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The Same Grim Boat: some more thoughts about my 'proper' job


 An emotionally perceptive student said to me late this week. 'You hate us, don't you?' I was flustered. Nailed me. I need a weekend to recharge, prepare. Teaching, to a large extent is about confidence and preparation creates confidence. Preparation impossible with teachers workloads at the moment. Gone from a time when you'd look forward to the holidays to looking forward to the weekend to looking forward to the end of the goddamned day. I'm worried that my frustration with the job is filtering through to students. Who deserve that ire the least. Thinking, with the morning sickness, the pit of fear the stomach hasn't experienced since games/P.E days at school, why I'm still doing this. A feeling amped up massively when I get home (tearing off the lanyard that annoints me with dread every time I put it on) and read the latest comments from our education secretary.

Here's what Nicky Morgan said, as reported in The Stage.

   "Many young people are making choices aged 15 which will hold them back for the rest of their lives". Lovely. I have yet to be told a single fucking reason why this shithead is our education secretary, just as I was never aware of a single fucking reason why the previous shithead (Gove) was our education secretary. The thinking seems to be purely about antagonising teachers. Almost immediately anyone who's ever worked in a creative field was apoplectic. In making these comments during an event intended to promote the teaching and learning of core subjects like maths and science Morgan might be forgiven for thinking she was playing to the crowd she was talking to, rather than thinking about everyone who'd hear about it, a little bit of 'carelessness'. I don't think it's carelessness at all. It's the only thing someone like her could say. Anything else would be true hypocrisy. Her statements are entirely revealing of what the Tories would reduce education to. A purely vocationally-minded career-preparing exercise with no inherent value in itself, and with arts/humanities subjects preserved purely as things the middle and upper classes can engage in while the rest of the riff-raff learn something immediately employable. Perpetuates the idea not only that the arts don't pay, but that the arts are something you have to pay to be involved in, a hobby to indulge, never a way to make a living. Know your place. And stay there. And don't you dare investigate any knowledge that might suggest the 'harsh realities of the marketplace' might be a lie. By the time I'd finished reading, I was interrupted by my eldest daughter coming home. In a mood. What's new, she's a teenager. But a parent can tell when a kid's holding something in.
   Went upstairs, asked some questions. Floods of tears. Sobbing. Because of school, because of the pressure she's under, because this is her GCSE year and her teachers are doing nothing but getting on the kids backs about achieving. These incessant mind-games are nothing new, they're the natural result of what happens when a teacher sees their job as delivering statistics, good figures, making sure percentage achievement rates don't slip, ever mindful that the stats, not the student's experience, is ultimately what matters to their managers. A target-related pressure kids are being absolutely brutalised under at the moment. Don't know a parent of a teenager who hasn't been astonished at the levels of stress kids are suffering about exams. And all that's being blared at them is career career career career, from their teachers all the way up to the education secretary. I gave her a hug, tried to give her a sense of perspective, the 'all you can do is try your best' platitudes all parents have to say when they see their kids put in pain by the panic in education, the twitchy paranoia of the Ofsteded and surveilled and threatened. The panic that's going on across the board in social and public services in the UK because public good has been forgotten in the name of increased efficiency and customer service. Pile the kids in, teach them cheap, education is now purely the creation of a trail of evidence, spooked by those eyes over the shoulder, the indoctrination of corporate truth (i.e corporate lies) that are all that management knows (because in the main now, they only come from the private sector) percolating down to the consciousness of people who previously thought that caring about kids, and trying your best, was enough. It's not enough now. As a teacher, your sole job is to prepare kids for employment, anything else is time wasting and will get you a disciplinary. A joy in learning of itself? How is that going to increase your ability to become a mortgage-slave? Knowledge that isn't 'useful to business'? That's not knowledge, that's pointless frippery. It's not the 70s anymore hippy. You are here to train children to work. Absolutely nothing else matters.

   The most common thing I've heard from teachers in the past year is dreams - of leaving, of walking away and oh how sweet that that flipped finger to the boss would be. And jokes - of being replaced by robots, of jacking it in and stacking shelves and being happy and not taking so much anguish home every night. These reveries punctuate the drudge, the horror. Teaching itself is the most enjoyable part of the day. It's a blessed relief from all the other shit you have to do to be allowed into that classroom, to keep the endless hovering boxtickers and number-crunchers off your back. But that classroom's not really yours. Don't con yourself. Observations will have knocked that idealism out of you. It's your job to knock the idealism out of kids and make them face up to reality. They must work, and work hard and focus on becoming appealing to business, a willing plaything of industry, as happy and fulfilled and tied to a role as all adults are in modern Britain. And from 12 onwards they must choose options about their future. They must decide how they're going to fit in, earn, settle into the pattern of anxiety and tranquilisation that is modern life. So my daughter's crying because of 'pressure'? Man up. Or starve to death. These are the options.

   People like Morgan shouldn't be allowed to despoil youth like this. The next day we have a Union meeting. College proposes we take a cut in holidays, no remission for planning/organising, make sick pay way more 'discretionary' and forfeit most of our pay progression. We all of course voted yay in rejecting it, but even in the notably increased militancy there was a trace of doom, a sense not of securing our futures in teaching but of ensuring we battle them every step of the way until we find a way out, or they find a way to force us out. Morgan's comments are indicative of alot, but perhaps scarier than that they're prophetic. The Tories are waiting for the greenlight of re-election to basically destroy whole swathes of British education, farm it out to private enterprise (whose management class have already colonised state institutions at management level). In five years 50% of FE courses will be delivered online and kids will be so scared they'll want nothing but apprenticeships. The only non-apprenticeship courses left in twenty years will be recruiting arms of the political and media class - i.e PPE at Oxbridge, that's yr lot. I was encouraged, cos I was ok at English, to try and get into Oxford. I failed massively, mind too full and disordered. No-one made me think it was the end. No-one made me worry about it before or afterwards. When I tell my students that they have their whole lives to get on the gravy-train, to be saddled with responsibilities of providing for a family and that when they're young they should explore their own imaginations they hear it with increasing surprise. No-one in their lives is asking them - do they want to look back at their twenties and be able to point at a balance sheet and say 'look how much debt I paid off'? I, like many people who've worked in the 'creative sector' (i.e dicking around doing what you want) am in that blissful state of being able to look back at my twenties and not really remember much of it because I was having too good a time. Lots of misery as well but at least it was on my own terms and I can look back and think, I gave what I love and care about my best shot. Kids need to have their perspectives on the world and their possibilities in it WIDENED, not narrowed down at a heartbreakingly early age to how they're going to survive, get ahead, be 'competetive'. For fucking shame Mrs Morgan, for fucking shame.

   Crucially, it's that whole deeper idea here that Morgan perpetuates that's dangerous -  that art and science can't learn from each other, aren't already massively enmeshed, aren't BOTH creative acts. Suggests just how little Morgan, and her cohorts, understand about both. Tremendously irresponsible and insensitive for an education secretary to basically be saying to tons of kids - hey, you're not good at maths/science? You're fucked. Appalling thing to say, to science kids and arts kids.  I wonder also if she's actually spoken to any maths/science graduates recently? If she thinks they're all doing jobs closely related to what they studied or specialised in she's fucking deluded, they're in the same grim boat as most school-leavers and graduates alike. Working slave labour for slave wages. Suits the Tories to divide us all. Much as they have made the working poor hate the workless poor, the native hate the auslander, they want to place science at odds with art, force upon all of us categories of acceptability whereby arts disciplines can be portrayed as mickey-mouse undisciplined navel-gazing wasteful passes to a life of unemployability, whereas maths/science pursuits can ONLY be engaged in in order to improve your future income prospects. Utterly ignores the way that the creative arts work. I worked for 20 odd years in a creative role and was never asked my qualifications. Was about confidence and ability, not bits of paper. Also utterly denigrates and ignores the wide complexity of reasons why people study maths and science. Never met a mathematician whose aesthetic sense wasn't just as important in what they did as anything else, never met a scientist or mathematician who didn't have deep utterly unfinancial reasons of curiosity and wonder and enjoyment behind what they decided to study. The likes of Morgan, Cameron, could never understand that. And we should all make it plain that their attempts to divide us between the can-dos and the cant-be-arsed isn't fooling anyone. They would seek to reduce every single mental endeavour in life down to that which can be proved fiscally productive and profitable. That's as dangerous to science as it is to art, and reveals a thickheaded obliviousness to the purpose and possibilities of life that's staggering. Only a cabinet composed of corporate lawyers, business bullies and PR men could endorse such an attitude. Unfortunately that's exactly what we've got.


   I'm sure Morgan worked hard at her five-grand a term private school and in her pre-MP job in corporate law that so entitles and enables her to commandeer the education of our nation, be the frontperson of its ongoing discharge into the hands of business. But any parent knows, and any teacher knows, what kids need is balance. Yes they should be encouraged to do well at school. They also need to know that failure is not the end. They also need to know that life is long, they are young, and all kinds of odd things can happen. They need to know that life is not as simple as feeding qualifications into a machine that will then pay you. We haven't got credit-scored chips and pins in our necks yet. In Morgan's comments, in this government's inability to see the point in anything beyond the ceaseless accumulation of wealth for a privileged elite you hear a vision of life that's horrific, inaccurate, no kind of life any of us would want to be part of. It's the Tory vision of the future and I suspect in my most pessimistic days and nights it will all become true. But if my job as a teacher is dependent on my ability to present that mercenary future as the only option then I want out. If I'm meant to tell kids that the future will be a vital'n'vibrant meritocracy that kids should want to be part of, that kids should work until they sob with the stress to be part of, then I'd rather leave that game to the cowed and desperate, and once they're fired the glassy-eyed Academy/Freeschool evangelists the Torys would like to be dealing with. Morgan's suggestion that kids should strictly limit their ambitions and dreams down to that which will enable them to become another ground out gear in the machine is an evil lie no teacher wants to be part of. Until I am forced out of my job I will make it my business to tell every kid I teach that the government are lying to them but crucially,  that life is too wonderful to plan for. You should believe that when you're young. One day you'll grow up and realise it.


  1. There was one thing, you mention the pressure for teachers to prepare kids for employment, but there are enough schools in our area that have one more statistic to squeeze people into: "Percentage of pupils that have gone on to higher education" so basically if you have your dream job sorted out already, be a love and take your exams at the college down the road would you?..


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