In recent years the internet has provided an undeniably wonderful platform for teachers to share advice, ideas and experiences. But it has also provided a soapbox for tireless negativity and tiresome self-regard.
The corner of the staffroom where the moaners always congregate – elaborating on how much better things could be – has always been reassuringly easy to avoid. However, give these people a screen and a keyboard and they’ll exercise their thumbs until everyone’s as miserable as them.
It’s worth taking a step back and remembering that teaching is up there with the best jobs in the world. I’m loathe to say the best, for fear of sounding like one of those people who are paid vast amounts of money to come in and fill up half an inset day with disarmingly facile platitudes. Every day is different, every day is a step forward and even when you feel like you’re in a rut, the longest you have to wait for a change is September.
In the early years of my career I was sucked into that pool of grumbling. It started to contaminate how I viewed the job I’ve wanted to do since realising my GCSE biology teacher was tricking us into learning by actually enjoying it. Hours spent offloading to my partner about how frustrated I was, and weekends spent mulling over alternative careers became the norm. The bubble had burst so quickly, but only because I’d let my head drop.
The great perk of this job is its peripatetic nature. I know this is a huge over-simplification, but if you don’t like your current school then move to another. I don’t doubt that there are individual circumstances that make this difficult, but this column always uses broad brushstrokes about teaching so we may as well continue. Initiatives come and go, leadership approaches mutate and staff cycles are liquid. Change is part of the job and if it really horrifies people as much as it seems to, then maybe this just isn’t the career for them.
As a head of English, I’m in the middle of one of the most turbulent years in my entire career. New specifications for GCSE and A-levels commence in September and this will have a subsequent impact on key stage 3. At the outset I had a simple choice: accept what was happening and figure out how to see this as an opportunity for new ideas, or waste time droning on about how we only changed the GCSE five years ago, infecting others with my negativity.
It won’t surprise you to hear that I took the former approach. I really do believe that so much of our workload management, job satisfaction and general mental health could be improved by the realisation that there is no point mithering about what has already happened. Pouring out your heart online will ensure a tidal wave of empathy, interspersed with comments from the deluded teacher-baiters waiting to make bizarrely inarticulate points about the private sector or long holidays.
A nice wallow is necessary from time to time. I still need the odd hour to vent when results don’t quite come out as expected, the government shifts the goalposts overnight or I find myself in a minority of one when arguing for a policy shift. But it is far more important to highlight the moments that make this job truly special, like seeing the imagination a year 10 boy will put into thinking up a false name when caught misbehaving, or the deliberate misuse of an apostrophe by a student who, in his own way, is showing you he gets it.
More often than not, when teachers are miserable other teachers are the cause. For whose benefit are those early Sunday morning photos of piles of finished marking accompanied by a trite, self-congratulatory message? I’m not a wilful luddite, besmirching the good name of social media. As I said, I try to embrace change, and such platforms provide a fabulous resource for sharing ideas and inspiration. But it’s becoming an egomaniac’s paradise. I wonder how many teachers spend several hours scrolling through their timeline each week, retweeting and favouriting photos of varyingly effective activities alongside several further hours agonising about their work-life balance.
Let’s keep it simple. Don’t write off the profession until you’ve experienced several ways of doing things. Keep sight of why you went into teaching in the first place. And remember, almost every single cause of stress you have in the classroom will seem irrelevant 12 months from now. Share, inspire and enthuse like your life depends on it, but always look forward.