What you might not hear teachers say

Posted on 15th July 2016 by Joe
Picture of a smiley face drawn on the palm of a mans hand

I am a teacher saying “Thank you!” and I am not being sarcastic…

Let’s face it, teachers have developed a pretty impressive reputation for complaining. “Well we have a lot to complain about!” I hear you say. Yes, yes we do.

But more and more, I’ve come to realise there are so many people who make huge contributions to our wellbeing – from loud and proud social reps to the unsung heroes working behind the scenes. I want to write briefly about them. Firstly, because I don’t think we thank them enough in person. And secondly, because I don’t want anybody in teaching to underestimate the incredible power they have to improve the working conditions of their friends and colleagues.

So who makes you a happier teacher?

Who gives you things to look forward to?

There are The Pub Trip Organisers. Any teacher at my school would tell you: I am not the life and soul of the party. But everybody can appreciate the huge difference it makes to staff to see lights at the end of tunnels (and we teachers are, let’s face it, practically tunnel-dwellers). Whether it’s the big end of term do, or just a quiet weekly Friday trip to the pub, it can change the experience of the whole working week. So I say to anybody who organises such things: the pestering is worth it, the time it takes to write the ‘all staff’ emails is worth it, and keep it up for all our sakes.

All schools have their quirky mavericks too. At my school there’s The Crossword Crew. This is a small bunch of teachers who print off a crossword almost as ritualistically as others break out the staffroom biscuits. It’s great to see teachers divert their attention from “What shall we complain about today?” to “What was the name of the first monkey sent to space?”. On special occasions they go for a cryptic crossword, and we all huddle together mumbling nonsense or closing our eyes in meditative silence. Anybody who creates such a sanctuary deserves to be thanked.

Who gives you time?

Every school seems to benefit from Those Who Conjure Up Time. They are the ones – and they’re often support staff as well as teachers – who you know are insanely busy. And yet when you ask them for help with something, they perform a sort of magic trick: the illusion of having time. To perform it successfully means making it clear to whoever comes to them for support that all other jobs they have can wait 5 minutes. This might not technically be true, but we all know it means the world of difference.

Then there is The Person Who Listens. Teaching is in part an act and sometimes after a stressful performance we don’t feel like breaking from character until we are home. I’ve been incredibly fortunate that I’ve always been able to ‘talk things over’ or ‘off-load’ (read: whine) to somebody. Right now, that is mainly my partner. But it’s also been my parents, the teachers I share a train with, and a friend I met on PGCE who shares a love of melodic death metal. Who is your person who listens, and do they know how much you appreciate them?

Who works to make your job easier?

Here’s a controversial one: My Head of Department and SLT. I know I may be in a lucky position here, but I generally think of my ‘bosses’ as people who help me in what I do, rather than make my job more difficult. One of the main goals of Happy Teacher is for this to be more transparent, so that teachers can make comparisons between schools, and word of supportive leaders can be spread.

Less controversial are The Teachers Who Share Resources. Since workload is most teachers’ greatest concern, anything which can reduce it is welcome. Teachers can put such time and love into making resources that it makes sense we should share what we have. Think of all the teachers whose resources you’ve used – whether in your department, or online on sites like TES. Let’s hope it’s a practice which only gets more common and systematic.

Then there are The Teaching Unions. I know unions can get over-excited in their mailings, and they’re always asking us to complete one survey or another. But they are tirelessly looking after the fundamentals of our working conditions. They do this through unglamorous negotiations and admin. What’s more, in the worst-case scenarios, they will be there for you.

Who recognises your efforts?

Whether it’s The Parents or The Students, doesn’t it make a big difference when they make it clear, even just in few words of thanks, that they recognise what you do?

We have a routine at our school and I’m not sure how common it is. We invite students to write thank you notes to teachers they have really appreciated. Now, you may take issue with this – is there any real value to a forced thank you? Does this turn teaching into a popularity contest? And what about the teachers whose pigeon holes are empty?

But I bet that even the most cynical and jaded teacher will find a smile creeping over their faces when they read their messages. There’s the message from the student who you thought hadn’t even noticed you. There’s the message from the student you thought had judged you ‘nemesis’ for that detention you’d followed through on (when really, they knew it was good for them). The energy, creativity, humour and gratitude of students is ultimately what makes the job worthwhile.

Tell them!

Teachers at my school now frequently put postcards in each other’s pigeonholes to thank them for things. I personally don’t find this too saccharine or happy-clappy. We are all deep into what is a very emotional job, and it is OK for us to crave support and recognition. So I implore you: say thank you, in whatever way works for you, for the big things, but also for the things which may seem small.

So who have I missed?

I know that I l have missed out lots of people who definitely deserve thanks (I could write a whole separate post just for specific members of our support staff!). So please think of who puts a smile on your face, or lightens your load, and write about them in the comments section below.

Photo Credit:  Ben Smith