What makes a bad teacher? What makes a good teacher? What makes anyone a teacher at all?
I never wanted to be one myself. You know when you wanted to be something when you were a kid? I knew what I didn’t want to be. A teacher. Ha! The gods must be laughing at me now.
That’s why I get excited these days when I meet a bad teacher. Like worse than me. Since slipping into this unofficial role, I’ve discovered the hours spent supporting a child’s learning is one of the most exhausting things I could ever recommend anyone doing. It has like zero personal gain, unless you just like giving. The receiving bit is simple thanks that the child has possibly progressed in their own understanding. It’s like you’re giving your own brain cells and saying, ‘Go on, have ’em, I don’t need them anymore. I’m just going to lie face down on the sofa.’
So, it’s surprisingly nice to come across a teacher worse than me. I had this very pleasure last Monday night at an awards ceremony for Lulu’s youth theatre awards. The people presenting the awards were theatre people so you’d think, you know, they knew how to do stuff. This is what happened instead:
Teacher: ‘We have some great photos to show you of how your kids have progressed during the last months. Let’s just show them on the screen.’
Pause. No pictures.
Shout from stage to technical booth: ‘Where are the photos?’
Reply from technical booth: ‘You never put them in the file!’
Embarrassed smile from the stage. ‘Oh well, never mind. Let’s move on.’
Eye roll from a hundred-and-fifty parents. And this was after we’d watched a particular play scoop up the majority of awards… the very play their teacher had spent the majority of his time working on. All the other plays had to rehearse without similar attention, except being told to learn their lines. This was Lulu’s news, week after week coming home from rehearsal. And from other kids too. The plays were judged by an independent panel. For me, no surprise then the judges rewarded the play where so much work had already been put in… by the teacher. Wait? Am I being cynical?
By the by. Of course I am. Doesn’t mean it’s not true though. I’d always had at best, an ambivalence towards teachers and at worst, an open accusation for their god complex. But on Monday night, I suddenly realised something I’d never understood about teachers before.
So this theatre teacher.. I think I called him Arthur in a previous blog… ok, let’s stick with that. Arthur had spent the majority of his teaching time with a few, select pupils. Optimising one play over the others within his jurisdiction of productions… no surprise perhaps with our small town, big politics. Not fair though. However the parcel gets wrapped up.
Even on the lucky side of favouritism, being the favourite still stinks like old cheese. And how many teachers operate in this way? I can remember a few excellent, inspiring teachers but they were always the exceptions. The ones who used favouritism were the majority-side a-holes. A cheap trick to put a wedge through a classroom and a pretty easy one too by all accounts. I used to imagine their cogs turning and rattling out, ‘I don’t get paid enough for this.’
Maybe they didn’t. Monday’s night’s antics reminded me they probably still don’t. But later at home, as we were fighting that old familiar bummed-out feeling, this time with a new generation of the bummed-out, it struck me. Arthur isn’t an a-hole who doesn’t get paid enough. That’s too easy. I mean, to give each pupil an equal amount of coaching, it takes, well time. And energy. And intelligence. So, in order for Arthur to do his best, he has to scale it down pupil-wise. Anything else is too hard on the brain cells. Hold on… Remember how I said it gets to the point where you give your own brain cells away like cheap money trying to get children to learn? Am I any better than Arthur? Ouch. I know the answer.
To be the exception in teaching, to treat kids the same and to bind them together as a loving team who wish each other the same amount of well… well, that’s a miracle. Because, in order to do this, you have to keep all your brain cells. Not give ’em away and look for the sofa. Cosy cosy sofa. You and me’ll have to wait.