“Oh you are a teacher, thank you for shaping our children’s future”…
“Teaching is such a selfless job”…
“You are so lucky you are a teacher, I am so jealous of all the holiday you get!”
Education. Teaching. Both such encompassing topics that, like anything, come laden with politics, stigma and stereotypes. Back in my teenage high school years, I fitted the middle class rebel stereotype – trying to create an idenity that would get me accepted into the ‘in crowds’ at school. So, after successful survival of high school and completion of my undergraduate degree; hearing that I wanted to teach flummoxed both my family and friends. I fully embraced the Primary Education PGCE and found that, contrary to popular beliefs, I actually loved teaching. Now, after teaching and educating for the past three and a half years, I find myself wanting to pursue an entirely different career.
I started my teaching career as many graduates do, by doing daily supply teaching at a variety of schools. I found this experience invaluable; it made me learn fast at how to both manage behaviour and deliver engaging lessons off the top of my head. I was ecstatic, however, when I was offered a full time teaching job three months later. My own class. It is, after all, what I had gone back to university for!
Teaching in Wales
My housemates and friends quickly learned to disspell the common misconceptions that teachers work ‘9 – 3.30pm’ and ‘play about with paints’. It completely infiltrated every part of my life, but I loved it. The endless cycle of planning, teaching and evaluating was incredibly rewarding and I really felt like I was making a difference. Though the curriculum underwent several big changes in my short time teaching in Wales, I enjoyed the challenge and the flexibility of creating lessons that I would have so desperately loved to have been part of as a child. I also enjoyed the accountability – I was personally responsible for ensuring that every child grew in confidence, knowledge and skills. Moreover, I loved how integral I was to the children’s lives; they couldn’t wait to see me each day and I felt the same towards them. Their quirks, personality and innocent views on the world not only amused me but often made my day.
Wales operates a very skills-oriented curriculum, with clear expectations for child progression throughout their primary years. There is great emphasis on cross-curricular learning, with lessons given a ‘real world’ link, encouraging the children to become independent lifelong learners. ‘Independent lifelong learners’ was a real buzz phrase, and I am not sure how much the curriculum itself influenced this, but that was definitely an aim of the most recent frameworks.
After teaching for three years in the UK, I decided to emigrate to Florida to live with my family who had emigrated about 10 years previously.
Teaching in Florida
I arrived in Florida fully aware that I needed to give my British qualifications an American equivalent. I quickly learned that I would have more on my plate than simply remembering to omit ‘u’ in lots of words or substitute ‘s’ for ‘z’. I began studying for my elementary exams; 5 hours of multiple choice questions taken in a cubicle, which I can only liken to being a laboratory rat. Only one 20 minute break was allotted throughout the entire exam, something, which, now, I should have probably realised was indicative for how the school system is run.
Like all careers, it is all about networking, and despite failing an aspect of the exam, I stumbled across a job in a charter school within my county. I was ecstatic – everything was falling into place! I arrived at school after getting fingerprints taken expecting an induction, but, instead, I was thrown into my new classroom midway through a Math lesson and thrust a textbook. From that moment until Veteran’s day, it was relentless. I was given ad-hoc advice on what to do, but, ultimately, it amounted to ‘follow the pacing guide’ and ‘teach from the textbook’. Each lesson followed the exact same format, dictated by the ‘drop down’ selection boxes on the planning sheets.
The aspect I found the hardest was that the children were afraid of creativity. Any time I set a task, I was indundated with numerous questions from the children who wanted complete structure. I felt deflated. Not only was my teaching style having to be adapted to drop down boxes, the children only wanted lessons that could easily be assigned a percentage outcome to. Whoever thought that qualitative data could be analysed with a percentage? I started off ‘grading’ work by how I knew…detailed written feedback, editing work and setting targets; the time consuming, but effective method I had been so accustomed to in Wales. I proudly returned the work to the children only to be immediately asked “Where’s my grade?” They were not accustomed to receiving work back that didn’t sort them into groups of ‘A grade’ students and ‘B grade’ students. Moreover, the targets I had set the children were not well received. They saw this as a sign of weakness. They were so used to receiving ‘100%’ on their work that the prospect that their work was not perfect was a lot to handle. Perfect work? Surely this goes against everything a teacher wants? I mean, yes, I want great work, but I don’t want tick sheet perfect. I want some personality, flair and creativity. The focus is on gaining of knowledge and it is this knowledge which is seen as synonymous with intelligence.
America loves tests. I was shocked at the level of pressure the children are put under and that both their intelligence and the skills of the teacher are assessed as to how accurate they are at bubbling in Scantrons. These Scantrons are the bane of everyones’ lives and account for so much. The questions are often multi-step and all aspects have to be answered completely accurately for the children to get the point. As a result, many of the children I taught had been diagnosed with anxiety. Anxiety at age 10. Ridiculous. The most anxiety I had at age 10 was if I wasn’t allowed dessert for a week as a punishment. Furthermore, the people who set the questions were very slapdash in writing them and the tests were filled with errors. The children were streamed in their classes based on their test performance. Again, where is the assessment of skills? People can be great at taking Scantrons, or be great at copying others or picking lucky options…but does this really measure intelligence? Thinking outside the box is a lot more cognitively complex than thinking inside a Scantron bubble.
Ultimately, teaching in Florida has completely stifled both my personal and professional freedom. I viewed teaching in Wales as social; albeit mainly with little people, but with plenty of opportunity to do so with my colleagues too. Here, you are isolated. Literally locked in your teaching room (incase someone with a gun comes on a rampage) with only a 25 minute lunch break, most of which is spent filling in accident forms if a child falls over or in a queue for the bathroom. What happens if you need the bathroom other than in that 25 minute period? You have to wait to see if someone from the front desk will cover you. Being someone who easily drinks a gallon of fluids a day, the fact you have to drink tactically is both unhealthy and wearing. I never would have previously seen a bathroom trip as ‘me’ time, nor did I expect the bathroom to occupy vast proportions of my thoughts throughout the day.
It is definitely time to pursue something less restrictive and to break free from the Scantron-laboratory-rat-world.