Love Letter To A Profession


It’s Monday morning. The October holiday is over and a new term has started but I am sitting here typing this because I am now, officially, retired. It’s a strange feeling knowing that at school right now lessons are being taught, my colleagues - my friends - are interacting with kids and getting back into the swing of preparing lessons while I am sitting here at home. Part of me, I suppose, is still there. Please forgive my self-indulgence as I take a moment to reflect on why today feels so strange. The thing is that I have been lucky. Very lucky. I spent thirty-eight years doing the job I always wanted to do (OK, when I was little I wanted to be an astronaut but I mean from since I left school). There have been some ups and downs along the way but I have been fortunate to have worked with some great people over the years. All sorts of people become teachers but the best ones, I think, have qualities that also make them great folk to work with.

Smarts. We have to think quickly. Ever wonder why teachers always seem to be knackered? Apart from the workload that is. Teachers’ brains are always on the go, making hundreds of decisions. OK most of them aren’t life or death choices like “Do I cut the red wire or the black wire?” or “Is that the vena cava or the aorta?” but they are constant. “Does Molly look like she needs some help?” “Do I need to go and stand behind Mikey to keep him on task?” “How  do I explain this concept in a different way to help Alex understand it?” “Do I need to separate Kelly and Abbie?” Dozens - hundreds perhaps - of small decisions to be made every lesson. Do teachers get them all right all the time. No. But here’s a shout-out to all the great people I’ve worked with who’ve got most of them right most of the time.

Patience. Yes I know. There are times when the frustration gets overwhelming. We all have those times when we’ve listed the steps for the task on the board; we’ve gone through the steps; gone through them again; asked if everyone understands what they are going to be doing before going over the instructions one more time and directing their attention to a copy of the instructions in their work booklets and setting them to do the task. Only to have wee Ellen to put her hand up and say, “So what are we doing?” Yes sometimes a hint of exasperation may slip into your voice but the response is rarely full-blown apoplexy. Teachers are even patient when adults who haven’t taught a class for years (if ever) come in to school to tell us how to to the job. We even bear with those patronising platitudes, my personal favourite of which is, “Remember,” (spoken especially earnestly) “You are not teachers of subjects; you are teachers of children.” It is surely a testament to the patience of the profession that this (as far as I know) has never resulted in a slap in the face or even a sarky remark along the lines of “Children! Those wee things? The ones that come into my classroom? They’re children??” This probably hits my Number 1 in the charts because it ignores one other quality of good teachers.

Care. When teachers walk into a classroom they know that they affect the life of every child in it. By and large the teachers I have worked with have wanted the best for the kids they teach. That’s why teachers generally work way more than their contractual hours, why they hold after-school classes, why they spend time planning lessons that they hope will engage those kids and make them want to learn. More than that, though, teachers so often give up hours, days or months of their time to enrich the lives of the children they teach through organising school shows, supervising school trips and so much more. When teachers walk into a classroom they know the effect they have on the self-respect of the kids they teach by forming relationships with them that assure them they matter.

All these qualities? All teachers? All the time? Maybe not. But I have seen these displayed so often by the people I have been privileged to work alongside and I suppose that in the months ahead I will miss doing so. I have been part of a great profession, peopled by men and women committed to their charges and supportive of one another. So today, as I finish this piece, it’s now the evening of my first day of retirement I have a glass to hand. Here’s to all of you who continue in this great profession. Here’s to you and may God bless you all.