I'm going to set the scene for you. All the family and relatives are gathered together around the table, already loaded with food and now longing for a bit of gossip. Failing to find things to gossip about, they're more than willing to create their own drama.
I, the trainee teacher enters
It's like lambs to slaughter – the eyes of the hunting dogs light up (by which I mean the elderly aunts when they brace themselves for righteous indignation where they have no business being righteously indignant).
Although you've explained it thousands of times before, there's something that your extended family members just simply don't seem to grasp. The willingness to work for the public and national interest even if it doesn't necessarily come with the biggest paycheck. Something about generational morals and capitalistic venture, I'm sure.
You take a deep breath as the first comments flow across the table, accompanied by a brandished fork and rapidly emptying wine glass.
'Think about the huge number of hours you will do!'
'What about all the horrible parents and misbehaving children'
'It'll turn you off children for good'
'What was that I read last week about teachers getting no pension'
'Isn't it a bit of a cop-out to just spend your life teaching primary school children? Do you not want something more fulfilling?'
Therefore, just to spite them, I grow more and more passionate about what I do. Even if it seems alien to them.
There are so many self-care or self-help books out there that operate under the guise of improving us. Of elevating our identity and crystallising into something more ideologically secure, consistent, and productive. There are so many means of approaching ways to improve our emotional wellbeing, mental health, physical fitness, and overall social prospects. It can get super overwhelming.
You aren't alone in thinking that
Particularly when entering the office of your guidance counsellor in high school when the walls were pasted top to bottom with naff inspirational posters and placards. 'It's not about the destination, it's about the journey'. Or 'things that are hard are worth fighting for'. The old faithful: 'Life isn't a competition'.
Honestly, I'm sure all of these epithets are true, but that's not to say that there isn't more informative, helpful advice out there. Like, there's a reason the clichés exist – because they're solid – but I can do better.
So I ask you, my implied audience, a question. What's gold dust?
The art of not caring
I know that the art students get a lot of stick about their lack of employment opportunities, and the science and engineering students fight it out amongst themselves about who is the most martyred. But do you want to know something? The real heroes are the vocational degrees. I'm talking teachers and nurses here, folks.
This one's for you – so pour out one from me while you sit down to read this wedge of validation.
The art students won't have a job in their field and will likely succumb to a soul-sucking job in corporate HR if they're lucky, while the science and engineering students will get paid …. Eventually. After another 4 years of debt-collecting studies. Don't even get me started on Med students. Yes, everyone contributes to society in some way, but for teachers, we have the best balance of it feeling worthwhile, achievable, and something that you can retain a passion for.
The same is true, even to a greater extent for nurses
You have a very similar work ethic and amount of contact hours and exams and scary labs as doctors. But there are also gendered stereotypes that you have to push back against and work through. I'm not going to lie, a lot of your emotional energy is spent grinning and bearing the nonsense that the public puts you through. Quite apart from the often haunting and horrifying things that you witness and resolve on a daily basis. Like, even just writing about it is making me tired – the hours you guys work. I mean, wow. All the respect.
In short, the next time your grandmother thinks that she's qualified to comment on the topic because she was a teacher's assistant for 6 months 40 years ago, you can hold your own against her tirade against Ofsted. About how 'everything is just about the exams rather than learning the curriculum' among other things. While it's true, what can she or I do about that, other than make the children's lives more interesting and engaging with the material at our disposal.
Teaching is all about making do and enriching lives, Changing lives, frankly
At least I'm contributing to society by training up the next generation to be just as earnest and hard-working as me.