Thursday, 13 June 2013

ASIDE: Of Loafers & Teachers

Ask any teacher what the normal response is of those around them to their vocation and, undoubtedly, a very large percentage would use something descriptive of resentment.  What seems to be at the seething core of public negativity is the allotted vacation time enjoyed by teachers; the visually observable and envy inspiring amount of time that one in the educational profession is allowed to spend at home or at their own leisure; in fact, one could argue that in the cultural modern mind set, the professional title of “teacher” is synonymous with the derogative “loafer.”
Therefore, to the controversial point of Christmas weeks off, March breaks enjoyed in the company of one’s own children and late summer nights spent contemplating the freedoms of the next morning, I cannot and will not tell a lie: it is marvelous!!  So as a counter point, I will not try to convince of what percentage teachers spend their summers professionally engaged, or deny the irrefutable fact of the many unique and irreplaceable perks that come with the profession.  In fact, when I was deciding on what career to pursue I had a list of pros and cons attached to the option of teaching:  On the one side, there was a relatively low salary and, for someone with talent, an appalling lack of professional advancement; while, on the opposite side of the page, there was, among many other positives, the opportunity of time off for myself, my family, and loved ones. Such lists often help navigate professional crossroads and while my final decision led me into the field of education, the double-edged sword of free will led many more away from it.  So where does all the resentment come from?  My own suspicion is that at some point, later in life, regardless of how much money one makes, even those in upper management eventually realize that they will never make enough money to buy them time; so while their teacher neighbour may live in the smallest house at the end of their own magnificent side of the street, that teacher is still in their neighbourhood and  that teacher can still be seen walking a beloved dog or relaxing with contented offspring, while the more or less affluent hustle off in Beamers or crowded trains to offices all over the city.

I will not try to argue the fact; quite the contrary, I will even add to that seething pot of bitterness by elaborating on another unique reward in the instruction of young people, a satisfaction that few outside the teaching profession will ever experience: the genuine gratitude of the student who recognizes the positive and life changing force you have been in their life.  In some cases, this gift of gratitude arrives many years after the fact, from the most unexpected places and its impact on even the darkest of professional days can be monumental.  A suitable case in point is this fragment of an article written about my great grand uncle, Timothy Kelleher of Ireland, in the early 1930s and saved by my grandmother for over forty years:

From the more cynical of my readers, a concession to the above might be the acknowledgement that there are, in fact, some teachers of value amongst the unworthy.  Yet, is this not also a reality for many professions in any sector, either public or private?  Has the cynical reader never heard friends or neighbours complain of how little their manager does or how often those in the upper offices “work from home” on the eve of long weekends? 

The logical conclusion to the matter, then, must rest in the most parsimonious reasoning: There are good teachers and there are bad teachers; there are teachers who work hard and to the best of their abilities and there are those who take advantage of the system they manipulate; this, of course, is no different from any other profession whose employees are distinguished, good or bad, by the exact same criteria. 

Without a doubt, the positive contribution of a good teacher is immensely important, not only to the students themselves, or to the parents who love them, but also to the world those students will one day steward.  Is the salary a good teacher makes too high or too low for this service?  Is the time off given to a good teacher a fair exchange for the benefits of good teaching?  All are entitled to their own opinions… 

Therefore, as a qualified teacher and a devout loafer, on the eve of a long summer holiday, I will end this Aside by adjusting and, in the process, correcting a popular saying:

Those who cannot teach, work!

"Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit..."

Photograph of Peter O’Toole in Goodbye Mr. Chips from,

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