There is a wonderful episode of Frasier right at the very end of Season One, a bottle episode, in which Niles asks his brother “Are you happy?” whilst they are out for coffee (My Coffee With Niles – Season One Episode 24). This idea of happiness and contentment is one to which the show returns time and time again and this, along with many a discussion on twitter, has started me thinking. When it comes to my school – am I happy?
Niles: So, Frasier, now that chapter two of your life is in full swing, do you mind if I ask you something? Frasier: No, go right ahead. Niles: Are you happy? Frasier thinks. Niles: Did you hear the question? Frasier: Yes, I'm thinking. It's a seemingly complex question. Niles: No, it's not. Frasier: Yes, it is. Niles: No, it's not. Either you're happy or you're not. Frasier: Are you happy? Niles: No, but we're not talking about me. Frasier: Oh, let's not just gloss over that. You, my only brother, has just told me you're not happy and it pains me to hear that, so why? Niles: I was watching PBS the other night in my study and they were showing this documentary on the Great Depression. Vintage Steinbeck - desperately poor people escaping the Dust Bowl, their meager possessions strapped to rickety old trucks heading to what they thought was their salvation. Then there was this scene with this scruffy boy being handed a brand-new pair of shoes by the Salvation Army. Frasier, if you saw the look on that boy's face. It was a look of pure and utter happiness. I have never experienced that kind of happiness, not in my whole life. Not even when I bought these four hundred dollar Bruno Maglies. [shows shoes off] Do you like them? Frasier: Do you like them? Niles: What about the tassels? Frasier: Well, I'm not much of a tassel guy. Niles: No, neither am I, nevertheless there they are. [thinks] Oh, I have no reason to be unhappy. I have my health, have a wonderful home, a beautiful wife... did your eyebrow just move?
“Are you happy in your current school?” was a question posed on Twitter by @thatboycanteach and the replies to it were heart warming, as people took the opportunity to share the things that they loved about their school. It stood out as unusual because, perhaps unsurprisingly, teachers’ description of their working life tends to be so much more negative. My twitter feed is a heady mix of people sharing wonderful teaching resources and ideas and those who are sharing their woes about behaviour, workload and bizarre edicts from their SLT. We all need a place to rant after all.
I would like to say that I awake each morning with a smile and skip into work to shower positive axioms to all within ear shot; whereas the truth is more awakening at 5:30 with a groan and showering all near me with ground coffee. This has been a very long term both in reality (20th of December and still in school) and in terms of workload; with new specifications coming in for both KS4 and KS5 at the same time. It is dark when I arrive to work, foggy all day and then dark when I leave. I am shattered. And yet… Are you happy?
You know what? I am.
I can’t imagine doing any other job than this. I love my subject (which is easy as it is Geography – without question the best subject) and I love sharing this love of it. I love explaining how hurricanes form from the first principle of “warm air rises” to “and this is the result!”. I love the outrage from teenagers when they learn about the inequality of the global food system or when their misconceptions about the global movement of refugees is challenged. “You mean the papers are telling lies?!”
I love that fact that I am part of a profession who arrange Teach Meets in their own time, who blog about their jobs with such passion that clearly it is more than just a job to them. I love that there are teachers who care about educational research and stand up and challenge and debate sacred cows and perceived truths. I love the fact that my profession encompasses and embraces both David Didau and Sue Cowley.
I love being a head of department and having the chance to shape the curriculum and decide what we should study. I love the fact that as a teacher I can read something fascinating on a Sunday afternoon and be teaching it Monday morning. I love the fact that I have the autonomy to decide the best way to teach my classes. The best way to give feedback. The best ways to assess their knowledge.
50% of teachers are so unhappy with their job that they leave the profession within 5 years. This is tragic. There will always be people for whom this is just not the job for them. Perhaps they went in to teaching not knowing what else to do. Perhaps they thought they would give it a go and this has been the result. That’s fine. But I worry there are many amazing potential teachers out there who have left, or been put off joining in the first place, because they don’t recognise the description of teaching I have given. They teach in schools where pupils don’t respond with wide-eyed amazement when learning about the Coriolis effect. They teach in schools who dictate exactly what should be taught, how it should be taught and when it should be marked. They are too exhausted and beaten down to go to a Teach Meet after school or read wonderful books like Make Every Lesson Count and get excited about the possibilities.
These people have my sympathy but I come with good news – there are amazing schools out there where you will be a trusted professional. There are schools with effective behaviour policies and sensible feedback policies. There are schools where you are supported to be the best teacher you can be and not punished for making mistakes. There are schools where you can share your love for your subject.
I know. I teach in one.
So ask yourself – are you happy?