Education letter: Retirement: best thing in teaching

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I WOULD not dream of advising one of my students to enter a profession with such grotesque working conditions as those of the teaching profession.

What do you get for a teaching qualification? The chance to work with still excessively large groups of often unwilling young victims of the alcopop and Neighbours culture, who find the very idea of what you are trying to do - broaden horizons, impart knowledge and develop the intellect - quaint and unworldly; the opportunity to attempt this job insufficiently equipped in buildings often in dire need of repair; the privilege of doing so under the noses of inspectors, who sit in the back of the classroom expecting to sniff out incompetence though you are actually only exhausted by the extra paperwork that they have caused you; a working day, during which you have to give 100 per cent of your attention all the time otherwise you lose control of the class (no brief chats with colleagues just back from holiday or an odd minute to pick the winner of the 2.30 at Kempton Park, the sort of things your friends in other types of jobs have).

But that's not all; when finally the working day is over and if the stress (and the classroom noise) hasn't given you a nervous breakdown, you can then start your marking and prepare tomorrow's lessons.

The holidays? My teacher and ex-teacher friends tell me that an extra 18 hours homework a week is quite normal. Therefore, if the school year lasts for 39 weeks, this, in fact, means that you are working a fifty- six week year. The holidays..?

You do all this in a society that will blame you if things go wrong and give others the credit if things go right. Your trade union will wring minuscule pay increases out of the government for you; but what is even sadder is that your union appears to think that the troubles of the teaching profession are just a matter of money.

Am I exaggerating? A bit, perhaps. I do know teachers who find teaching stimulating and fulfilling, but they all complain about the obstacles that prevent them from getting down to the actual job. And, by the way, when did you last meet a fifty-something year-old teacher who was not looking forward to retirement?

Alan Deighton

Department of German

University of Hull