Ground down by constant barbs

Tue, Jan 22, 2013, 00:00

To be honest: A teacher writesIt has reached a point where I dread the “So what do you do?” question when I meet new people. Most of my nonteaching friends extend me the courtesy of keeping their opinions to themselves, but with new people you never know. Because everybody has been taught, they truly believe that they know what it is to teach, and they can be scathing about it.

The casual criticism and lack of respect begin to grind you down. The media, especially RTÉ, seem to have a constant vendetta against teachers. Nobody talks about nurses or gardaí being overpaid and incompetent.

If money was a motivation, I would never have chosen teaching, but people have said that because I’m in a vocational job I shouldn’t mind taking a pay cut. Do they not see how insulting that is? They talk about the holidays, but I chose my profession because I want to be a teacher, not because I want the time off. I didn’t make the rules.

I love my job. It’s draining at times, but on a good day there’s nothing like it. I’m very lucky. I have a class of 33. Two are on the autistic spectrum, one child is diagnosed with dyslexia and others are awaiting assessment.

Outside of that there is an enormous range of ability, personality and behaviour. It’s not easy to get 33 children sitting down, working throughout a day. Crowd control is a real skill. If I had a class of 24 it would be easier to get around to each child. As it is, I manage. The special-needs-assistant hours are a great help, but I feel like I’m constantly running to catch up.

As a teacher you’re often a social worker and counsellor first. You’re a moral guide, you’re a referee. It takes sensitivity and skill. Increasingly we’re required to make up for shortcomings at home. Childhood obesity, healthy eating, cyberbullying, sex education: people look to schools and teachers to solve these problems. Time is a struggle.

There are teachers who underperform, and there should be a way to let someone go if they’re consistently not up to par. But you never know what’s happening in someone’s life. I’ve had colleagues go through cancer diagnosis, depression, illness, bereavement – parents never knew a thing. A bit of humanity wouldn’t go astray.

The hours look short, but they’re not. I always have work to do before and after school. Anyone who leaves immediately probably has children to collect. They work through break and lunch and into the night.

In teaching there is no water cooler. You don’t pop off and make a cup of tea that turns into a 10-minute chat with a colleague. It’s a very intense job.

The difficulty is that I can’t make these points without sounding like I’m complaining. I’m not. I like my job, I accept the terms and I go over and above what is required. I just wish others could see that and stop giving us such a hard time.


This column is designed to give a voice to those within the education system who wish to speak out anonymously. Contributions are welcome. Email sflynn@irishtimes.com

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