Why do teachers teach?
With news attention over the last year focused on funding cuts and issues with recruitment and retention, it’s a question some might deem hard to answer. We’ve seen young teachers and teachers of core subjects and the Ebacc moving on from teaching, and efforts to bring teachers back into the profession being less than fruitful, leading to a consensus that there is a problem with the perception of teaching.
To find out more, The Key spoke to over 1,000 school leaders about how the profession is perceived in our State of Education Survey 2017. Our results showed that 68% of school leaders think the perception of the profession has got worse over the past 5 years. Some of the top reasons contributing to the perception getting worse included the profession’s portrayal in the national and trade media (62%), the focus on league tables (54%) and negative comments on social media about teaching (52%). 86% of primary school leaders and 85% of school leaders in secondary settings believe that morale is suffering as a result of how the teaching profession is perceived.
So how can we generate some positivity around the profession, and keep teachers in the sector, without ignoring real problems? We need to acknowledge that there are issues. But we also need to celebrate what is sometimes overlooked – the everyday successes of professionals working with the next generation.
In our State of Education Survey, we asked school leaders, ‘What is it that you particularly love about your job, working within education?’ We found 5 reasons why teachers love their job, no matter what’s going on in the papers.
‘Energy, enthusiasm and excitement’
Educational professionals relish the opportunities to be creative, whether that’s from great lessons or the nature of working with young people. One said that the “energy, enthusiasm and excitement” of young people inspires them to create great lessons, which in turn helps them to “teach, inspire, create”.
Recommendations from a primary school teacher friend of mine included trying to bring your own passions into the classroom - “I always made time for music and outdoors activities because that is what I loved doing. The kids in my class knew I loved it and it made them love it too. If every teacher did this and really shared whatever they are passionate about, the children they teach would have such an amazing, wide variety of experiences. It is what you will be most excited about and therefore best at teaching!”
‘Making a difference’
School leaders feel proud of their job because they know they are enabling the next generation to fulfil their potential. Being a role model, and having an impact on the futures of young people, help motivate teachers.
One school leader loves their job because it involves “taking a child on a learning journey and seeing them progress/be successful. The journey is not always academic but bespoke to a child's needs”.
Others talked about working with pupils’ families within the wider community, or “giving children who have failed in the system a second chance”. The term ‘making a difference’ came up again and again.
Every day (and teacher) is different
Every day is different in teaching. One school leader said, “The day goes quick and it is never boring”. Others mentioned celebrating the range of successes for each different child, or the “mental stimulation” of working in such a varied way.
Another said, “Every day is different and even if you start off with a plan of what to do during the day, this will often change!”
There’s also freedom in terms of the type of teacher you want to be. From the perspective of my primary school teacher friend, those relatively new to the profession can be daunted by seeing how differently other teachers are working with their classes, and feel like they’re not doing it the ‘right’ way, but that there isn’t one ‘right’ way with teaching – and that this is something to celebrate. “Never compare yourself to other teachers. There is always someone who seems to be doing more or better than you, but there is nobody else who teaches just like you”.
At the heart of teachers’ motivations is the teacher’s love of their subject, or the “buzz when students understand a difficult concept”.
I talked to a secondary school teacher friend who said that she loves seeing young people “understand things for themselves, enjoy something and then take it on independently”. She also enjoys “seeing pupils working out that what we teach them applies in real life”. She recommended getting involved in wider school life, such as school trips and clubs, to see how pupils learn in different contexts.
‘We are all in it together’
It’s no doubt that challenge in the profession is a double-edged sword. Some thrive on the sheer range of challenges each day presents, whether it’s an individual pupil’s barrier to learning or a school-wide strategic problem to solve. Others find that the challenging reality of the sector is making the job less rewarding.
One school leader told us that their top reason for loving their job in spite of difficulty was their supportive colleagues: “We are all in it together, and have a strong sense of togetherness to get each other through tough times”.
Others mentioned that colleagues are a source of passion, energy and ideas for making teaching the best it can be. One school leader said that they love “working with dedicated professionals who go above and beyond”.
Yes, there are some significant issues in the sector, particularly with retention. And we should continue to talk about that. But we should also be talking about where the profession is winning.
Do you agree with these as a top 5 reasons to love the teaching profession? Do you have any stories that fit into one or more of the above? Why not make time to share this in the staffroom, or in your staff meeting this week?