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I have the utmost respect for all those people who teach, have taught and will teach; whatever route they take to do so. It’s not an easy profession and definitely not a leave it at the door kind of job.
During the time that I taught in secondary schools, I noticed differences between those teachers who had spent all their lives in education and those who had come into teaching later in life after having had another career.
The points I mention below are not indicative of every teacher who never left education. Of course they aren’t. But they are the things that I observed that made me believe that the best teachers had been out in the real world and gained some experience before coming back to share their knowledge.
What Do I Mean by 'Real World Experience'?
I’m not trying to say that teachers who go straight from university into teaching don’t live in the same physical world as teachers who train after having had another career, because obviously they do. What I’m talking about is perceptions; namely the difference in the perceptions of someone who has always been in education and never known anything else as their primary driving force, compared to someone who left formal education at the end of their own studies and then came back to it to teach others (of course with a little more training for themselves, teaching is hard).
I’m talking about having experience of the world that you’re preparing the children in your charge to enter. I’m talking about having experience of the world outside of education.
You might argue that all teachers have experience of this world because they buy things from shops, restaurants, pubs; they need to use plumbers, doctors, car engineers etc. and are likely to have had part time jobs as students. I would agree that this gives you a limited perspective of the world outside of education. However, in my opinion at least, there are things you can’t learn about the world if you never leave school!
Behaviour Hangovers from School
When your entire life has been spent in education, there is a certain amount of institutionalisation that goes on. Some of the behaviours that teachers sanction students for can be observed in the faculty too.
I found that bullying in a school workplace followed the patterns of playground bullies; where ganging up on someone and having ‘more people saying the same thing’ meant more than the truth. When I thought back, the majority of the people involved had only ever been teachers.
Another common occurrence I observed was that after a difference of opinion, rather than try to talk things out, some teachers would run to the person in charge (run to the teacher) to sort out disputes. It was almost always the ones who had never left education.
Teachers tend to be academic achievers. They are used to getting praise for reaching the next echelon of education. Once they qualify as teachers, this continues. In weekly briefings teachers are praised for extra-curricular work with children, training they’ve provided, taking on extra responsibilities, organising events etc. I’m not saying that they shouldn’t receive praise for these tasks, but it’s a very different culture from a lot of workplaces.
When you work outside of education you don’t live in a world of constant praise. You work with people from all sorts of backgrounds and levels of formal education. You really learn the worth of different types of intelligence; it’s no longer a concept but a living, working, reality. You learn that so much knowledge comes from something other than formal education and that there is so much more to the world than being ‘top of the class’.
I often observed a distinct disrespect from teachers who had always been in education for non-academic jobs. They would use jobs like working in fast-food restaurants as examples of where students would end up if they gained low exam scores. This demonstrated a lack of appreciation and understanding of the kind of work carried out in these establishments. It also showed a snobbery for a job they seemed to indicate was beneath them.
The thing is, not every child has the same motivations in life and that’s actually a great thing for a diverse society where many roles exist to be filled by each generation of adults.
Some people want to go to university; some want to work with their hands; some people want an easy, chilled out job; some want the pressure; some people want money; some people want more free time… There are more motivations in life than I can think of and so much to be learned from the point of view and experience of each path travelled. This includes teachers who’ve never left education!
My point is that in my experience it’s these teachers who fall short of understanding the reality of what it means to have a different driving force behind you; when further education isn’t the goal. It’s hard to help a student achieve their best when you haven’t stopped to consider what they want from life.
Advice For a World Unknown
It’s hard for children to see how their dissected education will help them in the real world. There are no jobs called ‘maths’ or ‘Spanish.’ It’s up to educators to help them to understand what part each of these individual subjects could play in their futures.
Teachers who have had another career are far better equipped to do this because they can list examples from their own experiences. They can tell students how these skills can be used outside of an educational setting; where the majority of children will end up working as adults.
Too often, I would hear teachers who've never left education failing to help a student understand the relevance of a subject because they themselves had no idea how it could be applied beyond school. I even found this in the languages departments where I worked, there were teachers who had no knowledge of how language skills could be used in the wider workforce.
Equally I would hear spurious advice given to students to guide them towards academic subjects for GCSEs or A Levels and away from the arts or vocational qualifications when these subjects would have served their aspirations better.
What Does 'Real World Experience' Add to the Classroom?
A teacher who has worked outside of education has perspective on how well their education helped to prepare them for the world of work, living away from home, managing finances etc. They can use this experience to improve their interactions with students at every step of the journey. Children love to ask, ‘why?’ and it’s far more valuable to be able to give them an authentic answer.
Often, I’ve witnessed these teachers display an ability to see the value in the different qualities that children possess more readily; associating their qualities with possible roles in the workforce rather than seeing them as a troublemaker for example.
They recognise that life is full of second chances and failures but that each of these is not the end of the world. In turn they pass this knowledge on to their students, because in the real world, a failed test doesn’t define you; your motivations and actions do.
And finally, these teachers have a way to engage students that teachers who have never left education don’t; they can talk about life after school.