, with energy levels low, they moan: discipline’s slipping, kids won’t work, management’s doing nothing. Yes, sometimes I go home cursing moaning teachers.

There’s one more reason for teacher moaning. Teaching’s a vocation. We join the profession from a desire to make a difference, nursing an ambition to affect children’s lives positively. Vocational jobs make no-one rich: there are no bonuses or share options to assuage the pain of the hard moments. We didn’t go into teaching expecting those: and even in tough times we don’t bewail their absence. But we do moan.

I wish we didn’t. Yet it is only moaning. When there’s a real crisis, the moaning stops: teachers get stuck in. When millions of gallons of rainwater swept through my school, teachers set to work with buckets and mops, under the direction of domestic staff.

When children are bereaved, hurt, distressed, teachers ungrudgingly surrender hours of their time providing consolation, support and encouragement.

Perhaps we should just accept that teachers’ whingeing is no more than human nature and live with it. Meanwhile, I promise to try, really try, not to moan for the rest of this term.

  • Dr Bernard Trafford is head of Newcastle’s Royal Grammar School and a former chairman of HMC. His views are personal. Follow him @bernardtrafford


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