Sunday, 8 March 2015

Why I teach.

So.
Recently I came across an article on some reputable (?) news site which made the bold claim that most teachers quit within 5 years of qualifying. Given that I had recently blundered past this alleged milestone, I was inspired to meditate on why this is the case and decided to try my hand at some light bloggery in the process.
Teaching can often be stressful, demoralising and draining. Many teachers dive in to the deep end and get swamped by ever-increasing workloads as well as unrealistic and unstable objectives. Trying to elicit/extract work from young people all day every day when all they seem to want to do is run around in circles making donkey noises while Snapchatting inappropriate pictures to each other is tough.
Increasing workloads and shifting goalposts, coupled with what may seem at times to be incessant screeching, can drive even the most steadfast teacher slowly insane.
No wonder we are being told that teachers are opting out and looking for something perhaps more immediately gratifying.
Having painted such a negative picture, why do I continue to teach, let alone encourage others to?
The fact is, I love it.
I love teaching like I never thought I would love any job (except perhaps giving belly rubs to snow leopards, which I'm sure is a job somewhere).
Working with young people is a roller-coaster ride of emotions, regardless of what your role is. An average day in front of students is in fact never that, never average. Things rarely go as planned, for better or worse and I am constantly surprised by the young people under my care. A simple 5-minute exercise becomes a Sisyphean task whereas hurdles which daunt most adults are shrugged off with bewildered nonchalance.
I have struggled, struggled, to help English language learners pronounce the word 'Cat' correctly yet I have also worked with young people who passed exams hours after going through deeply traumatic and disturbing events, pushing forward with their lives in the face of overwhelming odds.
Frustration and elation forever grappling, bound together, feeding each off other.
When you spend every day experiencing both of these things in various formats you begin to change. Nothing is what I thought it was and I have had to (very) grudgingly give way to the relativity of experience and understanding.
I believe in nothing more so than I do in the infinite potential of every human being and I see no better way to help guide that potential in a positive manner than as a teacher.
Every child has the potential to be any adult. I have seen kids with every difficulty I could think of, and more, push past these and reach goals many adults around them thought impossible. Naysayers beware, kids will mash you up!
It is rare that I do not feel like I have learned more than I have taught when my time with a particular group of students comes to an end. Be it the subject matter I am paid to convey or more likely a nuanced and valuable lesson on the human condition, my understanding grows with every lesson. Its a cliché but teaching is learning twice, at least.
Teaching was something I entered in a rather mercenary fashion, I did a weekend TEFL course so that when I went travelling I would earn enough money to keep going. I had no serious aspirations to become an educator and my heart was in Environmental Science. A few lessons in to my first teaching job in southern Cambodia and something clicked. It became apparent that this was something I could enjoy, I mean really enjoy. Each day so dynamic and engaging, no room for boredom or malaise and a means with which to help people develop themselves. As a rather politicised person this could be dangerous territory, I am here to teach, not proselytise.
My opinion should not be what is taught but instead the tools should be passed on for students to develop their own. I can carefully introduce topics I feel are important and let my students decide for themselves if and how they need to act. Of course by doing so I am conveying my opinion to some degree but ultimately this is unavoidable, therefore it is vital that it is done in as considered and objective a manner as possible.
The most important thing is that your students feel comfortable not only expressing themselves but asking questions. Treat every question with the respect it deserves! Even seemingly flippant and silly inquiries could really be a means to test the water or pave the way for something important your student has on their mind.
My thoughts on this could go on for days and my paragraphs are growing exponentially so I will spare you further ramblings on the matter.
I have been lucky enough to have worked a wonderfully diverse array of jobs; pulling pints, cooking meals, cleaning toilets, running rides in a theme park, moderating websites, selling books, and a whole cornucopia of other cash-in-hand craziness I shan’t mention. Each one has enriched my life in some way and added depth to my understanding of life and the people who share it.
However, none of these has ever come close to teaching in terms of my own personal development and satisfaction. Perhaps a selfish thing to say for a role which is so clearly focused on others but that's how I feel.
Teaching has made me better. Not the 'better than you' type but the 'better at being me' kind. Clearly a very cheesy thing to say but there you have it.
Why do I teach?
That's no longer a valid question any more.
Why would I not?