The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted a lot of talk about education, yet no one has recognised the opportunity this presents for a fundamental shift in how society perceives teaching as a profession. We desperately need more teachers, but currently too many are being put off by the image of teaching. This must change.
As a recent graduate, I can attest that prejudice against teaching as a career is still going strong. Teaching is not seen as worthy of those with top grades and aspiration, while the stereotype still persists that it is the route only for those who don’t know what else to do. Many potentially excellent teachers don’t even consider the profession because of this silent stigma.
Nor is this attitude limited to the young: wider society too continues to look down upon teaching as a merely passable fallback. Everyone has been to school, and therefore views teaching through the prism of their own, often decades-old and not particularly positive, experiences. Been there, done that, not going back.
This persistent, negative perception of teaching is an act of societal self-harm, and we have tolerated it for too long. Not only is it bizarre that as a society we continue to denigrate a profession of vital societal importance – never has the value of teachers been so apparent – but it is also simply inaccurate. Perceptions remain rooted in the previous century, while the profession itself has entered the 21st: whatever teaching was like in the 1970s and 80s, it isn’t like that any more.
This is the opportunity for society finally to update its attitude towards teaching, and in doing so to encourage more people to become teachers. Society’s future and that of the millions of children who will pass through education in the coming decades depends on it.