“I have no special talent,” Albert Einstein once said. “I am only passionately curious.”
Nowadays passionately curious is a special talent because children, even young children are not, it seems, even moderately curious. Perhaps the problem is not that they are not curious; it’s that the things they want to find out, they no longer need to find out at school.
So says a primary school teacher who’s been in the business for 25 years. School used to be a place of learning, she says, which many children used to want to escape from; nowadays, many of the homes are so troubled that school is very often a place to escape to.
The more troubled the homes, says our primary school teacher, the greater the challenge for the teachers who must act in loco parentis, in place of the parents. No longer is a teacher’s mastery of the curriculum and the syllabus adequate to make him or her successful in the classroom. Instead, teachers must wear capes of omniscience and invincibility and learn to survive the myriad challenges posed by the wide variety of children’s problems with which they must deal on a daily basis.
Were the choice hers, she says, after more than two decades as a teacher, she would readily trade the classroom for something else although she is not quite sure what. But she is certain that the challenge of striving every day to produce excellent results in flawed environments that feature distracted minds is simply too much for her.
Teaching, she believes, once an esteemed profession, is now an unrewarding chore; it has become a true burden, at least in the school where she finds herself. But she is pretty convinced that, even if her situation is arguably worse than many others’, her sentiments are echoed by many of her teacher colleagues across the length and breadth of the country.
Here is more of what she had to say:
Wired868: How long have you been a teacher?
I have been teaching for close to 25 years and I have been at my present school for nine of those years.
Wired868: What are your core duties?
I am basically responsible for planning a programme of learning and I’m to prepare lessons and to instruct students in different subject areas, I am to prepare and administer tests and other assignments. I am to meet with parents on a monthly basis—believe it or not, I did not know that before now.
Wired868: Is this an 8-to-4 job?
School begins at half past eight and goes until 3 ‘o’ clock, I normally try to get to work for 8 ‘o’ clock and sometimes I’m still at school until five.
Wired868: What are the things you generally need to do between the time you get up and the time you leave for work?
Before getting to work, I spend most of the morning preparing my son for his school. I do not do a lot of work-related things before I go to school, um, getting to work is not so bad because I’m going against the flow of the traffic. Once I leave before half past seven, getting to work is a breeze.
Wired868: Does your job generally allow you time for a proper lunch?
Um, yes, I do have time for a proper lunch. I choose sometimes to mark assignments that are due at that time but I do have time to eat.
Wired868: What (apart from the obvious things, of course) are the things you generally need to do between the time you leave work and the time you go to bed?
When I leave work, before I go to bed, that’s the time I usually plan for the next day. Although I have an overarching plan for the week, which I would have taken from the plan I would have had for the term, I still have to break down that plan into details for every day of the week.
Wired868: If I asked you for a single adjective to describe your job, what would that be?
I would definitely say that it is challenging; um, it used to be rewarding. Now. not so much. Um, definitely not seeing the kind of interest I used to see, not even in children who have the aptitude; they’re not as motivated as they once were.
Wired868: Do you allow the office to get in the way of your family life or are you able to keep the two in separate compartments?
Yes, unfortunately, I am yet to strike the balance between my work and home. In the beginning, in the early days, it was worse; I use to bring home work to mark. I still do that on occasion but not as much as I used to because I realise that I wasn’t spending as much time with my son, who is in secondary school and who needs my assistance from time to time. And I realise when I was spending more time with him, he was doing better at school so I am trying very hard to keep the two separate; I need to. I realise that’s important.
Wired868: If you had to do it all again, would you choose the same career path or would you want to change things? Why?
After working in teaching for so many years, I would say that, if I had to do it all over again, I would not teach. I would do … I’m not quite sure what else I would do.
Before I started to teach I was interested in nursing and, um, recently I had an affinity for, um, pharmacology but I did not choose to go that way.
I would change it because it’s so much more difficult; it’s not as enjoyable as it once was, so much more stressful. The system is not working. We do not have things in place for children who come from troubled homes and, um, there doesn’t seem to be any willingness on the part of the powers-that-be to change the things that are. They seem to prefer to appear to be doing something when it isn’t working and the support that you used to get from the home, at least from the parents, that is not so much available now as it used to be.
And the atmosphere, sometimes, the environment feels antagonistic because of the stress created by the system and the workload that has increased. There’s a lot more writing, a lot more recording, a lot more anecdotal records that need to be kept. It’s very challenging especially for someone like myself, who has a problem with writing down everything.
Um, the collegiality that you used to feel on staff, you’re not getting that anymore because teachers are so busy trying to keep up with the demands requested of them by the Ministry of Education in the fulfillment of their jobs.