Tuesday 1 May 2012

Why Are You Just a Teacher?

One of my students asked me that the other day. With particular emphasis on the "just". It's quite insulting really, although I think they meant it as a compliment.

I had just told the class what I had got in my gcses and A-levels. I'd like to point out that they did ask me, I wasn't just showing off. I told them my results, and they were suitably impressed. As usual they found it hilarious that I managed to get nine A*s and one D. They found it even more funny when I told them the D was for art. Now whenever I draw a diagram on the board they make snide comments. Anyway, after hearing how well I had done at school, one of the pupils asked, "If you got such good results, why are you just a teacher?"

The thing that immediately struck me was that the pupils in front of me (set one, as it happened) did not see me as a successful person. To them, I was "just" a teacher. Not a dentist, a doctor, or the owner of a business, just a teacher. You don't have to be "bare clever" to go into teaching, unlike dentistry or medicine. Nor do you earn a lot of money (to them, a lot of money means considerably more than my £21k, which to me still feels like I'm winning the lottery every month). They don't see teaching as the sort of job a high achiever should aim for. This does not make me feel good.

I found myself justifying my career choice to a group of precocious sixteen year olds. I shouldn't have to! Teaching should be a well-respected profession. Teachers should be seen as the cream of society. I was talking to a colleague about this, and she told me that her grandfather was a teacher, and was the most looked-up-to member of the village. The whole village turned up to pay their respects at his funeral. This is how it should be. We deserve as much respect as dentists, at least. The job title should carry as much clout as "solicitor" or "executive". Students should assume their teachers have amazing exam results, and look up to them as beings of superior intellect and moral fibre. Students should aspire to be teachers. I'm fed up of hearing "I want to be a lawyer/dentist/doctor, but if that fails I'll just be a teacher". It should be:  "I want to be a teacher, but if that fails I'll just be a PE teacher". Ha ha. That was a joke. Please don't beat me up.

Maybe this attitude just applies to students from my school, where the student demographic is mostly Asian. If you'll allow me to stereotype wildly: Asian parents often push their children into medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, etc perhaps to the exclusion of all other careers? Maybe this accounts for this attitude.

Do you know what your students feel about teaching as a profession? Ask them, but be prepared to be offended!

Emma x x x


  1. The problem with saying "students should assume their teachers have amazing exam results" is that many in fact don't. You are a rarity! The minimum requirements are something like C's in GCSE Maths, English and Science plus a 2:2 in anything from anywhere. Then could be hired and timetabled to teach a non specialist subject. That's not the best set-up but I suppose that is the fault of the government not being able to recruit the best into teaching.

    1. OK, true, but the pupils don't have to know that. Just like when you're a child you (wrongly) assume your parents are the most knowledgeable people in the entire world, students should assume their teachers are the most intelligent and morally sound people in the world.
      Except FYI my parents actually *are* the most knowledgeable people in the entire world.

    2. My pupils are always shocked when the find out that I left my previous job as a Captain in the Army to become a teacher.
      I try to explain to them that it was not all about running around the desert shooting terrorists and that I actually enjoy teaching but they are not convinced.
      Maybe it is that everyone thinks they know about teaching as everyone has been on the receiving end of them. And it is difficult to change a perception that has been built up over your entire childhood.
      The Army however has much more control over the public’s opinion of it, whether it is them looking smart as carrots at Buckingham Palace or suffering hardship in Afghanistan on the news.
      If teachers marking piles of homework was more news worthy, then perhaps people my see past the long holidays and appreciate the work involved.
      However, all that most people see on the news about teachers is them whinging that their generous pensions are being reduced so that they are not subsidised but taxpayers as much.

  2. It's because, and I'm not sure why, anyone can become a teacher. I totally agree with you on the place teachers should hold in our society. Until we start paying them more (thus attracting , on average, higher quality personnel) and having higher requirements for entry (doctors are looked up to more as the requirements they have to go thru almost ensure that they're a
    High caliber, smart individual. Teachers requirements are about on par with being a cop. ) source. : 2 of my family members are teachers, while I am a dentist. We have found, overwhelmingly, that the ratio of underachievers vs overachievers is vastly skewed in favor of under in the teaching profession, to the detriment of us all.

  3. Can anyone become a teacher? You have to have a degree (2nd or 1st class honours)and complete a postgraduate qualification which includes a third of a masters degree. I think this is a little bit more restrictive than the police recruitment policies (but then again, I would fail police recruitment instantly due to being too short).

    Forgive me if I am wrong, but I have noticed from your spelling of the word "favo(u)r" and your use of the word "cop" that you are possibly American/Canadian. I would be interested to know what qualifications one needs to become a teacher across the pond. Maybe your argument is more relevant over there. Personally I don't think it's quite true in the UK.

    Thanks for your comment!

    1. This is the above anonymous poster (Steven, nice to meet you). Here in the USA you need a 4 year degree to teach highschool and below. You are paid a bit more with a masters. For university level you'll need a phd, though there are exceptions. The undergraduate degree required is very non competitive. When using the term "anyone", I'm using it as a relative term when comparing to the examples the original
      Poster used , dr lawyer etc.

  4. They found it even more funny when I told them the D was for art.

  5. I like the significant information you tender within your subject matter.