Do you have a vision of what you are doing this for? Does it frame your actions, and give you a reason to get up in the morning, cloth bag in hand? Do you often consider the extent to which your actions are building towards this vision?
Your answers are ‘Kind of’, ‘A bit’ and ‘Not really’ I sagely predict on your behalf in order to build a sturdy platform for my argument.
Especially if you are new to the profession, where the day to day concerns of simply getting by and adjusting to the workload will monopolise your time. We run on autopilot, usually, and this is understandable, but perhaps has a consequence. (I say ‘we’; I don’t know whether five years make me new or experienced, which is telling in itself).
With an increasingly young and inexperienced workforce, particularly in inner-city schools, where schools are packed to the gills with TeachFirst, SchoolDirect and the like, where are those people who can call on their years of experience to guide these new initiates into the quasi-profession we call Edjukayshun? Where are those who made the mistakes a solid while ago, and reflected on them enough to steer the noobs away from the abyss? Where are those who can tangibly say ‘If you carry on like this, you will burn out. Try this.’?
I dunno where they are; probably they are consultants now. Or managers.
What often happens seems to be a reduction of the staffroom into a perverse binary: the mentors and the mentored. As a consequence of tight staffing, and by virtue of having just about survived the introductory foray into teaching by getting your NQT accreditation, you are now eligible to guide the next generation into the ranks.
The mentee becomes the mentor by not failing the NQT year, and the NQT year can be passed without any of the lofty foundational thinking about the ‘why’ of teaching. If your plans are tight and your marking is good and you are not abhorrent when speaking to the kids, you will pass. But for how long will you teach? We are all now familiar with the stats of those leaving the profession shortly after qualifying…
My view is this – because teacher induction and teacher training is often operating in a vision-vacuum, where the overstretched schools are often pushed to select mentors by virtue of them having a functioning system of arteries etc, new initiates to the profession have this slow-burn realisation that they have either no idea what they are doing (so leave before qualifying) or no idea why they are doing it (so they leave shortly after).
The blind leading the blind, perhaps, but blind in the sense of lacking ‘a vision’ rather than ‘vision’.
For our trainees and NQTs we may think it is something of a distraction to ask the big questions of them – what are you trying to achieve by being a teacher? What is your vision for the pupils you teach? Why are you a teacher? It is a distraction from the hold-your-breath-on-your-marks-get-set-go reality of classroom survival, where the questions are about time management, self-organisation and sustaining your energy levels.
But maybe we need to recognise our role in helping the young-uns sitting awkwardly in the staffroom; maybe we need to help them to identify the purpose of their teaching, help them to form a vision that holds all the scratty pieces of the teachers’ jigsaw together.