Is teaching my life or just a job?
As teachers everywhere start a new school year, we at the Education Forum ask a difficult question: why be a teacher?
As teachers everywhere start a new school year, we at the Education Forum ask a difficult question: why be a teacher? Is it for the sense of mission, purpose and dedication? Is teaching still a noble calling?
Perhaps not. According to a survey by Leeds University, most new teachers choose the job on pragmatic rather than idealistic grounds: steady income, good holidays and uncertainty about alternatives are now the most common reasons given. A recent article in the Times Educational Supplement claimed NQTs view teaching as a stepping stone at the beginning of their career, not a lifelong commitment.
What about those teachers in start-up schools who are willingly going the extra mile? Are they visionaries or deluded? Is all that conscientious midnight oil in danger of becoming the new normal? Are we now seeing the rise of the ‘juicer school’ – which squeeze staff to their pips in order to extract as much work out of them as possible before they get burned out and quit the profession?
If people’s motivations for teaching have indeed changed, what are the reasons for this? Is it fair enough if teachers are motivated by money and personal improvement rather than altruism, intellectualism and public service?
We have assembled a larger panel than normal for this discussion. All are teachers from a range of ages, backgrounds and experience:
• Helen Birtwistle is the acting co-head of history and politics at a school in London.
• Margot Johnston is the head of sixth form at a south London school.
• Conor McCrory is a native of Belfast and teacher of biology in a Hackney school.
• Gareth Sturdy began teaching when John Major was prime minister and has taught in comps, grammars, free schools and adult education in London and Liverpool.
• Sean Walsh entered the teaching profession in Dublin and has recently been appointed head of history in a Watford school.
• Josie Williamson came into teaching via Teach First. Originally a primary school teacher she now teaches psychology in a sixth form college in Tottenham.