Whilst I was watching the programme last week, a PGCE student tweeted that watching this BBC documentary made them feel simultaneously aggravated and soothed. As soon as I saw this tweet, I thought, yes, I could not agree more! So I thought I would write on why Tough Young Teachers makes me feel this way.
I have to keep reminding myself that this programme is made for TV and therefore is primarily made for entertainment purposes. Therefore, each participant has been made into a character of sorts. We have Chloe, the second year Teach First participant, who is the blonde haired, bubbly shining light. She is there to motivate the others, show them where they could be and also sadden the first years by making it seem so effortless. We have Claudenia, the real ‘Tough Young Teacher’ who is not willing to put up with any bad behaviour and has sadly been presented, after the first term, as losing sight into the real reason she wanted to be a teacher. The guys are generally pictured as bright, well-mannered, affluent young men who don’t think their education will impact their teaching persona in these underprivileged schools – yet the students seem to think it impacts massively, with one student exclaiming, ‘I knew he was posh!’
Then we have Meryl, poor Meryl. Meryl has been classified as a cause for concern both my Teach First and by the BBC. The other day, I had a Meryl moment. I am 3 weeks into my second placement and am still trying to get used to the timings of the day – there are lots of 5 minute changeover times between lessons, there I think to confuse new teachers. Also, there is not a bell at the school, liberating in many ways but once again, increasing new teachers’ confusion over timings. I was teaching my Year 7 group and all was going well. We had ten minutes until what I thought was the end of the lesson and so I started the plenary. It then got to just before five past eleven so all the students packed away and were standing behind their desks. Fortunately, some were being rather noisy and my rule is that they cannot go until all are quiet. So at around six minutes past eleven I sent my little Year 7s off to their break time, feeling happy with how the lesson went. I then looked out the window and questioned why everybody else was still in their classrooms. It then dawned on me; period 2 doesn’t actually finish until ten past eleven. I swore, hoped that nobody else noticed my class had already gone to break, and then I laughed. I then also thought…I am Meryl. If BBC had been filming me, it’s likely it would have been edited to show that moment where I looked out of control.
So when I watched it this week, I was carefully thinking about the editing, the personas that have been created and the fact this programme is made to entertain.
Yes, I am grateful there is a programme highlighting how difficult and tough the profession is – I have some friends who have said if they can’t get a job after graduating, then they will ‘just become a teacher.’ I hope this will warn off these kinds of people. As Nicholas said, ‘You’ve got to care persistently about your kids’ and I also think you have to love what you do in order to get through and become Chloe, the shining light. However, I also worry that it may warn off too many and prevent people from wanting to enter the profession, particularly as the programme starts off each week by reminding you of the high number of people who leave teaching after only five years.