Three, that’s the magic number…

Teaching is a wonderful vocation; every day has at least one high; no two days are the same; teaching keeps you grounded; teaching keeps you young; teachers never stop learning; teachers make minds; no-one ever forgets a good teacher.  Or a really bad one.

All of the above is true, but it’s sometimes easy to forget, especially at report-writing time, when dealing with unreasonable parents or colleagues or when pupils continue to disappoint, even when you’ve invested large amounts of time for their benefit.  The Secret Teacher column in The Guardian is an odious read, presenting the profession in a very poor light – all moaning martyrs, underpaid and overworked, doing it for the kids whilst being oppressed by forces from above.

If you want to retain perspective, to remind yourself that you really love what you do, I think you could do far worse than watching Robert Donat in ‘Goodbye Mr Chips’.  Ok, it’s a pretty flawed story-line in that he only really becomes lovable after his wife dies and it’s really her who knows how to build relationships with children and his pupils think he’s a bit of a tit until he’s bereaved, but try to remain unemotional in the final scene as he’s about to be spirited away and if you can do so, you’ve a heart of stone.  It was filmed at Repton of course, but nothing’s perfect.

There’s an ever-growing market for education literature, and not all of it is by Sir Ken Robinson (note I *did* include the title).  You may find something inspirational there.  If you’re not a fan of grainy 1930s films or the whole Public School thing really isn’t for you, here’s three books that should re-kindle your love of teaching, should it need a shot in the arm at any point:

Stoner (John Williams): re-discovered after decades being ignored, it’s a version of the ‘Mr Chips’ narrative, except there’s no real triumph at any point, pupils don’t really like being taught by William Stoner and there’s no big finish at the end.  It’s about an academic man, in love with his subject; a man with obvious flaws, but one who is not willing to compromise his academic integrity.  He understands the beauty of literature, and is more comfortable with the written word than the spoken.  Most importantly, it’s about teaching as a calling, about a person being inexorably drawn to the profession and finding all life’s joys therein.

Letters from School (John Rae): Any humility in this book does come across as rather forced (in the same way Richard Feynman used to talk about having no special talent), but these ‘fictional’ letters from School contain all the joy, hardship, hope and sadness that one comes across as the Headmaster of a great School.  There are vignettes of brilliance strewn throughout the text.  The diffidence Rae shows for the mis-judged hero-worship of a ‘maverick’ teacher by pupils past and present is a masterpiece of understatement.  The final line of that chapter, dropped like a feather on a pond, is perfect.

The Learning Game (Jonathan Smith): So what if it’s a little like a teacher’s comfort blanket, there’s plenty of sage advice contained within.  Smith does come across as though he’d have been more comfortable in another time (maybe Stoner’s era) but genuine wisdom endures and his passage about re-discovering your inner child through coaching Schoolboy cricket is worthy of Julian Barnes.

If I was ever asked to provide a welcome pack for new teachers, these three books would be it.


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