Is There a Future for Teaching?

April September is the cruellest month. It smells of sirocco, which with its warm breath and threatening clouds confounds the bright serenity of summer days thus foreshadowing the coming of autumn. There are still a few good days to be enjoyed of course, few, but they have the bitter taste of the awareness that something is just about to end. I guess this is the sort of melancholy which affects those who, like me, live by the sea, love the sound of the waves and looking out at the horizon. We are accustomed to live outdoor so many months of the years that home seems like a prison when September comes.

April Sempember is the cruellest month. In such a miserable state of mind the month begins with its most terrible mortal blow: teaching staff meetings. I believe that any teacher in any part of the world would agree with me if I say that the most salutary effect of summer vacations is: forgetfulness. Only few weeks and you realize that you have almost forgotten everything: papers, passwords, the inevitable conflicts you had in the past.Β  I am sure that two or three colleagues of mine must have given me reasons to get on my nerves last year, but actually, I can’t remember why at the moment and so I just say hello to them with a smile. That’s why before the first teaching staff meeting there is always a certain cheerfulness and excitement in the air, we are all tanned, friendly, light-hearted. Before.

April September is the cruellest month.The reading of the agenda of the meeting has the immediate effect of quickly awakening minds from the summer slumber and in that very moment illusory forgetfulness gives its way to memory and harsh reality. From the list of the issues to be discussed, school appeared to be a cautious bureaucratic system with no real identity or goal different from satisfying the wishes of families, who have actually become our customers and we know that customers must always be satisfied. So, if we don’t want to lose ground in the competition with other schools, we have learnt in time to dedicate a lot of our efforts in creating and customizing learning products, with the hope our customers might find them appealing, we have become travel agents, project makers, data analysts, advisors and what more! Is this what we wanted to be when we started?

April September is the cruellest month. After at least two hours of an endless discussion on school trips, on which destinations even the closest stations to go, hadn’t been all of us fully in such process of metamorphosis into somebody/thing we don’t know yet, had we had a shred of dignity left, we should have stood up and say, what has it all to do with me? And quit the assembly then. My friends, teaching once was a sort of romantic, generous job. Teachers were those who had the task of transmitting knowledge or better the curiosity of knowledge to generations. They made the difference, but now, if the nature of the activities we are involved into are often so very far from teaching, is it still so? In a time when information can be easily got on the web, if teachers no longer make the difference, why should society need them?

There are already apps with avatar trainers who teach how to work your glutes, abs, Pilates, Yoga, cooking etc. , I’m sure very soon they will be programmed to teach Latin, Math, History with customized lessons and looks as well. It seems that one of them has already been tested. His name is Will. So, my dear friends, if we accept to give up making the difference not only September will be the cruellest month, but also October and November and all the months of the years as the teaching system, as it is now, will have no reason to exist.




45 thoughts on “Is There a Future for Teaching?

  1. “A romantic, generous job”: yes, I remember that ideal before even I went into teaching, before the ‘cruelest month’ arrived every year, whenever momentarily a connection was made in my teaching career; and still in my heart of hearts I wish it to be so.

  2. I write this as a recently retired teacher, facing my first meeting-free “cruelest month” in 40+ years, and I agree with you about how new definitions of job expectations have changed what “teaching” means. Yet, there are still the students, and I’m convinced that no video or app will replace a human meeting face-to-face with another human (or group of humans). How does Will show empathy that doesn’t sound canned? Can Will deal with sarcasm, quirky behavior, excuses for late work or absences? Can Will read a student’s writing and know immediately how much (or little) work went into it?
    But here’s a story/joke you’ll appreciate. It dates from the 1970s, but it still works today. A busy college professor decides to tape all his lectures, so that he can get out of the classroom and do more research. He numbers all the tapes, leaves them with his secretary, and heads to the lab. About a month into the semester, he decides to check on his class. As he opens the door, he smiles, because he hears the tape running. Ah, the lesson on X, he thinks. Then he turns to the students’ seats, where he sees 43 tape recorders recording his lecture. Not a student in sight.

    • The answers are no, no, no, of course. Nevertheless, those qualities that made, or better, used to make a good teacher are considered no longer so essential nowadays. If you don’t feel like being involved into making projects of any kind, exchange programs etc. you are second class.
      Your lovely story would be called today an early experiment of ” flipped classroom”. πŸ˜‰

  3. It depends on what employers want ‘teaching’ to be.
    Cramming facts into heads – there’s already apps for that. Nurturing and encouraging growth of mind – needs the human touch! Of course, I might be an idealist or even talking through the back of my hat.

    • You are right, but it seems that teaching is no longer “nurturing and encouraging growth of mind”. It has become something else, that is why I fear the coming of “Will” and his brothers and sisters not so unlikely .

  4. Although I’m retired, you got me feeling really gloomy with this piece… yes, I can remember the grim tediousness of the staff meetings and all the nonsense spouted by the ‘leadership’ of the school. Then, next day, the students arrived: cheerful, interested and interesting, and eager to learn. And suddenly it was all worth it again. You sound like the kind of teacher who gives your students a lot as well as getting a lot from them, so I hope your year shapes up…

  5. I think it’s worse than you describe . . . parents are not the customers; they’re the bosses.

    Children are the product, and bosses don’t want to hear the product isn’t up to par. They also don’t want to pay to make the product better. Do it as cheaply as possible and make it the best, period.

    So, you see, you won’t be replaced because parents can’t blame Will if their child is doing poorly same as the boss can’t really get mad at a robot that makes a part exactly as it’s told to make it.

    But bosses can always blame subordinates and ignore faulty designs, crappy materials, poor manufacturing plans, and overextended factories.

    It’s the way of the world. Your job is guaranteed for life . . . not a great job, mind you . . . unless you’re teaching kids in a culture where education is valued and the families push their kids to succeed. Have you looked for jobs in Japan or South Korea?

  6. I spent a lot of time in my youth on two quite contradictory projects. One was to resist the influence of my elders in the name of personal freedom. The other was to win my elders’ approval, maybe even their admiration. I will always be grateful to the ones who were strong enough to resist me and for the ones who through their weakness taught me that this was no way to be an adult. And for the ones who challenged me to be my best and refused to accept anything less I will be eternally grateful.
    Don’t give up!

  7. September IS the cruellest month, as my bike broke down as soon as I got it shipped here, and I shed many tears about it. But that’s another story..

    Anyway, I completely get your point, Prof, and agree on most of it. However, like some of my fellow commenters said, I believe there are still elements that can make it worth (again). Mind you, I have never been a school teacher (and probably will never be, for the better) but, like all of us, I have also been a student, so let me give you some feedback on that side.

    There have always been, and will always be, students unwilling to put the smallest effort into learning, who only see the school as a prison and “distract” the fewer ones who are trying to pay attention. The problem now is that they are backed-up by their parents, giving right to them instead of the teachers. But this has already been pointed out.

    As a student, I remember not enjoying all the lessons. Quite the opposite, in fact. Many teachers really try their best to bore you to death (or maybe is just their subjects). Coming out from middle school and entering my first year of high school, one of those subject made horrible to my eyes due to a bad teacher was English. I hated it so much. What was it then that made me change my mind about it? You guessed it: a good teacher (not named Will)! The best thing this about this new teacher was her ability to make that boring subject, full of weird terms and grammar rules, interesting. In other words, she was ENGAGING. That is the true power of a (human) teacher and the only lever he/she can action to try and pull the students out of their ever more present social media slumber.
    Maybe I was lucky, though I know I am not the only one, but that teacher succeeded not only in engaging me on the subject. She also made me like it. Not to say love it (literature included)!

    Yes, I agree, it is becoming harder and harder even just to speak to younger pupils (from this year on, there will be no more 90’s kids in schools, sad), but you still have the power to make a difference. And it is something that rarely goes forgotten, as you can see in my case.

    It doesn’t have to be every teacher. Sometimes it just takes one. Or two, to make it even more interesting πŸ™‚

    (Good) Teachers do have the power to make a difference.

    Please, be that teacher to your pupils, as you were for me.


  8. Oh I remember the endless drivel of staff meetings. I’m not sure how it is in Europe, US schools need major reform – and that includes a total re-design. Teaching in the 21st Century shouldn’t mean more and in 20th Century model. By the way, my friends tell me I would hate teaching today.

  9. Yes,my dear..September is cruel,but most cruel is the idea to forget our β€œprofession”.It isn’t a job at all:mind,heart, knowledge and.. Creativity seem to be forgotten, unfortunately

  10. Thank you for sharing your opinion in such a difficult period for schooling. As a teacher I often feel lonely struggling to find motivation whilst the contemporary society and its new objectives run towards a direction I do not understand. Speaking up, sharing doubts and disappointment heal bitterness and gives us some energy to fight another year again. It is a matter of proud resilience: we will enter the classroom door once again and give our student all the human qualities that Will cannot have: passion for our subjects, emotional interpretation, empathetic listening, and last but not least our human limits, so useful to teach them not to hate themselves when they will make mistakes. Only from a human being they will learn to be human beings.

    • I do share this romantic vision of yours, you know, but resilience is not enough. We should put our minds into doing something together rather wainting for another”Godot” reform. We are too passive.

  11. Of all the adults (other than family) that I remember from my childhood, my teachers are the most prominent. Those that instilled a sense of joy in learning figure the most prominently.

  12. Online teaching is the way things are going and happening already. Robots and AI are what is happening. I can’t see them getting rid of schools though, or colleges, or universities – so I think there will always be a need for teachers. In my city in the UK, they are building more student accommodation for Uni students – fit for a Queen and King – their own cinema room even – I thought I should be a uni student for that awesome accommodation – but that obviously is not a reason to go studying and also most people with degrees are still finding it hard to get a job in their area of expertise from the people I know. That being said, I could not afford to go to Uni right now either – but I love learning. I take online courses as it happens, but in different subjects to what many educational establishments teach and I also have my own very niche online course out, in how to get a Free SSL Certificate on your WordPress website.

    I used to teach social media for the recovery of mental ill health, for the NHS, but my courses were all cut some time ago – I own the copyright though.

  13. Ha! Right you are. I could never be in administration. All those meetings. I’d truly rather clean the toilet than sit in a room and here people talk about initiated policies and platforms.

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