I did it. I passed it all. I graduated, twice. I received my certificates and I got a good grade too. All of the paperwork, logs, documents, folders and general tedium are now over. I am a fully qualified, and employed, physics teacher.
This, of course, means only one thing at this time of year – six weeks of paid holiday. And before you non-teacher types out there start to compile even the earliest semblance of a winge about teacher holidays – Stop. Take a breath and listen.
If you’re lucky (or unlucky) you might have kids. They might be in the 11-16-year-old range that I teach. If so, you’ll probably know that at this point in their life they are discovering who they are, who they want to be, and who the rest of the world thinks they are. If they’re lucky, they will like one or maybe two of these, or they could hate all three. Each of these three will surface at different times, sometimes all together. Occasionally they will set off fireworks in their heads, just to see what will happen.
Most of these kids are simply growing up and their minds and bodies are growing too. For some this is exciting, for others it’s terrifying. They have questions, they have concerns, and they have insecurities. All of these increase with each passing day.
Some of the kids we teach have learning difficulties or special education needs. These can range from having difficulty reading what has been written on the board, to finding it hard to hold a pen, to having a severe panic attack every time they walk onto the school grounds. There are as many variations in mental health and learning ability in a school as there are students.
There are kids who are full-time carers. When they get home from school they will help their family member/s to the toilet, help them pay their bills, pick up their younger siblings from a nursery, make them dinner, bathe and put them to bed, and all kinds of other responsibilities which no 11-16 year old should have the burden of.
There are kids who live in hostels, kids who take a state-provided taxi, there are kids who aren’t fed at home and there first meal of the day is at school in the breakfast club.
We’ve got kids at our school who have been sexually, physically and verbally assaulted. By strangers, parents, friends, or siblings. For some, this might have been a once off, for others, it might have lasted weeks or even years. In some cases, it might still be happening.
There are a few who won’t talk, at all. Some who won’t write. Some who will simply not acknowledge you at all. There’s one who walks out of the room anytime you ask him a question. There are a couple who bring their older brothers spliffs in to sell on the playground. There’s a few who think it’s hilarious to set off the fire-alarms in the middle of important exams.
We, the school, deal with all of this. And we do a damn good job of it too. We’re counsellors, advisors, psychiatrists, friends and often parents. We clean up their mess, fix their ties, give them an ear to moan into and give them any support we can. Oh… and we also give them one of the best educations available in the world.
Six times a day, I get a selection of 30 of the kids listed above come into my classroom. Six times a day I have to decipher what mood they’re in, what problems they might be facing, put out any fires from break, lunch or the night before and get them to consume the content that I’ve spent hours planning. Once they go home, I have to sit with the detainees, I have to mark their books (that’s 180 books per day), I have to mark any exams and assessments, enter their data into SIMS, and then… when I go home I will spend a further few hours planning the following day’s lessons.
If you asked any teacher to take their salary then divide it by the combined hours they actually worked, I can guarantee that figure would be well below the minimum wage. I’d take an educated guess somewhere between £3-5 per hour.
So, the next time you think we’ve got it easy. Try to think about what we actually do, day in, day out, while you’re working in your 9-to-5 with a decent salary. We deserve to be paid properly and we deserve every second of holiday we get.
Now, I’m going to use most of mine back with our Thai family in the land of smiles while I plan my lessons and learn some names for the next year!