Don’t make me use my teacher voice

I have been a secondary school teacher now for two years. And if I thought I knew what it was to be universally loathed when I was a lawyer, well, that was just a walk in the park really.

I even used to join in the lawyer-loathing a little bit. Some of the jokes are pretty funny. What do you call 10,000 lawyers at the bottom of the sea? A good start! Etc etc. Of course much of the humour there is based on the pretty key misunderstanding that lawyers are all overpaid ambulance-chasing shysters with no moral fibre. Of course that’s a massive generalisation. Only 95% are like that. Boom, tish!

No, seriously, most lawyers are certainly no more overpaid or amoral than most professionals in my experience. But being a lawyer did at least attract a certain amount of status and (somewhat grudging) respect. Teaching attracts neither. Like Millwall supporters, no-one likes us. Unlike Millwall supporters, we do care. A little bit.

The problem is this: those who criticise lawyers are pretty much just thrashing about in the dark. Most people have only the vaguest idea what lawyers do (including most lawyers, to be honest). But anyone who’s ever been to school, and particularly anyone who has or has had a child in school (i.e. everyone) thinks that they are qualified to comment on the job teachers do.

If you want to know what the general public REALLY thinks about teachers, especially parents, then a good place to start is Mumsnet. I know I’m always going on about Mumsnet, but I honestly think a few hours on Mumsnet is, in terms of insight, roughly equivalent to about six years of real life. The online environment encourages a certain brutal honesty. People say stuff on there that they would never ever say if they were face to face with you. They lose their inhibitions. It can be extremely enlightening. Sometimes the level of honesty can be invigorating and helpful. Should I wear cropped trousers? No, they will make your bum look enormous. Sometimes it can all end in tears, particularly over sensitive subjects like breastfeeding or ‘natural’ birth.

But every few days, more or less, there is a discussion that starts something like this: ‘My child’s teacher made a spelling mistake on the school report/ shouted at my son / was a bit crotchety this morning. Shall I go into school and bop her on the nose, or am I overreacting?’ The responses to these threads are more or less predictable; it goes like this:

Yes, go and bop her on the nose. Teachers are very very stupid. My son’s teacher made a mistake last year and therefore all teachers are very very stupid. QED.

No. Don’t bop her on the nose, because all teachers are superhuman and amazing. Children are feral and ungovernable and teachers deserve to be sainted.

OH come on! Everyone KNOWS that all teachers work from 9-3 every day and have 38 weeks holiday and anyway it’s a terrifically easy job and even a trained monkey can do it although a trained monkey could probably spell better!!!!*

And sooner or later someone will say, ‘you know what they say: those who can, do; those who can’t, TEACH!’

But even away from the anonymity of the keyboard, many people feel no inhibitions about making generalised criticisms of teachers to my face, including repeating that wildly irritating ‘those who can…’ cliché.

So, as the school holidays lurch to an end, spare a thought for the poor old teachers. Bak 2 skule, with only the joy of a whole new set of stationery to sustain us.** I’m not suggesting it’s the hardest job in the world, but it can be a bit of a slog. Being a teacher requires a great deal of energy, patience and very high levels of tolerance. Of course there are good teachers and there are bad teachers and everything in between. But the vast majority are professional, doing the best job they can, day after day, often in pretty trying circumstances. If some people are a little quick to put them down, then maybe that says something about the value those people, or – more generally – our culture, places on education, and indeed on children. One thing that I have learned from my fairly short time in the education profession is this – the vast majority of teachers are in the game to do the best possible job for the children.

And, just for the record, it is just as meaningless to say ‘all teachers are lazy’ as it is to say ‘all bakers have chilblains,’ so lay off the generalisations, eh?

It makes you look a bit dim. And maybe it’s time for you, too, to go bak 2 skule.

• for some reason, the most contentious threads are always about spelling. If it’s one thing that unites the disparate forces of Mumsnet, it’s the idea that flogging should be introduced for poor spellers. Death penalty for persistent offenders. That’ll learn ‘em.

** actually, it’s my contention that most teachers are, in fact, only in for the stationery. Most teachers are pretty much obsessed with laminating, and get extremely excited with a wall-stapler in their hands.

About number6

I am not a number, I am a free woman. More or less.
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