Teacher esteem isn’t what it once was according to educational entrepreneur and now philanthropist, Sunny Varkey who has started an annual award for teachers, worth $1m to the lucky winner. Its first recipient was Nancie Atwell, a teacher from Maine in the United States, who promptly donated the whole sum to her school. While there was no coverage in the UK, the contest was broadcast in the US, where Bill Clinton presented the honour and Bill Gates, “virtually present” (Or omnipresent) smiled genially on from a computer screen.
This side of the pond, the story is very different and with teacher esteem so low amongst politicians that it could easily be predicted that a UK winner of the award would have “legged it” before the end of the ceremony, never to be seen again. It is not hard to understand why. A recent article in The Guardian suggested that professional dog walkers generally earn more than an NQT, and are more assured of a pay rise too! Now while it is true that money does not motivate, being berated and labelled by a former education secretary as “the blob” hurts and does little for teacher esteem. Certainly, it appears that there is a fall in the number of applicants to ITT (initial teacher training) and many young teachers are leaving, choosing careers where they can have a home life too.
A friend of mine who works in a sixth form in an economically depressed city in the North East constantly complains about her workload, the stress of working in a high performing college where pupils and staff are seen as deliverers of “MEGs” (minimum expected grades) changed her tune the other day. May is the month when some students remember what their teachers have done for them. During the last week she had apparently received two cards from pupils which had reduced her to tears. One form a bright student who had had personal issues during the year, including homelessness for her and her small son wrote:
“You gave me the strength to carry on and make it through the hardest period of my life. Despite my illnesses, having a toddler at home and wanting to be anywhere else, you gave me the push to stick it out and I owe my unconditional offer to start my degree to you. This will make a massive difference to the lives of my children”
Perhaps the real reason why so many teachers teach and stick at it when the whole world seems to want to “take a pop at them” is the knowledge that teachers make a real difference to people’s lives. I bet every single person reading this article will be able to name at least one teacher who inspired them, never gave up on them, or went above and beyond mere duty? How many of them can also remember the names of past Secretary of State for education? Probably not one in a hundred. Most teachers are like Nancie Atwell, capable of great things. Teacher esteem then, comes from within, and sometimes from a small greeting card saying “thank you”.