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Teacher, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

“I am a teacher.”

It never ceases to amaze me at the different attitudes towards teachers, both across different countries. Go to countries like Singapore for example, and you will find that teachers are very highly thought of. When the pretty girl at the bar asks you what you do for a living, she perks up when you say you are a teacher. By contrast, here in the United Kingdom, when I said I wanted to be a teacher the usual reply was “Don’t do it” or “why would you do that to yourself?”

Some cultures look on educators as a vital part of society, crucial contributors without whom the nation would crumble. And it is hard to argue, when you consider that nearly every single expert in any subject has been taught by a teacher. Take a look at any leading physicist – at some stage that inquisitive mind was learning for the first time the difference between atoms and molecules.

And yet here in the UK, I often hear teachers spoken of as glorified baby sitters, someone to keep an eye on little Suzy while Mum and Dad go to work. They have no idea that on the average Sunday night, while they sit at home drinking wine and trying not to think about tomorrows very important meeting, that Mrs. Jones the English teacher is planning how to get Suzy to take a genuine interest in Poetry. That stunningly attractive Miss. Keats the Tech Ed. teacher is working out how to get a third year class of hormonal teenage boys to safely build the latest product with hundreds of pounds worth of dangerous technology without so much as a bruise. Or that Mr. Carter the Maths teacher is finishing marking those exams that the students clearly have not revised for.

There is a simple truth to this: Generally speaking, the majority of the British population have little to no appreciation for teachers and what they have to go through. “They get to retire at 55” they say, “they get better pensions than us”, “how hard can it be, I’ve looked after my sons friends at his birthday parties without training!?”.

Yet, stats show, a lot of teachers leave the profession quickly.  Last year, the Guardian showed that around 4/10 newly qualified teachers quit in under 12 months.  According to ATL’s analysis of the latest government figures, in 2011 just 62% of teachers who gained qualified teaching status that year were still teaching a year later.

The BBC also showed that “More than half of teachers in England (53%) are thinking of quitting in the next two years, a survey has suggested.”

Quite an alarming level, especially when you consider the level of qualification required to be a teacher. A teacher must be degree qualified in their subject, with a large number qualified beyond that. How many of us at school got taught science by a Dr. Jones or similar? I also had a couple of Professors, which is unusual perhaps but they apparently preferred teaching younger students. They must also have undertaken a PGCE – Post Graduate Certificate in Education (or PGDE, D for Diploma, in Scotland). Consider the funding, the time, the patience and, as anyone who has been through university will know, the stress involved. And a PGCE/PGDE is very intensive, I know that from personal experience. Around 40% of students who start the course do not complete it.

Why is it so intense? Well consider this: soldiers spend months training before going over seas. Fire fighters go though many, many tests and drills before seeing a burning building. Doctors train for years before being allowed to cut people open, and practice on dead bodies first. The first time a teacher teaches, it is with live students in an actual school. How else do you prepare a student for this?

So take a look at the numbers of teachers we lose. Assuming the previous statistics to be accurate…

Say we start with 1000 students training to be teachers. By the end of the year, we are down to 600. By the  end of  the first year in a classroom, that number will likely drop to around 360.

 Sounds bad? It gets worse.

That is the NUT, the National Union of Teachers. So, if we accept those stats…

360 of the 1000 we started with have survived one year. Just to replace the 50,000 we lost, we would need approximately 138.89 times that 360 survivors (which assuming similar losses, is around 138,890 students starting the course).

And we had a shortage of teachers before we lost the 50,000.

Which leads to a rather obvious question: what the hell is going on?

Well the answer is quite simple, judging from the reactions of the Unions. The profession is now very heavily scrutinized, with the Government obsessing over “performance standards” and “accountability”. This is due in part to a certain Michael Gove (a man so disliked in the teaching profession, mentioning his name in a staff room might well get a reaction similar to saying Voldemort in a Harry Potter book, although that may be unfair to the soul splitting sorcerer) and his reform of the Department of Education. Often considered a great thinker by those who support him, he could be accused at times of forgetting that to lead an organisation, those inside it should follow. He wanted to implement ideas that ran contrary to those of the people who would have to do all the leg work for it – the teachers. That, along side the continual cuts and attempts to reduce pay, the stress and long hours and… well who would agree to study for so long for that?

There is a certain irony that the Minister in charge of the Department of Education does not actually need to have any qualifications. Indeed, theoretically they could have failed every exam at school! Nor are they required to have any experience in education. Of course, this is extreme and it is more than likely that they will be qualified at some level for the post. But the reality remains that the Experts, the teachers, are being told how to do the thing they are experts in by someone who is not an Expert.

Now just put that into another scenario: A librarian telling the Military Generals how to win a war. A cook telling the builder how to lay bricks. An accountant telling the head of a nuclear power stations mechanical department how to fix a generator. Sounds a bad idea? Then explain to me how that is different to teachers being told how to teach by a Journalist who studied English at Oxford?

Just an idea, from a teacher. Get the politicians out of Education, and leave it to the Experts.