From I was the tiniest of tinies my answer to this question was always the same.
This, of course, became mightily ironic when I actually did grow up and wanted to be everything but a teacher. I think my heart always truly lay in journalism. The sort of features writing that I read and loved in magazines. What an odd, happy twist of fate, that this is what I find myself doing now, albeit in a very 21st century way.
But teach I did, for twelve years, and for the most part, all joke on a side, I did enjoy my time doing it.
Teenagers are brilliant, aren’t they? A complex mix of hormones, suspect hygiene habits, and feral grunts. What chats we had!
Truly though, the joy in teaching English, aside from the thrilling gift of nouns, similes and the correct placement of the apostrophe, (which even as an adult still confuses me!) was the conversation. The chance to talk, and to listen. To find out about those twenty something children sat in front of you. (Mostly. There was always the odd classroom wanderer.)
When they felt like it, to get to know them.
I think most teachers will tell you that it isn’t the bit in the classroom that provides the pressure in the job (vocation, more like). It is the endless paperwork, policies, strategies and planning, that sap you of any enthusiasm or energy to pour into making lessons engaging for those baby adults sitting in front of you.
Believe me, dealing with the personalities, the strops, the diagnosed behavioural issues and the un diagnosed attitude ones requires enough energy, and the patience and inner peace of a Tibetan monk.
My job mostly brought me into contact with the SEN classes in each year group (that’s Special Educational Needs for those uninitiated!) Challenging in themselves, but children that I developed a real heart for. I still feel, very passionately, that school should provide something for everyone. Look after the whole child. Some kids are just not made to be educated in the traditional sense. They can’t be shoehorned behind a desk and expected to write a 600 word essay. Their brains don’t work like that. Their talents in Art and Music and Drama and Sport, and Applying makeup and Talking their way out of an overdue homework should all be encouraged wholeheartedly because, well, the world is made up of all sorts isn’t it? Everyone can find a place doing something.
I taught a pupil years ago who was a bit of a tricky customer. He was a hit with the girls, and had that swagger of being adored, the one that only teenage boys can muster. I tore my hair out on many’s an occasion at his tardiness with homework, and uniform, and inability to take anything seriously in class. But you know what? That boy could talk. Give him a topic, put him in front of an audience and he lit up. Even without preparation (much to my dismay!) he aced every Speaking and Listening assessment we did. I told him he should become a car salesman. That he’d make his fortune. I often wonder if he did.
Heartbreaking as it is, we live in a world now where the very best education doesn’t always ensure you the very best job. The opportunities, at the moment anyway, seem fewer for our teenagers and twenty something’s. Crazily, teachers and doctors and architects and engineers are finding themselves helplessly out of work, and disheartened children think the better, easier option is to just ‘sign on’ and claim all that the Government can offer. And in some cases, they’re right.
It’s just all back to front.
It will take minds much more forthright and wise than mine to work out what the solution to that problem will be. And a whole host of inspiring, dedicated education professionals to put it in practice. I wish them well, for it is a noble but oh so tricky fight. A bullet, a low punch that I feel I have dodged.
Not one forever gone from our door though.
‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’
And my eldest little daughter replied