Easter is the time when teachers’ unions hold their annual conferences and reports are dominating the news programmes today and will pop up again all this week. This, and a post on Facebook, brought to mind some reflections from my time as a teacher and one attitude which has remained with me since retirement.
It is ten years since I retired, a primary school teacher for ten years and a school principal for twenty six. I don’t miss the chalk face and I don’t think it misses me – we do our time and move on and, I think, it is better to move on completely, leave it behind and forget about it. However, there are certain lessons I learned over those years, certain experiences, which remain with me and are still part of my life.
For a number of years I was engaged in the provision of what was then called “in-service education”, now referred to as “continued professional development, I believe. I made presentations to school staffs or to mixed groups in summer courses on the topic of school management, school planning and arts and craft. The arts and crafts sessions were a popular summer course which I delivered over a number of years and I would often refer to it as the course of least resistance for many teachers attended simply because five days attendance entitled the teacher to three days of personal leave during the following school year.
These occasions gave me an excellent opportunity to observe teachers in a reversed role, as the learners rather than as the teachers and, quite often, they were not the most pleasant of learners. Delivery of material relating to school management and school planning – new at the time – regularly met with negativity, opposition and even downright refusal to participate. This was partially because it was new and partly because it was imposed by the Department of Education and Science and was, perhaps, understandable though I must say I never understood the manner in which this negativity was directed at me personally, certainly a case of shooting the messenger.
Summer school arts and crafts were more light-hearted occasions, practical, hands-on and easy-going and most teachers considered them a pleasant way of passing the week which would entitle them to their three extra days of paid personal leave. Yet, there would always be some who would attend as though they had been forced to do so and would engage in which might be described as passive-aggressive behaviour for the duration of the course. I recall the man who sat opposite me and, with an air of defiance, held up and read the newspaper each day and took no part in the sessions, or the person who would stand outside, smoking and reading a book, yet claim attendance. I viewed such people as a rock in the stream – the stream simply kept moving along – and didn’t allow them to bother me.
To an extent, some would say to quite an extent, I am one of those negative people and carry that old teacher reaction to instruction with me. There are some on Facebook who post what I would describe as “let-me-show-you-how-to-do-this” material and it is something I find annoying. Now, every person is quite free to post material as they seem fit on their own page – thank you Facebook for the “blocking” facility! – but when it is constantly shared to group pages where I am a member, I find it annoying. I often react – and I’m sure the psychologists would identify some fault in my personality which would explain this – “Does this person imagine we don’t know that already?” which leads to “How does this person imagine they are in any way qualified to offer instruction on this subject?” There is a moment of annoyance; I let it pass and I move on, post unread, video unviewed and a disappointment that the administrators of the group haven’t blocked such material.
Old teachers don’t retire; they simply lose class!