Teaching is, superficially, the ideal job: a decent salary for working 200 days a year helping shape the country’s future. But most people express condolences upon learning I’m a teacher.
Adults realize that today’s adolescents are cocky, opinionated little darlings brimming with self-esteem, their attitudes nurtured by years of praise and being told they’re “special”.
Teaching certainly has it upside. I went out my way to get on well with my charges and am flattered that former pupils – many of them I recall as “ratbags” – approach me when I’m out and about to tell me how much they enjoyed my classes.
I have no fond memories of interactions with management, however. A colleague once observed: bad teachers choose to escape the classroom by moving into management where they are equally bad managers, seemingly taking delight in hassling those who continue to teach.
Some years ago I saw a teacher unwittingly commit professional suicide. This competent teacher made his living by relief teaching. The school offered him the opportunity of taking supposedly high-achieving classes for a term. Delighted at being offered a guaranteed income for a few months he jumped at the opportunity.
This conscientious but naive teacher awarded Ds and Fs to the bulk of the pupils because they failed to perform. Management intervened, adjusting the marks to achieve a more satisfactory distribution. The guy was not seen at the school again.
Novice teachers, unfamiliar with how the game is played, often make the same mistake. More experienced colleagues will intervene if they become aware of the situation, assisting with the generation of marks acceptable to management.
At the schools in which I’ve taught, pupils are typically “streamed” for ease of instruction, the more able in stream one, the average pupils in stream two and the least able and outstanding problem children in stream three.
The stream two pupils – the bulk of the school population – have apparently progressed through primary school without suffering consequences for failing to perform. This continues in high school, pupils advancing from year to year, many of them doing no work, ever.
Other than ringing parents, many of whom either can’t or won’t exert pressure on their children, high school teachers have precious few means of getting pupils to work. Punishing non-workers with recess or lunch detention is always an option but a teacher who detains children is also punishing himself. Regardless, punitive measures will not likely change a work ethic that has developed over a period of years.
Any teacher who grades honestly in awarding Ds and Fs to the large number of “average” high school students who deserve them will be targeted by management as a substandard performer even though the grades reflect achievement reality. This is because targeting a naïve teacher is much easier than trying to improve the performance of hundreds of pupils.
Any teacher hoping for a career in the pyramid of lies that is public education must learn to lie. That’s just the way it is.