One A Day, Day 3: Why Teaching Sucks

Those of you who follow me on Twitter or know me in general will be aware that my loathing for the teaching profession is well-documented. That, of course, didn’t stop me making an ill-advised move back into it after successfully escaping for two years. But I wonder how many of you know why?

Let me tell you.

Teaching sucks. There are many reasons for this – the chief among which is that in many, many schools the possibility of actually undertaking the activity for which the profession is named – you know, “teaching” – is rendered impossible. This happens in lots of ways.

First of all, there is the declining standard of behaviour in the classroom. I have a Year 4 class – 8 and 9 year olds. These kids are already well-versed in backchat to teachers, violence towards each other, swearing, refusing to do work and taking advantage of supposed “special needs” to their own advantage. (This isn’t, of course, to put down those kids that do have genuine difficulties learning things, but rather to put down those kids who use their supposed “condition” as an excuse to behave like a twat.)

When asking for support with children like this from senior staff, the inevitable response to the poor teacher is “you need to develop some strategies”. Well, fine. Give me some. Some that work. Oh, wait, none actually do work? Right. Let’s do some nonsense with traffic lights that they’ll ignore then.

“Keep at it. Be consistent,” they’ll say. And fine, fair enough, you should be consistent in your rewards and punishments. But I am distinctly old-fashioned in the opinion that I feel children should know their place. It is not their place to question their teacher. It is not their place to refuse to do work. It is not their place to get up out of their seat and wander around the classroom. I remember the “naughty children” in my class at primary school well (largely because they were also the ones who would bully the meeker kids such as myself), and while they were silly and could be outright nasty at playtime, in the classroom there was never any wandering around or backchat. Now, it’s not an exaggeration to say it’s a daily occurrence.

Second among the reasons that teaching is impossible is everyone’s favourite friend, bureaucracy. By the end of a single day, my desk will be covered with useless pieces of paper – notes, memos, charts, tables, percentages, requests for information. All of it is meaningless, and I don’t know where it all comes from. Why do we need to know so much information? Why is the school I’m teaching at considered a “failing” school because of some of these figures? Yes, many pupils are making slow progress but that’s because, frankly, many of them came in pretty low, don’t get much support at home and don’t have the slightest clue how to behave in the classroom, even when this is pointed out by their teacher. The fact that these children are learning anything at all should be considered a success.

Another stupid thing: the excessively celebratory nature of most schools these days. It reaches a level where it is utterly meaningless. Celebration of achievement is an important part of motivation, but when children are getting certificates in assembly for “sitting quietly all day” or “always being cheerful”, I think we may be taking things a little far. (That travesty of an “awards” ceremony happens on a weekly basis, by the way.)

The theory runs that children respond better to praise and encouragement than punishments. Well, I am yet to see any evidence of that in the three schools I have taught in, amongst children aged anywhere between 8 and 16. Children respond to things that are “unpleasant” for them. They don’t want to miss out on fun things, and they definitely don’t want to look stupid in front of their friends. So why don’t we have a weekly “anti-celebration assembly” where the naughtiest children of the week are brought up to the front of the school and admonished by the headmaster? Parents could be invited. It’d be fun.

The answer to that is, of course, that it’s not politically correct to be negative. There’s even a “golden ratio”. There should be three times as much praise as there should be punishment. I don’t know who came up with that statistic, but they probably had a clipboard.

Then there’s the Tories’ bright idea to bring in “superteachers”. This is never going to work, because the profession has such a high turnover anyway – mostly for the reasons outlined above along with the stress and the health problems that causes – that limiting access to it smacks of stupidity. In fact, this article from the Daily Mash sums it up beautifully.

Those who find success and fulfilment in the teaching profession are either very brave, very resilient or very stupid. Whatever it is, they have my eternal respect, because I’m not one of them. At the first opportunity to arise, I will be out of that door, never to return.

And this time I mean it!

Published by

Pete Davison

Southampton-based music teacher, writer and enthusiast of Japanese popular culture.

15 thoughts on “One A Day, Day 3: Why Teaching Sucks”

  1. I couldn’t agree more. Don’t you love these adverts telling you to “Don’t just do – TEACH”. All these lovely little scallywags being inquisitive and responsive to the teacher… yeah, right there Ted!
    The reality is a gruesome one which I fully understand you not wanting any part of. The bairns are having bairns which is a part of the problem – I once heard a teenage mum proudly announcing to someone that she “doesn’t believe in discipline”.

    We’re all doomed!

    1. Quite right. It’s a shame really. As I’ve said on numerous occasions, I actually like teaching when I can actually, you know, TEACH. But there’s SO MUCH wasted time to kids chatting, being silly, thumping each other, drawing on tables, breaking things, calling each other gay, destroying the beautifully-organised classroom I spent ages sorting out for THEIR benefit… Grrr! It makes me so mad!

      Still. It won’t be forever. Have applied for a couple of jobs that are WELL out of teaching’s path. Fingers crossed I’ll find my way into one of them.

  2. As a fellow teacher, and one who teaches special needs, I completely agree. I love teaching for the moments that I actually GET to teach; that is, when I’m not in meeting-after meeting-after meeting… and when the children are disciplined enough to focus and cooperate. Honestly, I blame the parents (or the lack thereof). I often say that it’s the parents who need special services.

  3. Dear Sirs / Ma’ams :

    You article was right on the money. I’m a teacher at a Chinese university and I can tell you that everything you describe in your essay will be found in a Chinese university classroom times 10. That probably doesn’t make you feel any better If you’d like to know how it is here check my blog

    Good luck in your non teaching job pursuits.

    ” He must have had a clipboard ” lol


  4. So good to read your post, as misery was seeking company.:-) My situation mirrors yours, though I’m all the way here in Los Angeles. Amazing that the teaching profession’s suckfullness (word choice influenced by my 4th graders) reaches so globally. Though I would say I have a good relationship with most of my students, my paid week still consists of 80% discipline/pleading with them to pay attention/wake up out of their sugar-induced/video gameified stupor. The rest is roughly 5% teaching to the test, 4% worthless meetings, and 1% trying to scrounge for supplies. The rest of the headache, or planning for teaching to the test, is on my own time. To top it off, I get called into the principal’s office when the scores go south, which is often, as I’m up against mostly English Language Learners, a required text that doesn’t suit their needs from publishers making a shit-load of money, and tests (published again by some entity making shit-loads of money) that are made for the upper middle class public schools or the gifted clusters. Both of the latter of course are nearing extinction in LA, as those groups are siphoned off slowly to the private schools here. Anyway, I bet we Angeleno teachers can top you Brits on the misery spectrum, because guess who decides if we are good teachers or not? The Los Angeles Times has anointed itself, ranking LA’s teachers from least to most effective based on their students’ test scores and then publishing the results every year. It’s a public flanking really for those of us with tough kids. No account was given for how much discipline we have to do along the way, or what type of children we are trying to reach. What a thankless profession, that I too will gladly like to leave behind. Am personally thinking of mortician or hospice care as a happy alternative. What about you?

  5. These are all interesting points but the main issue here (for Australia anyway) is not so much the issues of teaching in the classroom, it is about being able to get a friggin teaching job to start with. I graduated with the highest results for my method (maths) and have spent over 6 years going from one damn contract to the next. I have applied for hundreds of positions, many of which have been at the same school a half dozen times and got nowhere. I have had a total of 5 interviews in 6 years. The big issue for teaching is the lack of financial instability it creates, everything is contract. Once you learn all the kids names in one school your contract is over and then you have to do it at another school and the process goes on and on. There are very few ongoing positions. Over the years the system has become jam packed with qualified teachers that have nowhere to go. The universities continually spout their rubbish about a teacher shortage. I no longer believe that this shortage exists and if it does I am yet to see it. I believe that the opposite is true: that there is a surplus of teachers, fully qualified and ready and raring to teach with nowhere to go. Year after year the problem compounds on itself and it becomes like an hourglass. only so many graduates will be selected and the rest will just stay at the top.
    The reasons cited earlier about teaching I would certainly agree with, discipline issues, stupid paperwork and countless and boring meetings, but the financial instability that is in this profession was enough for me to have opted out, I just wish I had done it years ago, before it cost me my financial freedom and my relationship to my beautiful partner of 6 years. Teaching has created more problems for me than any other undertaking. I would never recommend teaching to anybody I cared about these days and for those people thinking of getting into the teaching industry I have this piece of advice: DON’T, or at least do some research first. Check with universities and find out how many of their graduates actually got teaching work. And don’t fall for any bullshit response like “90% of our graduates are now employed”. Question this: Quite often what they are trying to say is a piss weak response like politicians: what they mean is that 90% are employed but most are not employed for the course they trained in. Do not let teaching ruin your life too, there are far better careers out there that pay a lot better for the time and effort that you need to invest.

    Jeff Hart

    1. Wow, that’s a crappy situation for sure. The one positive thing I can say about teaching in the UK is that it seems to be a MOSTLY pretty secure profession, assuming you were hired to be a permanent member of staff. There are contract jobs out there, but for the most part schools are looking for people who are in it for the long haul. At least, that was the case back when I originally wrote this post — that was a couple of years ago now, though, so I don’t know if that’s still the case!

      I did supply teaching for a little while after I left my permanent position. There seemed to be a regular flow of work there, but the downside was needing to get up early and get suited and booted on the off-chance that the phone would ring and something would be available. That didn’t always happen, unfortunately.

      I hope things pick up for you soon — or that you find a more stable profession into which to throw your skills and passion.🙂

  6. Hi Pete.
    I have. Thank you. I now run an education centre in Victoria (Kip McGrath Pakenham) and it is so much more rewarding than what I have previously been doing. I will never teach in schools again!

  7. Hello everyone. Im a turkish citizen teaching english. It is 1:43 am right now and in about 6 hrs at 8 am i will begin my new profession. I just had to write here to let you all know how glad i feel for not being alone. Teaching does suck and people who have never done it cannot really comprehend the stress and anger we have to go through. I stayed up till this hour thinking if i had made the right decision quitting teaching and your words on here let me know im not alone. Im relatively young, 27, and tomorrow is the next day of the rest of my life wish me luck and to all the teachers who wanna quit just hang in there some other job will eventually come up!

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