Getting closure

10 June 2009
link to original

At least my school isn’t one of the wussy ones – it’s got a blizzard-proof excuse. The comprehensive where I teach is essentially stuck in a field in Essex and is currently encased in banks of snow, encircled by treacherous roads piled high with ice and sludge and only Ranulph Fiennes would seriously consider commuting to work there. No, the teachers at my school and the many other institutions situated in remote rural areas can feel their consciences are clear as they catch up on their marking and preparation, in between sneaking a peek of daytime TV.

But can the same be said for the schools nestling in our cities and towns? I can imagine there are millions of parents scratching their heads trying to work out why they are looking after their children on a day when the high streets, the main roads and even the smaller streets have been gritted and cleared of yesterday’s icy detritus.

On the surface, it seems inexplicable that so many of our urban schools are shut. Uncharitable parents might be inclined to think that this is typical of teachers; not content with their whopping great holidays, they’ll snatch at any excuse to take the day off. Unsympathetic members of the public might reflect that our classrooms are empty because our teachers are shirking, good-for-nothing, lazy wimps who would rather do anything but teach.

But they would be narrow-minded to think like that. Most teachers are not inspiring children’s minds today because they can’t afford to buy even a broom cupboard near their school gates. Our teachers are not the namby-pamby moaners so often criticised in the media: playgrounds are not bereft of shrieking kids because of ridiculous "health and safety" fears about slippery ice and fatal snowballs. No, the real reason is because many inner-city teachers are exiled to the remote shires, living in homes they can afford on their modest wages.

Before commentators sneer that teachers should be laughing in this recession, what with falling house prices and great job security, they should remember that mortgages now are almost impossible to get. A colleague of mine told me the other day that she would need to put down 40% of her dream home’s value before getting a mortgage to buy it – something she couldn’t possibly ever hope of doing.

For many years now, teachers have been priced out of our cities. This has meant that teachers have become essentially divorced from the society in which they teach, disconnected from their pupils. This has led, moreover, to a real sense of alienation between staff and pupils, particularly in the more socially deprived inner cities. If we are going to eradicate the anti-social behaviour and crime that blights these badlands, we need to have a sizeable proportion of the teachers mixing with the community, getting to know the parents and friends of their disaffected pupils in a wider context, mingling with them in local shops, in libraries and on the streets on a day-to-day basis.

The snow has covered our land, but uncovered an educational imperative: our urban teachers must be able to afford houses near where they teach.

your comment

Published in