April 23, 2016 by Doug Napolitano-Cremin
I do not usual write ‘opinion pieces’ on this blog – for various reasons. This post was meant to be about reflecting on my experience of attending the NSTA (National Science Teachers Asssociation of America) national conference in Nashville over the Easter holidays, and in part it is. However a number of things have happened to me over the last few months that have stimulated my thinking about what it actually means to be a teacher – or maybe what I think it should mean.
The NSTA was a Science-teacher geeks dream. For 4 days I was surrounded by thousands of people who had travelled from cities all across America, and from various parts of the world, to learn about their chosen profession. What could be better? At the entrance to the exhibition hall was a fantastic space that asked people to write down why they loved being a science teacher. Some of my favourite responses are found below.
This summed up the reason why I loved this experience – being surrounded by people who loved what they do. It is the same reason why I love attending TeachMeets and conferences back home here in the UK.
A few weeks upon my return from Nashville I was back at work and discussing with colleagues the Teach Meet I was going to attend that evening. One colleague started laughing about my geekiness and commented that, ‘I love the fact that you love what you do.’ My colleague did not say this in a disparaging way, and I didn’t take it as an insult or a as a negative comment, but it struck me that ‘loving teaching’ was so different that it prompted the comment. Why is it odd that I love what I do? Why doesn’t everybody?
Upon reflecting on the comment I have come to realise that I have long struggled with ideas about teaching as a job/profession. I was very lucky when I was younger that I knew for a long time what I wanted to do with my life. Before going to University I knew I was going to become a teacher. In sixth form I volunteered in classes with younger year groups. I volunteered in schools throughout my undergraduate degree and went straight in to completing my PGCE once my undergrad had been completed. I know that I was lucky to have a well laid path ahead of me and I know that type of path in to teaching is becoming increasingly rare. Some of the greatest teachers I have worked with have followed different paths; had careers before entering the teaching profession. The path I followed is not the best path for everyone, but it was the best for me.
I love the fact that I spend my working days learning. I love the questions in teaching. The ones my pupils ask me, and the ones I ask myself. I love my job! I have however had periods in my career where I have questioned my place in teaching. I have been close to leaving the profession at times. I have struggled with balancing my work with my personal life and I am regularly plagued by doubts about the quality of the work I produce, the impact I have on the lives of my pupils and now the impact I have on the colleagues that I lead. The one thing that pulls me back in is my deep love for the profession as a whole and the support of colleagues who have similar feelings to myself.
I say all of this because I strongly believe that the role of a teacher is an incredibly hard one to maintain, especially in the current political climate. It is even harder if you don’t want to do it. If you don’t love the questions, the light-bulb moments or just simply don’t love interacting with young people. Teaching should not take over a persons life. I don’t expect or even think it is healthy, for a teacher to be spending every Saturday at one conference or another at their own expense. Forget about Twitter if it doesn’t appeal to you. Forget about the TES, the blogs, the podcasts and the TeachMeets too. Our teaching can only be enriched if we take time in our lives outside of work to seek-out new experiences. We need to look after ourselves and our families first if we have any hope of being able to look after the young people we work with. I strongly believe however that we need to see teaching as more than a job.
As a new Head of Faculty it is becoming more and more apparent to me that I have to work hard to ensure that my colleagues love their job. I have to plan ahead for next year opportunities for my colleagues to thrive in their roles as a teacher, and fall in love again or maintain the love that they have for the profession that they are devoting their working lives to. I want my faculty to be eager to come in to work every day. I want them to develop a love for learning as great as that which we are trying to develop in our pupils. I want them to see it being out of the ordinary to NOT love their job. I want to help them to strive to be the best that they can be, not for performance-related pay, not for the grades or the value-added figures, but because they simply love what they do. I want to be able to support them in the days when the job bites them on the arse, but also ultimately enable them to have the love for their profession that enables them to bounce back the very next day.
Call me naive. Call me ridiculous. I’m probably both of those things and more. Right now however I am a man who, despite the exhaustion and the stress, is in love with the side of his life that is often referred to as work. I think we all need to allow ourselves to fall in love with our profession and ensure that no manager, parent, politician or media outlet ever turns our heads again.