Whenever people find out what I do for a living I get one of two responses: “Wow, you must be brave.” or “Seriously? You must be crazy!” Personally I don’t think I’m either brave or crazy, I’m just an everyday secondary school teacher working in an everyday inner city school. The main reason I get these responses is because people believe that you must be one of the two, or even both, to work with young people today.
“I couldn’t handle today’s youths, they don’t have any respect” they say, or “Don’t you find them rude and challenging?” And I always give the same answer; if you approach a young person as if they are rude, aggressive and disrespectful, then they will behave in that way, but if you approach a young person with understanding and respect then they will return that respect. I’m often insulted on the behalf of young people that this is what the general public think of them, but then it comes as no surprise as our television screens and newspapers are
filled with images and words portraying today’s youth as the cause of all of society’s problems. On the other hand, I couldn’t feel more differently, in fact I feel privileged to be a part of the journey that a young person goes on as they transition from childhood into adulthood.
So how did I become a teacher? Every teacher has their own journey into the profession and their own motivations for doing the job, and this is mine. I went to one of the largest comprehensive schools in London and witnessed how education can be a very different experience for different people. For myself I was top of the class, which gained me the praise of teachers and my family but also the negative attention of bullies who I now know were jealous of my success. I was lucky that I had a very supportive English teacher who inspired me to raise my expectations and believe in myself. There were students from all backgrounds at my school and I believe that this has enriched my life because I am able to see the world from a range of perspectives rather than just my own. However there were also students that didn’t have such a positive experience at school, and there were some very old-fashioned teachers that didn’t make school a positive experience for them. Also our school had a bad reputation in the community because it wasn’t high in the league tables, but this was largely because it was a school that accepted all levels of students as it believed in education for all, not just for those that would raise its profile. And this is primarily what shaped my own beliefs of education.
However, I didn’t always want to be a teacher, I knew I loved reading and even writing poems and stories so I went on to study English Literature at University. It wasn’t until I took a gap year and worked at a summer camp in America that I decided teaching was the profession for me. Watching children at the summer camp transform from being quiet, nervous and insecure into bright and confident individuals in just a matter of weeks was an overwhelming experience. I had felt the buzz and satisfaction that comes with being a positive role model and building supportive relationships with young people. I knew that no matter how much money I could earn sitting in an office it would never give me that same feeling and pride. So after University I signed up for a PGCE (teacher training course) and I’ve now been teaching in inner city comprehensive schools for over 4 years.
There is no doubt that my job is challenging, finding a way to get 15 year olds interested in Shakespeare isn’t the easiest of tasks, but it’s exactly this challenge which makes me love my job. One day is never the same as the next and one student is never the same as the next. To be a teacher you need to be flexible and ready to react to any situation, it requires creativity as well as a knowledge and passion for your subject.
But above all you must be passionate about helping young people to recognise their full potential and that doesn’t just mean getting a good grade. For some it could be reading a poem they have written in front of the whole class, for others it could be mentoring a younger student or joining the school band. Being a teacher goes beyond your classroom and beyond school hours. I have only just begun my career but I am surrounded by inspirational teachers, who have dedicated their life to the profession, and their impact on the lives of young people is something that could never be measured by league tables.
It is not a job that I would recommend to those who are after an easy life or easy money, but in a world where young people are called ‘feral’, ‘sick’ and ‘thugs’ on a daily basis by the media, we need as many people as possible helping them to become successful members of our society. I wouldn’t change my job for the world.
Thank you to S. Lindsey for this feature.
W| By S Lindsey