What it means to teach, and why I support the NUT on their strike


Fear, I am happy to report, is not an emotion I experience on a regular basis.

Fear, I have been led to believe my Doctor Who’s Listen, is a superpower that makes me stronger and faster; and the most dangerous man in the room.

At this moment in time, at the start of a school term, I am perspiring profusely, my voice has raised a semi-tone, and the evolutionary part of my brain flitting between fight or flight has mentally opted for booking a first class one way ticket to Barbados.

Because, standing before me, is a classroom full of 14-year-old boys vying for the kill.

Like my saintly namesake, I have been thrown into the lion’s den. However, since I am not a godly man, I am dressed as a wildebeest and I am wrapped in bacon.

For one year, I was fortunate enough to teach the extra curricular class at a school. I would arrive on a Wednesday afternoon for an hour-a-week, armed with a PowerPoint presentation and a vast amount of naivete.

This would be my first and last teaching job.

I remain grateful for the invaluable experience gained during my time there. This truly was a baptism of fire and one of the most challenging jobs I have faced.

The students were difficult. But so was I at their age. What I was failed to be told is that students can be quick-witted and hilarious; and unfortunately at your own expense.

The lessons became less reliant on PowerPoints. In fact, one of my most successful days there was giving in to their demands to watch the World Cup coverage – but only if they viewed it from a media perspective. Much like the cartoons of my youth, I could see the light bulbs flicking on above their heads.

Instead of shouting over their voices, I learnt to listen to what they had to say. Problems at home, bullying, loneliness, substance abuse: they were difficult kids because they led difficult lives.

Teaching was one of the most difficult yet rewarding jobs I have undertaken. Did I think I was any good at it? Probably not. But my respect for the profession rose to astronomical highs, and I began to ask: what makes a good teacher? And it would seem, like the difficult kids leading difficult lives, good teachers are faced with a difficult workplace.

On the same day my own union, the University and College Union (UCU) went on strike for higher pay, decreasing the gender pay gap and against the casualisation of contracts, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) took industrial action.

UCU Poster

Schools are facing the worst cuts in funding since the 1970s, resulting in class sizes increasing, resources being reduced, and subjects – predominantly in the arts – being removed from the curriculum. The NUT claims that 1 in 12 members of staff will be made redundant in the next few years; the remaining staff will have an increased workload on pay that does not align to the sheer amount of hours teachers put in.

Sadly, instead of supporting the pioneers in our children’s development, there has been criticism aimed towards the rightfully striking teachers. Education secretary Nicky Morgan told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that “teachers were putting children’s education at risk”, which actually seems to be her mantra by, according to forecasts from the Institute of Fiscal Studies, an 8% cut in funding in real terms over the next few years.

Focus was pinned on the “major disruption for parents”, but once again there has been too much on the micro (one single day of action), ignoring the macro (the ideological cuts).

The NUT’s acting general secretary Kevin Courtney “wholeheartedly apologised” for the disruption but noted that teachers do not take strike action lightly.

No-one takes strike action lightly: it means that you do not get paid and you usually freeze your balls off at the picket. Nicky Morgan, and indeed University hierarchy, almost make striking seem like the easy option. I like my wage. It pays for my rent and buys me cider. I will be going without, because something needs to be done. Instead of adopting Morgan’s aggressive approach, my University decided to go for the passive-aggressive “we’re not angry, just disappointed” method via e-mail.

Courtney added: “The problems facing education, however, are too great to be ignored and we know many parents share our concerns.

“Schools are facing the worst cuts in funding since the 1970s. The decisions which head teachers have to make are damaging to our children and young people’s education.”

Kevin Courtney, Acting General Secretary of the NUT

“No parent wants this for their children. No teacher wants this for their school or pupils.”

Nicky Morgan, in a letter to the NUT, asked teachers not “to play politics with children’s futures”, but with the thankfully defeated forced academisation (yet encroaching privatisation), the IFS’ predicted 8% funding cut and ill thought out reforms to the school curriculum, the Education secretary is playing a dangerous game where teachers and children lose.

After the tripling of the tuition fees, I gloomily called my age group a “potential lost generation”. With these ideological Tory cuts, my prediction was a bit on the low side.

I went to a Catholic school – they didn’t teach me optimism. I got top marks in self-loathing and guilt, though!

Dan’s top teachers

During my high school years, I was either known as Danny McLaughlin or Danny Mac. If I hear this vocative address now, my first instinct is to run; although running itself invokes traumatic memories of cross country, chronicled in my Year 9 music composition ‘PE Blues’. After stumbling across an old student planner, even though I do not remember Mount Carmel that fondly, I was blessed with a good smattering of friends and teachers without whom I would not be doing what I am today.

Mrs Phillips (Form Tutor, Years 8-11): 

The aforementioned student planner was saturated in doodles and cheesy jokes of the week, most likely as a result of my short attention span. This creativity was encouraged by Mrs Phillips. She marvelled in her role as form tutor, becoming the somewhat clichéd ‘second mother’. Aiding me through grief, rejection (a certain head boy selection introducing me to the murky world of politics) and what I would discover to be manic depression, we engaged in theological, philosophical and downright fascinating conversations. She was a great aid in my intellectual and worldly development.

Mr Seddon (English, Years 10 and 11):

Reading in itself is a pleasure. Talking about what you have read is a further joy. Unlike television and to an extent film, where interpretation is usually firmly fixed, you can view literature from different perspectives. When I lost the joy of reading, I decided to stop studying literature; rekindling my bibliophilia at University when on a journalism degree. Whilst we would discuss Othello or Pride and Prejudice in the classroom, my favourite moments were discussing Jack Higgins and Tom Clancy when the lesson had finished. Much of my library is there due to recommendations from Mr Seddon.

Mr Sweeney (Religious Education, Years 10 and 11):

After RE had ended, we would both give an analysis of performances from Blackburn Rovers – usually resulting in the lack of punctuality for the following lesson. Probably not helpful for my theological journey, but he was a bloody decent bloke who was always happy to have a chat.

Ms McNulty (Film Studies, Years 12 and 13):

Without a seemingly obvious question – “what do you want to study?” – I would not have studied and now by working at MediaCityUK. Ta very much.

Mr Lamb (Medieval History, Years 12 and 13):

To deliver tales on medieval feudalism and monasticism with such passion and character is a rare gift. An incredibly funny man who made the Norman Conquest and the Crusades accessible to bored college students from Blackburn. I still purchase books on the subject to this day. He would offer sound and impartial advice on professional development in the ‘Lair of the Lamb’ (his office). And the fact that he was a Whovian was always going to put him in my good books.

Honorary mention: Mrs Anderson (Music, Years 7-11)

I am not totally sure if she was aware, but I think she was, that I would skip certain classes when I was bored on the pretence of a music lesson and hide in the piano room, practising on the ivories. Thank you for not grassing up on me.

Main image: Queensland State Archives, Digital Image ID 1640


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