Saturday 22 June 2024

Who wants to become a teacher?

This article first appeared on Malta Today 

For many years, reading for any type of degree meant only one thing – that you would automatically go into teaching, because there were not really that many options around and teaching was considered the best, most respectable, profession possible. Especially for women.

I still remember people nodding in admiration and saying “she’s a teacher, ta” in tones of hushed awe, as the local schoolteacher walked by. A teacher had a certain standing and a certain prestige in the days when not that many women pursued further education.

My mother’s side of the family, replete with teachers, all assumed I too would follow in their footsteps, including my own mother who would beg me to apply for a teaching post once I graduated. Even then though, I knew it was not for me (which was confirmed by a brief nine month stint teaching English as a foreign language). I truly believe teaching is a vocation and you have to enjoy the classroom environment and the actual process of teaching, otherwise it is a cruel thing to inflict on your students and will only cause you (and them) grief in the end. As a student I had my share of grumpy teachers who were clearly utterly unhappy in their job; one even used to tell us daily that becoming a teacher was the worst decision he had ever made, which was always a nice way to start the day. Suffice to say, his class was the one I looked forward to the least. I mean how can you even learn anything when the person who is supposed to be teaching you has told you to your face that he resents being there?

But every time summer rolls around, my standard annual joke is that I wish I had listened to my Mama and become a teacher (because, you know, summer holidays).

And each year, inevitably, I also have to add a disclaimer that this is simply a harmless one-liner and not meant to cause offense or make light of the profession, because in all seriousness, I still believe teaching to be one of the hardest jobs in the world. However, I have come to realise that this constant harping about their summer holidays (even if it is done in jest) is a sore point which rankles with many educators because it is constantly being thrown back in their face that they have “3 months of paid holidays”.

They are completely right, of course, for being irritated at the summer holidays jibe, because when you have to deal with a classroom of children every day, most of us would probably throw in the towel after 2 weeks. Think about it, those of you who have children, and how tired to the bone you are after a day when your one or two children get on your last nerves through constant whining and demands and a blatant refusal to listen to you. Now if your own flesh and blood can drive you around the bend, just think of how a classroom of 20 children (who belong to someone else) will stretch your patience to breaking point, and imagine how badly you would be yearning for a well-deserved respite.

To top it all off, as things stand for Maltese teachers, the pay is not that great and they have to try and work within a system which has basically stripped them of any authority because parents will come down on them like a tonne of bricks. I wonder how parents can have such a lack of empathy with teachers when they themselves often cannot cope with their own kids. Rather than working hand in hand with their kids’ teachers, too many parents these days tend to undermine them, with the child understandably strutting into the school secure in the knowledge that he is going to get his own way.

The result is that teachers are leaving the profession in droves (the number of vacancies being advertised at many schools is very telling) and apparently, it seems not enough are willing to enter the profession.

Summing it all up was a recent open letter to Education Minister Bartolo by a teacher, Philip Borg (translated from Maltese):

“I would like to bring to your attention the very unhappy situation which the education sector in Malta finds itself in. A look at the miserable number of prospective candidates enrolling for teaching courses should show you that our country will shortly be begging for new teachers, but won’t find any. The teaching profession, with all the claims about our holidays and good conditions, is becoming more and more stressful, and when compared with other professions, is paid peanuts.
It is you, the leaders of our country who can do something to improve this situation, The additional stress on teachers because of administrative work is reducing the time and energy which they are supposed to use for teaching. Apart from this, teachers deserve much more than the crumbs which may fall from the sizable cake of a strong economy which luckily and through the hard work of the Maltese, this country is currently enjoying. If you really have education to heart, respect the profession of teachers as much and not less than other professions. I hope this letter will serve as a way to promote the educational sector which is the foundation for all other professions.”

It was a heartfelt plea which quickly went viral, and made it to the news. Mr Borg has now also been asked to attend a meeting with the Minister and has circulated a short questionnaire for teachers to list their grievances which he will present at the meeting. I trust that something concrete comes out of this meeting, and that our educators will finally be given the recognition they deserve, not only when it comes to their pay cheque which is important, but also as a profession which has the largest influence on all the other professions combined. For, no matter what career path you eventually choose in life, the ones who made it all possible, have been your teachers.

And while I cannot recall the name of “Mr Sunshine” who loathed teaching, I will never forget the names of those teachers who were so brilliant at their jobs and who were instrumental in encouraging me to further pursue my studies.