What's it like being an English teacher?

(6 Posts)
Campaspe Tue 21-Jan-14 12:18:47

I always used to think that teaching English would be incredibly rewarding. I still tend to imagine that sharing books with teenagers, discussing texts, introducing them to new writers etc would be fulfilling and interesting. I remember my own English teachers as inspirational figures who thought and talked in ways that made a lasting impact on me, and I've heard lots of others talk about their English teachers in this way.

I'm not a teacher, and am to old to retrain (and don't like what I hear about Gove), but I got to thinking about what might have been, and wondered what being an English teacher in a senior school is really like. Have I had a lucky escape, or is getting the opportunity to share and read books all day as good as I imagine?

Ferguson Tue 21-Jan-14 18:07:09

Secondary schools vary so much you can't really say what it would be like without knowing more about an individual school.

Have you seen the TV series Educating Yorkshire, and the new BBC3 one with graduates having work experience in schools, with minimum training?

I had ten years as a TA in primary schools, mostly KS1, and that IS rewarding because children are learning to read and write, and starting to enjoy books, fiction and non-fiction. By the time they get to secondary, many kids are fed up with education and discipline, and often realise the employment situation is so dire, that there isn't much point to any of it.

I went to a grammar school, but never enjoyed it, but that was probably more a personality flaw in me than anything wrong with the school. I only got three 'O' levels, and was always lazy; other boys got 'A' levels and went to university, but they worked harder. These days I think teachers that see pupils with emotional or social difficulties, do more to try and understand and help, not just do "chalk and talk" which is all I can remember.

My English teachers didn't make much impression on me; I did enjoy The History of Mr Polly, but never understood Shakespeare or poetry, and still don't really. One English teacher said I "had a grudge against life", and for my spoken exam said 'there was too little produced for any judgment to be made'.

After ten years in primary, I reached retirement age, but worked another two years as TA in a tough comprehensive, mostly on individual or small group support. During my free periods (when my 1to1 was at PE, for example) a female English teacher who I already knew, asked me if I could help with four Yr10 boys, who for two terms had done NO English work for her at all. They sat quietly at the back of the class, pulled two tables together, and played cards; there was no disruption, but also no work. I took them to the library and tried to get them to do an assignment on 'Advertising'. By looking at the ways that 'sex' is used in advertising, I did get them to take some interest, and produce some written work, possibly the first they had done in two terms!

Would your circumstances allow you to do any voluntary work in schools? I carried on doing voluntary work in primary and secondary schools until I was about 72, when health issues made me quit. Now I just try to offer a few words of support, or caution, on various MN topics!

So, if you have the time, try and give it a go.

HamletsSister Tue 21-Jan-14 18:09:44

Bloody love my job. Love it! But then my school is amazing - no real discipline problems, tiny classes (and a bog standard comp). Also in Scotland so, while we have our own issues with government, things are pretty good.

Purplegirly Tue 21-Jan-14 18:25:38

Love my job but not all teenagers want to be introduced to a wide variety of books. It is not the 'Dead Poet's Society' scenario at all!. Bottom set year 9, Friday afternoon .... Leaves a lot to be desired

Classes of 33 here at the top end and 20 at the bottom end.

I once did a book with a class and at a meeting with the parent of a girl in that class (over her behaviour throughout school - I was year head) remarked at how enthusiastic about the book she was, the girl asked her mum if she could have the next one in the series for Christmas and the mum laughed in her face and said 'no way am I buying you books!'. Said girl was a lovely bright young thing, could have gone to university, with the right support from home - she is now about 22 and had three kids.

I love my job with a passion, but it is hard and at times really unrewarding, however the good moments make up for it.

Campaspe Tue 21-Jan-14 18:45:47

Thanks. I guess you all say what I expected. I do help out in DD's school, and absolutely love it, but I would acknowledge there is a big difference between volunteering and actually having to manage a class. I suppose there is a part of me that does think it is a bit Dead Poets, but the commonsense part tells me that can't be right. And maybe, if you really do love literature, it's actually depressing to be with kids who couldn't care less about any sort of book (she says, trying to convince herself!)

I love it, but it doesn't quite fit the picture you painted in your op grin

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