Has Educating Yorkshire taught us anything about being a teacher?

Baby sitter. Child minder. Nurse. Doctor. Parent. Social worker. And even police. So our teacher friends keep telling us what their jobs feel like. Anything but a teacher. And we always rebuff inwardly, slightly irritated, “Stop winging! You’ve got all your holidays!”

Then arrived Educating Yorkshire, and a gallery of pupils and staff who made lasting impressions on us. More importantly, to set the record straight, the programme showed us what it was like to be a teacher at a not-so-uncommon, state-run, secondarily comprehensive school.

It was clear from the start that the children were not the only stars on the docusoap. Each episode introduced a diversity of staff to our living rooms. Through their candid admissions, Thornhill staff invited us into their professional and personal lives. And what an evocative insight we gained!

What makes a good teacher (or a member of pastoral team)?

A trip down the memory lane offers us a useful reminder from some year 8 pupils surveyed. In their own words:

A good teacher . . . is kind; is generous; listens to you; encourages you; has faith in you; keeps confidences; likes teaching children; likes teaching their subject; takes time to explain things; helps you when you’re stuck; tells you how you are doing; allows you to have your say; doesn’t give up on you; cares for your opinions; makes you feel clever; treats people equally; stands up for you; makes up for you; makes allowances, tells the truth; and is forgiving. (Hay McBer Report, 2000)

Teacher professionalism

Then, we turn to the video recording for evidence from a “real life” situation, the natural setting of schoolrooms. Had the findings in the Hay McBer Report been a shopping list, collectively, Thornhill would have been a magical one-stop shop! Throughout the series, we witnessed time and again how the teaching and pastoral staff in their daily work offer the children compassion, empathy, expertise, guidance and even humility in a wonderfully supportive environment – all that any child can hope for, particularly those who don’t normally have that kind of structure at home. Even if it meant that a few inevitable home truths caused tears and tantrums sometimes, still, the children came away fully appreciative of the sanctions they received.

Isn’t that what we expect of our children’s teachers – dedicated to the shaping of our young to be a responsible citizen with a sympathetic awareness of the values of others around us? Teacher professionalism differentiates itself from other types of professionalism with its unique emphasis on the total involvement with the children’s wellbeing. Indeed, it is this emotional attachment with the children that wakes the teachers at night and makes them drip the curry sauce down their fronts. Unless, you are a teacher yourself, it is going to be hard to appreciate the total emotional weight that a teacher carries on her/his conscience, day in day out, year in year out.

A profession and a vocation

Then again, once in a while, just when you think that teaching can’t get any more depressing, and the disillusionment with current education changes can’t seem to be dispelled, there is always that “Hollywood moment” when tears of despair turn to the unstoppable tears of joy. The cathartic relief of a job well done.

You watch Musharaf free his words from his mouth, like confetti erupting into a blue sky, then you sob with every syllable that Musharaf enunciates like melodious wind chimes ringing. . . .


About W. S. Lien

Tweed Wearer - Country Lover - Teacher Researching Professionalism and Identity@Clare College, Cambridge - Keen Amateur Photographer - Devotee to Poppy my Labrador
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