What’s Wrong with Teachers

Few years ago my previous principal summoned me to ask my illustrious opinion about the introduction of the latest trend in matter of education, that is: CLIL. Our eminent thinkers, who people the aisles of the Ministry of Education in fervent industriousness, had thought that it would have been fine to introduce the teaching of one of the school subjects in English for at least 50% of the allotted hours, and this the last year of high school. Before my dormant reason could react to make me hold my tongue, I heard myself saying: “bullshit”. Yes, bullshit; because we have a few or no such teachers that can explain a subject like Physics, for example, in another language. Bullshit; because, that is the year of the final exams, and even if there were such experts, this switch in language would inconvertibly mean in a consistent loss in the quality of contents. Anyway, as I feared, I had gone too far – Mrs Tink is not used to such a language, after all – I looked at my principal blushing a little, but she only said: “I agree”, “ the matter is your hands”. Mine? Oh, my! And this is how I have been put in charge of CLIL organization in my school, a position which have held firmly for years as nobody wishes to snatch it from my hands .

Of course, this meant attending tedious meetings at the Ministry of Education, of which I only remember the most amazing lasagne ever tried. I still recall myself attending boring conversations without saying a word , but with the corner of my eyes I endeavoured to spot the next tray carrying, more steaming lasagne to dart over them. Of course, as if the morning sessions were not enough, I was afflicted by  afternoon meetings too. I could hear no word that could convince me of the goodness of the project, till, one last speaker caught my attention, which was still blurred by the enormous  quantity of carbs swallowed. More than a full concept, it was a word: mission. Wait a minute, wait a minute: “How did we get there? What mission are we talking about?” I whispered to my neighbour. They were talking about money and career. This new figure, which they meant to introduce, was actually over qualified for high school, hence, somebody had enquired about which benefits such teacher would have had, in short: “what’s in it for me?”.  “Well, nothing”, he answered. “Let’s call it …. a mission”, he replied candidly.

A mission. This is the greatest trap teachers have fallen into these last years. We have been led to believe that we are not qualified professionals but something more, missionaries, that is people who have received a divine call at the service of education and because of such vocation are expected to grow accustomed to whatever situation or to respond to any requirement students, parents, politicians may develop for……nothing, of course.  That is why for teachers there is not a real career or any prospect of wallowing in gold, we are supposed to be content with the outcome of our vocation only. And whose fault is this? Ours,  just ours, because in time we have abdicated to our original nature of educators to become a sort of hybrid with no more defined identity or clear goal. When did it all start? I don’t know.

The events during this pandemic have made no exception. We have been asked to acquire new skills, mostly technological to tackle remote learning at the best and we did it. Once back to school, we have become computer technicians, Wi-Fi experts, Zoom and Meet masters, but that was not enough yet.  When we realized that the computers we had given or the line did not work properly, we instantly started to bring our own devices or to use our own router Wi-Fi, as it was our impellent mission, of course, to make things work anyhow. When school closed, even if our efforts were actually doubled, or privacy annihilated, for the public we had become do-nothing privileged, who should have gone to work to school in any case, taking the example of supermarket cashiers who never quitted their workstation, real heroes of the situation.

Now, think about any other worker. I would like to know which company requires its employees to use their own devices, or to buy more gigabytes in case the Wi-Fi does not work and use private routers. But we are missionaries, we are expected to find a solution to make things work with nothing in return, and if you dare say something, you are reminded that you are lucky enough in these days to still have a job.

In time we have accepted all this and the pandemic has made it only more clear, if possible . Yielding to all kinds of expectations, different from educating, without even attempting to a fight, has greatly contributed to the breakdown of the old education system, which was mostly based on merit, discipline, effort, to supplant it with a pointless approach where subjects have been replaced by projects, discipline by a maternal, over protective attitude and effort, well, it is a word to be used only for sport, nowadays. We teachers are also responsible for all this and the possibility of a change is all in our hands. I think and it is high time we take off the  – I fear for many comfortable – disguise of  missionaries and change direction; a little exercise could be of help : let’s try and remember what made us want to be teachers and I am sure it was not a matter of vocation , but something more. We have to go back there, from where we started.


18 thoughts on “What’s Wrong with Teachers

  1. Welcome to Sgt. Pepper’S Lonely Hearts Club Band! I feel the Italian blood is boiling and it is good so! You might, or you should appreciate your worth 💖😘😘 take care, my lovely teacher and stay safe. 🤗🌹

    • You felt it right, my blood is boiling 😡😡😡and I wonder how much longer I can endure all this.😒Let’s see the bright side🤔: days are already warmer, spring is coming and after spring there is summer: holidays. This is my only goal this year. Vacations. ✨Cheers, my genius. 😘🙋🏼

  2. I still occasionally count in Italian . . . it’s a real benefit, said I never.

    Seriously, the argument that could be used to counter CLIL is to point out that, for instance, engineering involves the use of specialized words that are never used in everyday language. Same for any of the sciences. Learning specialized terminology serves a very limited purpose and won’t help with learning the colloquial part of the language; you know, the part of a language that might be actually useful.

    But, don’t feel all alone . . . Mormons grow up learning they must go on missions and get punished by having to try and convert me to their magic-underwear-based beliefs (if they happen to knock on my door).

    The thing is, I imagine your profession suffers from the same problem of all professions . . . once someone rises through the ranks, they forget how stupid the higher-ups sounds when they spout proclamations. That’s because once one rises through the ranks, one finds less oxygen the higher they rise, thus depriving their brains of the necessary ingredient for rational thought.

    Happens in politics, too. There’s not much we can do, but . . .

    . . . good luck fighting them windmills.

    • “I will not cease from mental fight/nor shall my sword sleep in my hand….”😑, seriously , CLIL might have been a very good idea, if you had added those hours to the course of study, but in that case money should have been spent on the project, so they preferred to ” fare le nozze con i fichi secchi” ( do you remember that motto?) that is, at the minimum cost possible. They didn’t think , for example, what should be done if a school had no such figure or if there was one, what happened in case he moved somewhere else. Hence, after few years CLIL has become an issue of English departments, that 50% is now few hours ( if not minutes), but somebody rose through the ranks for such splendid intuition and what remains of it is only the trouble of organizing it every year, anyhow.🙋🏼

    • I admit I’d not heard that before and I assumed something completely different than what it references, especially since I prefer dried figs to fresh figs and, of course, Fig Newtons. Something more allegorical than its actual meaning.

      But seriously, I honestly can’t see how it would work in practice even if money would be allocated to it. Then again, maybe I’m not a man of vision.

      Just out of curiosity, now that it’s in the English department, are you then required to learn the science to a sufficient level so that you can teach it? That itself would require many years and, again, the learning of a completely different and (excuse the unintentional pun) foreign lexicon. And by foreign, I mean even to one’s own native language.

      When I was an engineer at Cadillac Motors, we worked with Pininfarina collaborating on the Alante (another instance of incredibly stupid ideas by people lacking common sense). Because of my Italian background, I occasionally was asked to translate communications. I eventually bought a technical English/Italian-Italian/English dictionary because I had no idea what some words referenced.

      Unless one is in a specialized field, even a native person would be hard-pressed to know words unique to that field.So, assuming unlimited funds, how would that work in practice? The only way I can even imagine it working would be someone who is very well (and I mean VERY well) versed in both teaching language and teaching the subject. I’m sure they might exist . . . in large corporations with a need for them.

      • I teach at a Liceo Scientifico, so, wishing to give sense to nonsense, I had chosen Physic as CLIL subject at first, even because I had a couple of teachers I knew I could rely on. By the ways, any time I enquired them about their linguistic skills they swore to death they knew neither a single word of English- liars- till we found eventually a compromise, promising linguistic support, material etc.
        This fight happened at the beginning of every school year. I kept reminding them that the introduction of CLIL was not my choice but a law of this country and a mission,( well, no ,I’m lying. I’ve never mentioned the m word to them), till they reluctantly had to give in.. Last year,I decided that I had had enough and changed the CLIL subject, which is now history, as history is part of the English syllabus and if my colleagues don’t want/ can’t do it, the English department can effortlessly be of help. I don’t want to become a CLIL martyr for sure; missionary is just enough.

      • History seems as it would be a bit more manageable as far as less jargon one would have to learn. A presumption on my part since I don’t know for sure.

        As for martyr versus missionary . . . well, certainly martyrs are remembered long after their time . . . but, I’m with you as far as preference. Heck, I don’t even want to be a missionary, but I understand how one could be pushed into the role.

        Hope the summer break comes swiftly and strong.

      • Five?! That puts it into July. Is that unusual or is it always July? I ask because it’s June here (usually, but I admit I don’t know for this year).

  3. Bullshit indeed, Stefy, so sorry you’ve been lumbered with this. As a retired teacher a dozen years away from what used to be called ‘the chalkface’ I do so empathise with your predicament — while not regretting leaving the educational snake pit one little bit!

  4. I’ve felt that burnout! But the power of finding the right place, the right admin, the right resources is a game-changer. I’ve never been more grateful for a school that feels like home this year.

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