“All we need is biscuits and tea bags…” Teachers are always happy to demean what they do and their own professionalism, but such an attitude undermines the whole profession, writes one senior leader
Teachers seem to be fair game for anyone. The “witty” adage “those who can’t, teach” is as old as the hills and it often feels like the government do their utmost to make a laughing stock of us.
Non-teachers relish their little “Oh, but 9am ’til 3:30pm is a cushy number and think of all the holidays” type of “jokes”. But there’s no one who likes to ridicule teachers more than teachers themselves.
I know it’s good to be able to laugh at oneself – that wise old sage Mickey Mouse once said, “To laugh at yourself is to love yourself” – but what would he know? He’s a cartoon; he’s supposed to be laughed at.
Yes, we must have a sense of humour – it’s one of the characteristics I most admire in teachers – pupils appreciate it too. But this is a serious profession – not that you’d always know it.
You know you’re a teacher when you get a secret thrill out of laminating things and think the staffroom should serve gin and tonics on tap. “I didn’t realise it was the end of term,” said no teacher ever. That picture of a supermarket’s wine display mistakenly labelled as “Back to school”. A picture of a teacher who is on top of their workload – sorry, this image does not exist. All very hilarious, I’m sure.
But if we don’t take ourselves seriously, why would anyone else?
Countries who top the Pisa tables don’t get there with teachers who are ridiculed, they get there with teachers who are members of the most highly respected profession.
But surely a tote bag emblazoned with the phrase “Crammed full of essential teacher stuff! (mostly chocolate and tea bags)” isn’t what’s stopping us from suddenly rocketing up the charts?
Well, no, probably not, but I can’t help but wonder how we could change the perception of teachers if we quit being so self-deprecating in the name of humour.
Now it’s clear to see why teachers indulge in self-abasing comedy – it is well documented that developing a sense of humour about life’s challenges helps us to cope, and there are few jobs as stressful as teaching; teachers do need to have a laugh.
Seeing the funny side of the job helps us to bond with colleagues and keeps the constant threat of some kind of scrutiny or other from appearing too overwhelming or scary.
Sharing a joke can actually be a great way of looking at a difficult situation from another viewpoint, allowing us to weather the storm. In short cracking a joke is good for our wellbeing as teachers.
But should we be doing this to the possible detriment of the profession? Surely it’s possible to have a laugh without demeaning teachers and teaching.
Instead of confirming the suspicions of the general public (whose children are entrusted to us) that we are alcohol-swilling, stationary-obsessed good-for-nothings with poor time management skills, we could be presenting a much more positive image.
Rather than adding further flourishes to the picture the media has painted of us over the years we could be providing an alternative image – together teachers are a large and powerful body whose voice will be heard if we all speak up. But if we keep telling ourselves, perhaps subliminally, that we are a joke, then that will never happen.
You see, it’s a mindset thing: the more we joke about the profession, the more we become closed to the idea of it being anything other than a joke – it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The un-funny side
This is the point at which self-deprecating humour (which psychologists say does have its benefits, admittedly) becomes negative self-talk. The more we joke, the more we risk speaking negatively about ourselves and our colleagues.
The less we take it seriously, the less likely are we to believe that we can make the changes the profession is crying out for: exam reform, easing of workload, increase in respect, improved recruitment and retention.
Don’t down play the possible knock on effects of teachers constantly taking the mick out of themselves – it really doesn’t look good to others: politicians, policy makers, parents, pupils, potential teachers.
Even if making a joke about your job online or to an acquaintance doesn’t directly affect you, it could give the wrong impression to others – a wrong impression that our profession really doesn’t need right now.
Of course, many will dismiss this as humbugish and go off to search for some more teacher memes to post on Facebook. But there are others who will recognise the need for us to put the professionalism back into the profession.
Believe it or not, there are other ways to have a laugh – teacher jokes aren’t the only sort of jokes – and it’s important that we teachers do have a sense of humour.
But don’t take the joke too far because there is every chance that no one else is laughing with you; only at you.