Is school teaching still a worthwhile job?

J (false name) is frustrated with many of the meaningless policies and practices at her school. She gave up a promising future in the business sector to enter the teaching profession with an aim of doing some meaningful work. Yet she is now constantly held  back by tedious school policies such as requiring teachers to put down ticks that conform to a certain size, and punishing students for using a ball pen when they have been told to use a pencil. On the other hand, the extra efforts that she puts into teaching and caring for the students not only fail to be acknowledged and appreciated, but are seen as threats to her co-workers.
When I asked J how she managed to keep up her passion under the depressing circumstances, and what made her stay in primary school teaching, she affirmed: “I can give unconditionally to the children.”
I am a teacher educator, yet I have lots of mixed feelings and no simple answers, whenever people ask me whether teaching is still a worthwhile job today. On the one hand, the ecology of the school and the job of teaching has deteriorated to the point where it is seldom possible for teachers to do much meaningful teaching. (Yes, I am pessimistic.) Teachers are bombarded with duty after duty that have little to do with educating students. Competition between schools either for survival, or for reputation, or for the best-performing students, has led to policies and burdens that constantly put teachers under heavy stress. Conscientious teachers become burned out even before they are able to find their feet. Some veteran teachers insulate themselves from frustrations by converting themselves into teaching robots who sneer at continuing development of their professional competence and who numb their hearts to the laughter or worries of problems of their students.
Under the circumstances, what is remaining in the job of teaching that makes it still worthwhile? J is right: Good teachers can still give unconditionally to their students. Especially in primary school teaching. As J puts it, if you give unconditionally to the students, they will know, they will appreciate it, and your efforts will always pay off, though to varying degrees.
How many jobs in present-day society will enable you to give unconditionally? Certainly not hedge fund managers. They need to be greedy and brutal. Not the Permanent Secretary for education. He is more obsessed with the education budgets than with the meaning of education. Not the industrious accountant, for numbers have no feelings. Not even the caring professions like doctors, nurses, social workers, counsellors, etc. Even if they are willing to give unconditionally to their clients, there are professional and ethical concerns that restrain them from doing so. More importantly, their clients are adults, and we know how complicated, and shall I say evil-minded, adults can be. Our kindness is not always met with gratitude; in fact sometimes people may either inadvertently misinterpret our kindness, or intentionally take advantage of our kindness. So, although we have all learnt to be kind, we have also learnt to protect ourselves.
But children are different. They don’t doubt our motives. They may not often express their thanks explicitly. Those who have had unpleasant past experiences may even find it difficult to accept our loving care. But they can always feel it. We CAN make a difference in their lives. And we CAN give unconditionally to them.
Not everyone will agree with me, but in my view, given our many distorted social values and as a result the distorted ecology in our educational system and in many of our schools, teaching is becoming a disheartening job. Many teachers, like J, stay only because they want to be of service to children and young people. They do not stay because of the “generous remuneration package”, as claimed by one school in its recent recruitment advertisement. What do schools exist for? If we truly believe that schools exist for educating the young, how can we let unnecessary, uneducational, and uncaring, educational and school policies and practices continue to break the hearts of these wonderful people?


One thought on “Is school teaching still a worthwhile job?

  1. Steph

    Paul, even you are not working in the front line with us, (I mean working as a regular teacher in the primary or secondary teacher), YOU ARE WITH US! You speak out thoughts. You understand our difficulties and hard lives in our career. Thank you so much. Everytime I turn to this blog, I get something back, which enlighten my heart!

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