I work as a relief teacher. At seven in the morning, or if I’m lucky, at eight in the evening, the night before, I get a call from a surprisingly calm sounding woman who coordinates the relief teachers at one of the high schools nearby, and she asks me if I’m available to teach, and I usually say, ‘Yes, I’d love to. What time do you need me?’

So I show up at school (after all the regular teachers do) in time for period one, and find my instructions, left by whoever I’m stepping in for (because of illness, or sometimes a class trip, or professional development…). Then I find my class and introduce myself and they invariably try to swap names or convince me they’re ‘usually allowed to listen to music in class’, but we plod on with their work and at the end of it they go to the next class, and so do I.

At interval, I sit in a staff room and watch and listen, and damn it people, why do we, as a society, bag teachers? Why is it that we just assume the problems with education (and therefore with all of society…) can be traced back to rubbish teachers? Because honestly, I can remember one or two less-than-stellar teachers from my entire schooling career, but most of them were creative, articulate, could think on their feet, deliver inspirational speeches at the drop of a hat, make us do way more than we thought we were capable of… These people work ridiculous hours and pour their hearts and souls into helping kids through school, preparing them for life beyond, propping them up when they’re struggling, just generally, frankly, being everyday HEROES.

I get it, teachers are a convenient target for government and media when they want to point the finger, but the more time I spend around schools, the more fed up I am with the lazy rhetoric, the scapegoating.

There’s a thing we do – all of us – we assume we work harder than other people. We can’t step into their shoes and live their life, can’t see most of what they do, the hard parts of their jobs, the complexity. We see the rewards perhaps, we see the pay-off, we see the appearance of order and meaning, and it is so easy to imagine they have it just slightly (or a lot) easier than we do.

With teachers it’s too easy. We see school holidays and nine a.m. to three p.m.. We see them as glorified babysitters, perhaps. We imagine it’s not that hard to give lectures and detentions to a room full of smelly, disorganised, apathetic teenagers with smartphones under their desks. We think you’d have to be an idiot to sign up for that shit in the first place. We think they put on a movie any time they’re not feeling up to it.

And then our own kids (or our friends’ kids) come home, tired and hormonal, and talk smack about how rubbish their teachers are, how out of control their classes, how they outsmarted the fool in charge. Do we believe them? Do we accept the job-appraisal offered by a fifteen year old who would rather be mine-crafting than wrapping his head around the causes of World War II? The teacher took his phone off him and gave him homework, and we take his word on how competent she is at her job?


And the shit teachers have to deal with some days, the cruel fragile-ego-driven shit teenagers deal out (it’s a phase, perhaps, not to excuse it, but we can probably all remember being less than lovely to a teacher or two). Teachers take that stuff, laugh it off, and put on their armour and go back to work, because they’ve got a job to do. These kids need to learn this stuff, pass this test, gain this credit…

The money’s not crash hot. The holidays are mythical. And nine to three… hah!

You want to improve education? Pay them better, give them smaller classes and bigger budgets and support staff to do all the non-teaching stuff. Start with the assumption that teachers are in it for the kids (because why the hell else would they be in it?) Start with the admission that if they’re not the best teacher ever, that puts education on par with every other profession, full of every-day-heroes who aren’t the best-ever at their job, but do pretty damn well in the circumstances, given the resources at hand. And most teachers are great learners – comes with the territory – they’re upping their game constantly. In fact, it’s required for keeping your teaching registration.

There are those who tick the boxes, disparage students, do the bare minimum – I’m sure there are, somewhere. I assume so because there must be, right? In any profession.

But I go into schools, I watch, I listen, and I’ve not yet seen ONE.

What I have seen are so many dedicated, creative, generous souls, giving up their lunch hours to help a struggling kid, doing research on their phone while eating a soggy sandwich, looking up a more engaging way to introduce a seemingly-dull but important topic, or finding course information for a kid who’s ready to quit school, or shoulder-tapping another teacher to compare notes on a kid who is often upset and is there something going on at home?

Unfortunately we have people in government, even those in charge of education portfolios, who’ve hardly spent any time in schools at all. Being in real schools with real teachers would soon put an end to all the teacher-blaming, and then we could start to talk about how to actually improve education in this country.

Okay, rant done. This guy does it better, and it’s possible you haven’t seen this because it’s a few years old now…

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4 thoughts to “On bagging teachers

  • M. C. Frye

    I have never understood why society as a whole – parents, business-owners and employees, politicians and government workers have such horrible opinions of teachers and schools, and such batty ideas on how to make it all work better.

  • Tania Roxborogh

    And, every year, there’s that one kid who (like this one http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/crime/90091273/pita-edwards–charming-smart-a-life-criminal ) who manipulates and causes all sorts of chaos and confusing while the other kids just want to get on with the lesson. The energy expended on these guys (who are already showing sociopathic tendencies) is enormous. All done with the utmost professionalism as is demanded (and rightly so). But, despite the hard/bad stuff, I still love it more than anything! I love teaching students; I love learning from my students. I love that I get to have my eyes opened to a world I wouldn’t be able to see on my own. I work hard because I WANT to – I want to know more about what’s going on for my students (who I try to remember are other people’s babies!); I want them to experience personal success; I want them to feel safe and secure in my classroom. I’m v grateful for our union who have worked so hard over the years to improve our conditions (I started in 1988 and many of the things we enjoy now did not exist). What wears us down worse than the day to day demands of the job is the often negative public and government attitude toward the job and those who do it.

    • Trudi Brocas

      Tania , I’m pretty sure I was one of those less than stellar students of yours at Westlake girls many years ago ! Funnily enough I’ve been teaching myself for close to 20 years !! I always remember the humour you found in our antics 🙂
      (If it’s not the same Tania , sorry!!)

  • Melanie

    Great read. A very accurate description of the debacle education is in thanksome to the current government’s obsession with #GERM policies and the neoliberal need to “create” a crisis where there was not one to justify driving through accountability measures, standardisation and privatisation.
    Please read: http://howmelulaterseesit.blogspot.co.nz/2017/03/back-to-future-how-has-economic-policy.html?m=1

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