Over the last year it’s become very fashionable to write about the difficulties of teaching. The crushing workload, the endless change brought about by a government who often appear not to have the best interest of children at heart, the scrutiny of an increasingly tough Ofsted – all of these have been endlessly (and movingly) documented. And yes, teaching is a tough job. The workload is huge. The government’s ‘plans’ are bewildering and often downright destructive. Ofsted is terrifying. But sometimes it’s easy to forget it’s also the best job in the world.
Today I was teaching my year 7s (eleven year olds to the uninitiated); I’m a cruel witch and don’t believe in films/ lessons off/ relaxation in the last week (my year 11s are finishing a controlled assessment on Friday; they asked me if I actually hate them), but a Christmas-themed lesson here or there never hurt anyone. My own go-to Christmas lesson invariably involves a John Lewis Christmas advert – everyone loves a cute penguin or hare, an emotional song, and a heart warming Christmas message to cunningly disguise the ‘buy things from John Lewis!’ undertones. It’s possible that my year 7s are just used to me boring them to death via books and an awful lot of writing (it being English after all) but their rapt little faces as they watched the adverts and the storm of chat the questions designed to analyse immediately released was one of those teaching moments in time you want to freeze for ever.
Now, as all my teaching friends will know, I’m not usually a fan of teaching the lower school classes. Not because they aren’t lovely, because they are, but because I like an exam at the end of it all. That’s the kind of teacher I am – I do love an exam to drill endlessly into the students until they’d pay me to not have to do another question 4 or read another recycling exemplar. I like the pressure and the despair and the highs and lows that comes with teaching a particular type of year 11 class. It was what I missed most when I was part time – other teachers were exam drilling, and i was doing my best to be moderately interesting to a year 8 poetry class. And yet….my two lower school classes this year have charmed me beyond measure, and made me re-realise the joy of teaching children without the omnipresent threat of an exam hanging over us all.
Perhaps it was my year 7 class begging me – actually begging me – each lesson to continue reading ‘My Sister Lives on the Mantlepiece.’ (It’s possible when we start ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in the new year they won’t be quite so enthused.) Perhaps it was the audible gasp in the classroom when the cat died (sorry, spoilers for those of you that haven’t had the joy of reading it yet) and their despair for the main character: ‘He hasn’t had it easy, has he miss?’ Or perhaps it’s the way they run into the classroom, desperate to start reading again, and ask me eight million questions about what’s going to happen next. (They are told immediately to sit down and open their reading books and we’ll deal with the questions later, before those of you that have been taught by me/ taught with me think I’ve lost my mind entirely)
Or perhaps it was the lesson I taught to year 9 where we were doing sentence openers (it’s nothing but thrilling in my classroom) and a boy who had previously begun every single sentence with ‘the’ produced a redraft with some frankly amazing sentences and then, when asked to reflect afterwards, wrote in his book, ‘I’m really proud of this, miss, it’s the best descriptive writing I’ve ever done.’ Or the letters year 9 wrote in response to one I had written to them today reflecting on the half term, where three of them began their letters with, ‘Thank you miss.’ Or my Youth Speaks teams, who stood up in front of an audience of private school pupils and their parents, and produced the most amazing, articulate, impassioned speeches, (one about books! What more could an English teacher want?) without a hint of nerves, and impressed everyone in the room.
There are lots of reasons why teaching can be the hardest job in the world. But students show us every single lesson why it’s also the best and the most rewarding. I feel privileged every day to be part of it.