Teachers wash their students’ clothes – how did we get here?
There are so many stories going around the collapse of the British social fabric relatively easy to get used to.
What will really shock you when the evening news regularly features stories of people are dying on their kitchen floor because waiting for an ambulance is eight o’clock? Likewise, the stories of the desperate state of our schoolsour teaching profession and the communities they serve have become all too common.
But that doesn’t mean, of course, that we shouldn’t tell them – and keep telling them – maybe until something is done, and solutions are found to prevent such things from happening again. again and again.
This is one of the reasons why the Commission on Teacher Retention, which has just been created by the charity Education Support, has commissioned Public First, the organization in which I work, to interview 1,000 teachers about their daily lives.
Specifically, we wanted to know the stresses and strains of classroom life. What we found might not shock readers, but it should at least make them stop and think about what is happening both in schools and on the streets outside the school gates.
The title is simple: more and more teachers feel they have no choice but to support their students with the basics of life – with food (yes food!), with clothes and with the stationery they need to do their job.
Basically, school staff intervene where families, society and government cannot or will not. More than two-fifths of teachers surveyed (41%) said they bought school supplies for students, and more than a quarter (26%) had prepared food for students when they had none .
Some 26% said they told families about local support services (such as social housing), while more than one in 10 (13%) said they cleaned pupils’ clothes.
More than two-thirds of teachers (69%) said they help students talk about their mental health. Overall, 71% say they support students more on non-teaching issues than they did five years ago.
It inevitably tells us a desperately sorry story about the state of society and the support networks – informal and formal – that once existed in disadvantaged communities. years of austerity have eroded these almost out of existence.
But there is another essential story less often told. It is the story of thousands and thousands of teachers who leave the teaching profession every year, unable to meet the demands of their jobs.
And while, of course, school staff will help students in crisis who are in their care, that’s not, to coin a phrase, what they’re paid to do. This is not part of their contractual hours. They are not employed to act as surrogate social workers. Nor should they be. They are paid to teach.
The multiple crises that our country is going through tire everyone. Our collective spirit is eroded by economic and political failure. But for those on the front lines – in hospitals, schools, social workfor example – they see it day to day, and the collective sense of societal breakdown too often becomes personal.
The teaching profession will continue to struggle – and Education Support and its commission will do everything to support it and stem the bleeding of teachers from the classroom – but we can and must do better. If we don’t, more and more school staff will quit and future generations will see their educational opportunities cut short. As a country, we can and must do better.