Au revoir children, I'm off

Qualified language teachers are leaving the profession to take up highly paid jobs in City firms, where they feel their hard-won talents will be appreciated. Carol Toms explains why they're going

I recently left modern languages teaching for an excellent job outside teaching. It wasn't the money that drove me to leave, but a series of other factors which are repeated all over the country as good linguists leave teaching. It is a crying shame that teachers who have studied and trained for five years should be lost to the education system so easily.

Undergraduates considering teaching modern languages may be deterred for several reasons: they study for four years for their first degree, and to add a PGCE may seem a year too long to exist as a student for many people. Debts increase, and although there is the promise of an adequate salary at the end, peers are snapped up by blue chip companies after their degree, on salaries of pounds 17,000 upwards - and their peers use their languages to do more than order un coca s'il vous plait.

Graduates who spend four years analysing the existential qualities of Camus come down to earth with a bang as they start their PGCE and learn lots of French (or German or Spanish or Italian) that they had never come across before - for instance "turn to page 23"; "where is your homework?"; "complete the table on page 89 as you listen to the cassette."

Then they hit the classroom on teaching practice and watch professionals with an excellent command of the language spend 35 minutes trying to teach a bunch of bored teenagers how to book a room in a youth hostel, when the class: a) don't know what a youth hostel is; b) don't care; c) are never likely to go to France anyway.

Many schools advertise posts for dual linguists, making it difficult for those with only one language to find a post. It is the same schools demanding two languages from their staff that only allow their pupils to study one of the two. In the school I taught in, six out of 80 pupils took two languages at GCSE last year. No-one from that school will sit two language GCSEs in 1999 or 2000. This is not an isolated problem, as studying two languages to GCSE level is increasingly rare in comprehensive schools.

Get over the initial hurdles of foregoing a huge salary and a benefits package bigger than free red pens in the City, get on to a PGCE course, survive it and, being an unpaid trainee, manage to find a job. Then you will begin to suffer the problems which, together with a management style that lacked care, led to my leaving teaching:

POOR RESOURCES: tape players that were unreliable and liable to ruin a lesson plan at a moment's notice. Fifteen dictionaries between however many classes as were timetabled on French simultaneously. Text books that the children either found ridiculously easy (top sets) and unchallenging, or had too much text in (bottom sets). Some new books appeared in my last months there, but a pantomime ensued; a rota to share 90 books between 200 children, each child had to have the same book each week - much valuable lesson time was wasted.

CLASS SIZES: a favourite moan of teachers this, but teaching 30 children in a bottom set, managing challenging behaviour and sorting out tape players, dictionaries, missing books, etc... simultaneously for 30 children is bound to be more difficult than teaching 20. Opportunities for spoken French, where the bottom sets really shone, were limited: with classes that size, in 35 minutes each child would be heard for less than a minute.

Modern approaches to language teaching mean that the days of chanting verbs or even sitting in a language lab are over. Target language is the order of the day - every word is in the language from the moment the pupils enter a classroom. Here is not the place to debate the virtues of this method, but it has brought more fun into pupils' lessons - games, drama, IT and videos are part of lessons in many schools. But if you're teaching in a school where the IT facilities available to you are two clapped out 286s and an Apple Mac covered in an inch and a half of chalk dust, all between five classes, then IT in the national curriculum is a bit of a joke. Booking a proper IT room meant having to grovel to the teacher who is supposed to be in there, and carting books and dictionaries around there for 35 minutes. Drama and games for classes of 30 and upwards in rooms built for 25 pupils required a degree of organisation that a military commander would be proud of.

Languages teachers often complain of a lack of interest from their pupils. Pupils can be motivated by games, drama, IT and decent books, but only if their teachers are also motivated. Disenchanted teachers produce disenchanted pupils.

Language teaching is a fight:

n With parents who have had no experience, or negative experiences, of language learning at school.

n With the media who portray Britain as a nation of poor linguists, and reinforce the view that everyone in the world speaks English if you shout loudly and slowly.

n With other professionals who say: "Why should a child who has difficulties in English waste valuable time on another language?"

n With the children who soak up all these views.

n For money to be spent on expensive items, such as tape players, videos and software, rather than on library books, for example.

It is little wonder, then, that professionals give up the fight, battle weary, and retire to other jobs, where sparring qualifications are not necessary.

As for me, I have not spoken a word of French since I was leaving my teaching job, and said: "Au revoir, et bonnes vacances mes enfants."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Tradewind Recruitment: Nursery Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: "This is a good school. Pupils' behaviour i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3/4 Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: *** Urgent: Year 3/4 Teacher required - Abb...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: The Geography department of this outstandin...

Tradewind Recruitment: Teaching Assistant (SEN)

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: A Special Needs school (SEN) in the London ...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen