Those that can: the carefree life of teachers

Emma Leaning
Emma Leaning
Teachers aren't superhuman; they're just another form of life. Nevertheless, the good ones do everything in their power to make a sincere difference in the lives of their students.
Emma Leaning
Emma Leaning
Those that can: the carefree life of teachers
Hu Jun / SHINE

Recently I've had several WeChat conversations like this:

Layabout: What are you up to with the summer, Em? 

Me: The summer?

Layabout: Yeah, any plans?

Me: Plenty. I've got articles to write and a podcast to suss. You?

Layabout: We're in Sanya.

Six-week holidays, weekends off, and an early finish. Oh, the carefree life of teachers.

But before you switch careers know this: Teachers are working harder than ever. Anxiety, stress and burnout are at an all-time high, and 50 percent of graduates leave the profession within five years. Why aren't we honoring these people with gold medals and trophy cups?

To paraphrase the educationist Sir Ken Robinson, everybody has an opinion on education. Like religion or money, it runs deep with people, and we have high expectations today. When it's decided kids need additional skills, we backhand it to teachers. When future generations don't perform as we'd like, we blame schools. We've created a society that focuses more on our rights than responsibilities, and educators are required to do way more than their job ever called for. Yet we've been taught that teachers have it easy. I vividly recall a phrase batted about in my childhood: Those who can, do; those who can't, teach. And while the diss – courtesy of playwright George Bernard Shaw – dates to 1903, it's stood the test of time. 

Take the television industry. Shows like "Breaking Bad" and "Strangers with Candy" present the showbiz faculty as everything from meth dealers to sociopaths. In contrast, others are unlocking the hidden potential of students and overcoming poverty or racism by sheer force of personality. Neither cliché has anything to do with reality. All professions get distorted by popular culture, but skill – rather than charisma and a chalkboard – is a must. At least in "Grey's Anatomy" or "Law & Order," you see characters doing their job. The truth is, if there were more realistic depictions on the television, no one in their right mind would be a teacher. 

And I should know, I've been one.

It's 7:30am. Between lesson planning, preparing the classroom, replying to e-mails, catching up with colleagues and jamming the photocopier, you grab a coffee. The kids pile in, and Alexa's mom needs to speak with you urgently. Despite the "Put On Your Coat" song, it's the third time this week Alexa has left hers at school. You rally your team and agree if nothing else gets achieved, Alexa must go home with her coat. You settle everyone down to discover Elsa and Crystal have fallen out while Colin is chewing on a Crayola. 

Having made it through to lunch, you steal 15 minutes (after playground duty) for admin. There's a knock at the door; Euan has a grazed knee. You take him to the nurse and read "After the Fall" while he gets patched up. The afternoon is a whirlwind of direct instruction, guided interaction and child-led play. Come 3pm, and you're ensuring nobody gets trampled on their way to the bus or left in the playground. The classroom resembles a war zone, except for Alexa's coat hung neatly over her chair. 

You spend the next 90 minutes in (another) policy training session before heading home for a glass (bottle) of wine. As you begin to wind down, you laugh at something one of your students said this morning. And despite the chaos, tears and tantrums – on both sides – you appreciate the days spent with these little people who never fail to amaze you. And tomorrow, you'll do it all again.

I've taught the spectrum, from secondary to early years. The former saw weeknights marking to the backdrop of "Downton Abbey." The latter, weekends lost in a Pinterest vortex of sensory play and counting activities. Both meant lying awake at night contemplating how to create meaningful lessons that met the needs of 24 individual learners. 

Those that can, teach.

Educators aren't superhuman; they're just another form of life. Nevertheless, the good ones do everything in their power to make a sincere difference in the lives of their students. The summer vacation is drawing to a close, and by now, you're all sick of your kids. But before you speed from the school gates like the cartel on a drugs drop, dig deep and ask: "Would I want to teach my child?"

We don't need to shower teachers with lavish gifts; quiet recognition goes a long way. Here's mine: Teachers, cheers to you and all that you do. Enjoy your lazy weekday mornings and boozy brunches while you can. Rest, recover, and recharge.

Because come September, you're going to need it.

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