While I was training, I often heard people declare that you should go into teaching only if you “LOVE children”. I found this unsettling as I didn’t and don’t love children, because children are just people, after all, and people vary. Having been reminded of this by a tweet today, I thought I’d blog about why I became a teacher.
Coincidentally, one of my earliest ambitions was to be a maths teacher; I wore a gown and wrote numbers on my face for a school event. Really, I just liked maths and wanted to do more of it. It wasn’t something I particularly considered beyond the age of 7, I got the impression it was aiming too low (in my family you respected teachers but you didn’t aim to be one).
While at university, I was aware that there was thought to be a problem with the nation’s maths skills in general, although this was not something I could personally identify with, until the day I went shopping with a voucher. I had a kitten and a token for 10% off cat litter. I thought it would take the amount off automatically at the till but for some reason it didn’t and the cashier needed to input the discount manually. She informed me that she would have to call her manager as she had no idea how much 10% was. I told her the amount (she chose not to believe me, which was her call and not unreasonable since she had no idea), the person behind me in the queue backed me up, as did the manager when they arrived. The cashier ended by shrugging and informing us all that she had never been any good at maths and I left, gobsmacked. I had never knowingly met an adult who couldn’t work out 10% of a number and perhaps I hadn’t really believed the reports about the state of the nation’s maths skills.
Nothing came of the encounter at first: I was still pursuing my dream of a being an academic but I never forgot it and it opened my eyes to why some people made bad financial decisions that to me seemed inexplicable. I began to post ever more regularly on the Money Saving Expert fora, trying to help people to understand why they should overpay their 28% credit card debt rather than their 5% mortgage, even if the latter was for a larger amount. I gave up on academia during this time and drifted along for a while, wondering what to do with myself.
One day, while working as a mountain guide in Italy, I met a pair of teachers and started wondering whether that might be the route for me. If there was a problem (which I had evidence there was), how about getting involved and trying to do something about it? It had the double bonus of probably being far more effective than my internet posts and someone wanted to pay me to do it! I wasn’t afraid of intellectually demanding work and my lack of maths degree was magically not a barrier. I had no idea whether I would like teaching but I knew I’d liked school, maybe that would be enough and if not, the PGCE would at least be a useful qualification to have tucked in my pocket. I could be paid to train, have a secure job, with a defined amount on my payslip each month, an excellent pension AND the potential to stop children’s lives being blighted by an inability to understand percentages.
I’d heard the stories about teaching being stressful, of course, but they were often quite vague and plenty of people seemed to cope, so I knew I’d be OK, I was a tough cookie*. I can now add to the list that I’ve remained a teacher, in one form or another, because it is still the most satisfying intellectual challenge of my life.
It’s always about the children, of course, it can’t not be. We teach to improve children’s life chances but I’m still not convinced of the necessity to love them while we are doing it. If they are learning and you can find satisfaction in what you do, you are in a right place.
* HA! I don’t claim that any more.