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When the news came that Ann Maguire – a teacher at Corpus Christi Catholic College in Leeds – had been stabbed to death by a 15 year old pupil, the country broke out in sympathy and outrage at this tragic event. How on earth could a 15 year old have committed murder? Why was that 15 year old carrying a weapon in the first place? The news followed hot on the heels of a startling figure: that 250 pupils had been caught with weapons last year in school, with many more possibly unaccounted for. Yet teaching is all too often comically deplored as an easy job, a 9am ‘til 3pm day with around 14 weeks of holiday per year, and the occasional set of marking to do.
Such an attitude simply cannot go unchallenged anymore. In fact, it is detrimental to the wider improvement of the conditions of the teaching profession. It is frightening to think that people who want to educate our future generations have little protection against quite frankly appalling individuals, whether they are carrying weapons or not. Teaching must be one of very few jobs where you can suffer verbal abuse day in, day out. My dad, a secondary school Maths teacher, frequently gets sworn at, shouted at, and called names by his students with little backup or behavioural support from his bosses. This, however, doesn’t even scratch the surface – some pupils at the school have no scruples when it comes to throwing furniture around or fighting each other, and they certainly can’t be trusted with compasses. Remember, this is the easy 9am ‘til 3pm job.
Our child-centred society means that teachers are far more likely to be culpable than the pupils. It seems that pupils need only assert that a teacher struck them to get said teacher at least suspended, if not sacked altogether. Clearly there are terrible cases when teachers overstep the mark, but the vast majority wouldn’t even consider hurting a pupil. So why has it taken the death of a teacher to make us realise that so many pupils are out of control in school? When did it become commonplace to ignore any ounce of authority that teachers should have? It’s not surprising that suicide rates for teachers are 40 percent higher than the average for other jobs, according to the AntiDepAware website. Teachers have virtually no support from the general public when it comes to some members of younger generations behaving more like monkeys than students willing to learn. Even if it means putting rigorous body searches in place, even if it means having a behaviour management team at problem schools, our attitudes to behaviour issues in school and to teaching as a profession have to change. No job description should include daily verbal abuse and the threat of a gruesome death.
Yet even aside from the behaviour students, teaching in itself is equally difficult. Many teachers are facing heavier and heavier teaching timetables due to staff redundancies and schools becoming academies, meaning all the preparation and admin work is being done over the weekend, in the evenings, and even early in the morning, and all for a relatively low public sector pay. An NQT (Newly Qualified Teacher) earns a measly £21,804 a year, yet if they are at a difficult school, their first year is likely to be a baptism of fire. Is it any wonder that teachers and lecturers alike are going on strike? Whilst it may inconvenience us, when you really understand what our teachers and lecturers are being asked to do on a daily basis, it makes sense that they should be paid more, if only to cover the demoralising conditions.
On the whole, teaching as a profession is increasingly difficult, particularly at secondary school level. The pressure to control your classes, to obtain high pass marks that reflect well on league tables, and to deliver excellent lessons when Ofsted arrive is immense. Issues of behaviour and students carrying weapons are simply not to be borne in addition to this. Something has gone sour in the British education system if some students think that taking weapons into school is an acceptable thing to do. Action needs to be taken immediately to avoid more tragic deaths such as Ann Maguire’s and to control our unruly younger generations. Teaching should not be as difficult as this, and it is certainly not inspiring for potential graduates who want to go into the profession.