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The History Boys

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I am very lucky to do the jobs that I do. Teaching is a profession that is undervalued by the world at large, students and teachers themselves. Students can be forgiven, I think. Everyone believes that their teacher is gifted with knowledge or skills that were passed down to them by the gods without any need for them to have gone through exactly the same process as the student is currently undertaking. So often I’m met with the reply, ‘yes, but you’re so good. You can play the piano,’ when I’m trying to illustrate a point or encourage. I occasionally try to reassure students that I have been in exactly their position, but they rarely believe me. With my teachers and mentors I suppose I am exactly the same.

The world at large can be forgiven to some extent too. After all, everyone has been a pupil at some stage in their life whether formally or informally and so will have similar beliefs about teachers as do current students. But government would do well to be careful not to fall into the trap of taking teachers for granted. I don’t want to go on about ‘shaping the next generation’ but our role is increasingly being misunderstood. I am particularly concerned with the national curriculum which leaves such a little amount of time for the arts. In my local school music is so badly squeezed that they don’t have a choir or an orchestra and for a thousand pupils there are only two pianos. Teachers are finding their natural creativity being squashed, making it impossible to inspire children and indeed adults (but that’s another post) and help them find a topic or subject that sings to them. It is hard in a comprehensive system to focus on any one passion. I fear we’re turning out a nation of children whose knowledge is broad but shallow.

Teachers themselves in the midst of all this, and in the sheer amount of organization that must go into arranging lessons, often lose sight of their importance too. I am lucky to have some students who remind me that I am doing an important job. Occasionally it turns into adoration that is bordering on the embarrassing, and at times it is just impossible to believe that you’re having an effect on people’s lives like they say you are. Of course, on the other end of the scale there is the feeling that you’re doing a terrible job and the students don’t seem to give you any sign to the contrary.

I’m not sure I even see teaching, at least my teaching, as a career. I think it is an obligation for those who possess a skill, talent or gift to pass it on. Of course, that’s just what Hector says in the History Boys. Perhaps you’d best go and see the play or watch the film to understand what I mean better than I can express it.

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