The advice generally given to those debating whether to teach primary or secondary education is that primary is for those who like teaching children and secondary is for those who like teaching their subject. While I understand the difference in emphasis in primary and secondary between child development and subject studies, I believe that if you want to become a teacher full stop, you have to like children. In fact, you will only be able to teach your subject effectively if you are interested in understanding and supporting young people.
I chose to teach MFL in secondary schools not only because I believe passionately in the need for young people to learn languages but also because I want to help them at a time of massive change in their lives. Almost without fail when I tell people that I am training to teach in secondary schools they say that I must be either mad or very brave. I am neither! Yes, it is very demanding, for me as a natural introvert and for today’s 11 to 16 year-olds because of the particular challenges they face. Talk to any experienced teacher, however, and they will tell you that kids really have not changed much over the years. They will also tell you that their job is the most rewarding in the world and that the most challenging children are the ones they tend to have most time for.
Experienced teachers understand that their job is to try to look beyond undesirable behaviour and to ensure that the children’s time at school is marked by fair and consistent boundaries and by compassion. In other words, as unlikely as it sounds when the bell rings and the corridors are noisy, hot and hectic, school can be a haven for children, made safe by teachers and all the other adults at the school. This was my experience growing up in an emotionally unstable home environment. At school I could rely on established routines, regular positive feedback and hope for a different kind of future for myself. Of course, it is impossible to be everything to all students and our jobs, even as form tutors, extend only so far in terms of the one-to-one support we can offer. At the same time, we are part of an incredible network of dedicated professionals who are committed to supporting students in a wide variety of ways.
In short, I want to teach in secondary schools because I want to inspire young people, through languages, to expand their world. So inspiring were my language teachers that all seven of my GCSE group who took A Level Spanish went on to study Latin America at university and travel very far from the small island (the Isle of Wight) where we grew up. Just as importantly, though, I want to make an overall difference to the lives of young people at a time when, I feel, they need it most.