This post is about teachers. If you are a teacher please be warned that it is not entirely complimentary of everything that all of you do all the time. If you have found yourself bristling and feeling defensive at that, then perhaps it would be a good idea not to read any further.
There are some wonderful teachers about. Dedicated, hard-working, wanting their students to blossom and flourish like edelweiss in their gentle yet firm care. I think most of us can probably think of a teacher whose respect meant the world to us, who was responsible for firing our enthusiasm, encouraging our ambition and making us into the people we are today.
There are still plenty of those about, thank goodness, and they do a difficult and often thankless job. It’s hard, often wearing work and not well remunerated for most. You are constantly put upon by pupils, colleagues, parents, the Government of the day. And yet it must be rewarding to see a pupil blossom and flourish and go on to great things.
There are some teachers who should really not be in their job.
They might be extremely knowledgeable in their subject and yet unable to convey this to the young people in their class, like my A level Economics teacher. Or – and here I know I’m going to lose about half of my teacher followers, outraged at this opinion – they are simply bad teachers. Yes. Ça existe, despite the outraged denials of some. And, to my mind, it would be better off if they were offered positions elsewhere, if, that is, they find it possible to retrain for another skill.
I have witnessed teachers who obviously despise most of the children in their care, singling out only the one who resembles them most for praise and favour. Or they might be horrible, arsey, immature people who go into teaching because it’s the only job where they are guaranteed always to win arguments and boss people about. My children know by now never to pick a fight with a teacher: you’ll never win because their colleagues will always close ranks around them. Whether you’re a parent for a child, the power that a teacher can wield is enormous and unassailable.
Now I know that most teachers are committed and dedicated and genuinely good, nice, reasonable human beings. But that’s just it: teachers are human beings and far too many of them seem to think that their word stands above all others’, is the law and can never be challenged. Just as life is filled with arrogant idiots incapable of listening, well, many too teachers exhibit this behaviour. I know, I know. It’s painful to point out this unprofessional behaviour and it wrenches open a can of worms.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for high standards of behaviour and I’m happy when a teacher is strict and fair. I think children respect that, and so they should. Even young children have automatic bullshit detectors and I firmly believe that age and experience demands this of most of us adults as an evolutionary means of surviving the idiocy of the world. Sadly I’ve known too many teachers who are strict and unfair and that is another way of saying they are bullies.
Some teachers seem to loathe boys. I’ve come across a couple of those in my time. They are the sort of rigid, inflexible, joyless person who prefers children to be meek and quiet and never ask questions.
Some teachers are so insecure in their subject knowledge that they stick to lesson plans that they’ve had for 30 years and feel threatened by new developments; by training; by new research or inquiry.
My Boywonder, in his crucial Year 5 at the British School of Paris (Go on, sue me if this isn’t the truth) had a teacher so poor at maths that she couldn’t function without a calculator. All the brighter children were sent off to “extension” classes with a different teacher, which happened once every four weeks if they were lucky. MsDD, at the same school, didn’t seem to be taught any maths or French during her two years there and has suffered from low confidence ever since. (In France it’s almost impossible to get rid of someone if they are incompetent at their job, even when they refuse re-training.) Generally there seems to be a lot of dead wood in many British International Schools.
There are some teachers who hate the fact that some children are more intelligent than them, so they decide to withdraw all support and attention from those children. This happened to MsDD, always an able, keen and diligent student, head and shoulders above most of the rest of the class. “She never puts her hand up in History,” she said. MsDD loved History even then and her extended hand was consistently ignored by this…I’m still struggling to find the expletive. This teacher neglected the children bumping along at the bottom of the class and wilfully held back my child like mine, to whom she’d taken exception. She was comfortable in her Daily Mail version of life, in her bellowing to cow her class. A dreadful woman who makes herself out as a paragon. This teacher and the previous teacher abused their power to lie on school reports.
The latter teacher over-ruled a vote to make MsDD head girl Most pupils and teachers voted for her and were astounded when she came away empty handed, not even House Captain. This was an utterly shameful episode, particularly as the teacher in question told me with pride that the result of the vote (i.e. democracy) had nothing to do with who was chosen and took pride in intimating that it was always going to be her choice.
Teachers at the school were so shocked at what happened that year that they changed the system. I bitterly, regret never squaring up to that teacher and making her face the damage she had done to MsDD’s self confidence. If I ever see her to talk to in Marks and Spencer’s, I shall throw something in her face.
I’ve been told I should let it go but I witnessed the damage it caused even 6 years on. The injustice to my child hurts indescribably and I wish I’d had the courage to say something. This teacher had an inflated idea of her intelligence, was patently unfair and an abusive bully and would probably never have survived in a State school. She’s still at that prep school buoyed up by a weak Head, who refuses to do anything about her and routinely makes life miserable for some whom she singles out.
I so regret what I did NOT say in this episode, and I can see the harm that an unfair, power-tripping teacher can do, so these days I’m more likely to speak up if I see injustice. Sadly, too often teachers close ranks at ever the mildest questioning of something they have said or done and this is what is happening to MsDD at the moment, with one teacher at her school and one at the music school.
It would seem that the teacher school is going through some sort of crisis, for which I sympathise, and taking it out unprofessionally and unfairly on MsDD, for which I don’t. I am watching the situation carefully and might raise it soon. I am not one of THOSE women who flies off the handle immediately but, as I said, I can now spot a bully a mile off and I cannot bear it when I see abuse of power that can ruin a child’s life, which we are unable to challenge.
I tackled another injustice tonight and am reeling from it. The man in question seems to have immediately become defensive at the mere hint of a question asking for feedback and a meeting about which I’d been fretting (Do I? Don’t I?) for weeks, possibly months immediately descended into him prejudging my intentions; putting thoughts into my head and words into my mouth that were never there. He then forcibly defended himself against these non-existent thoughts and then blamed me for raising my voice (I admit, a little) and being argumentative when I became annoyed at his tone. And how is asking about the rationale of someone’s audition criteria “goading?” And how can one defend oneself against someone else’s paranoid and defensive erroneous perceptions?
Having got that over with, I managed to leave with my dignity more or less intact and we gave each other food for thought. I think though, that if he has the wit to examine this conversation, he will realise that he probably came off a bit worse than me. This sort of person never seems to go in for self-examination, however, because why would you if you are infallible? I am reeling but still glad I said something and fought my corner. I wish I’d been braver sooner, in fact.
So teachers, a word in your collective: perhaps it’s time to listen as well as talk and have some humility. Take responsibility for what you say and do because it can have a deep and irreversible impact on the life of a young person.