Recently a colleague emerged from a particularly trying cover class experience, having decided that all of the problems that were experienced in the lesson could be traced back to a single overriding fault – the teacher’s lack of passion for the teaching. Vainly it was pointed out that (a) this particular class has a bit of a reputation for being tricksy (b) their regular teacher has huge amounts of experience as a young learner teacher and teacher trainer and still finds them a bit of a handful (c) what they really need is to to be suspended from the ceiling by their thumbs until they’re willing to behave.
Which got me wondering…. Which other professions require “passion” from their practitioners? Is a passion for teaching a pre-requisite for the job? Or just an optional extra?
I think if you look around at other careers, passion is possibly a nice thing to have but not necessarily a requirement in the same way that it is perceived to be in teaching. Anyone who’s been anywhere near a hospital emergency room outside daylight hours will be able to confirm that while medical staff may treat you with practiced efficiency and considerate empathy – passion is not often in evidence. Then there are those professions where passion could be a definite drawback: a passionate accountant anyone? Or a a passionate undertaker?
Alright – no matter how much it might sometimes feel like dealing with a bunch of corpses – teaching and undertaking require somewhat different skill sets. But the point is still valid: almost every job, profession or career requires competence and professionalism. Why is it then that teaching also requires passion?
I have written before on the unreal expectations placed upon teachers and the nobility of purpose that pervades the profession. I think perhaps that the requirement for teachers to display a passion for our profession is tied into that. Essentially it comes out of good customer relations. Students, or their parents, wish to entrust their education to someone who cares. The teacher is therefore required, by convention if nothing else, to demonstrate that they care. Hence the belief that passion is required to be a good teacher arises and consequently teachers are judged on whether they are good or not by whether they clearly demonstrate a passion for the cause.
Which is possibly unfair. I suspect that if most of the people reading this take a moment to think their way around their staffroom, they could identify colleagues who are extremely able, experienced and professional – but for whom “passionate” is not an adjective that could be applied to their working lives.
If I think back over the academic year so far, I’m not sure that passion has applied very much. Hopefully the experience, ability and professionalism have been in evidence – I’m fairly sure there have been occasional bursts of enthusiasm and creativity and with any luck everyone has taken something out of the lessons that they didn’t have before, but passion? Maybe not.
Does that matter? Also not sure. I think this differs from teacher to teacher and different experiences and standards apply at different stages of a teaching career. For some, the passion they have for the profession provides a guiding light, a light for them in the dark places when all other lights go out. We all have moments in the dark places of teaching and if you have that light, so much the better.
For others however, the passion is like paint and plaster over the face of a wall seated on a shaky foundations. It can cover up a multitude of pedagogical sins and ultimately if these problems are not addressed the whole edifice can come crashing down.
Personally, I don’t think I’m in a professional place where a passion for teaching is that important to me. Don’t get me wrong, I care about what I do and try to do the best I can with the time I have available – but, well, maybe I’m thinking too deeply about the word passion, but I’m not sure I can summon up much of it for the classroom these days and I’m not completely sure I need to either…