The trouble with teaching

English: Leicester Square tube station Piccadi...
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I was waiting for the tube at Finchley Road after another late evening at work, and was wandering slightly dejectedly along the platfom to reach the front of the train. I’m forever trying to make sure I always get on in the right place to reach the exit at the next station most efficiently. It’s a bit pointless really, but gives me a certain sense of mastery over the daily vagaries of travel on the underground.

Anyway, so I was wandering along, quite enjoying that view over the railway sidings and the back of the O2 centre (kind of like a mall, only with a bankrupt furniture store chain and a bookshop), and the train pulled in alongside me. The driver caught my eye, and winked at me. He was slouched sideways over the control stick, moving the brake across in front of him as the train came to a smooth stop.  He was probably younger than me, and looked so impossibly bored. It made me slightly more sympathetic to the long soliloquys the drivers often indulge in over the intercom at rush hour, particularly on the Victoria line. It used to drive me crazy when they rattled on, seeming to glory in the forced attention of an often literally captive audience. I can’t imagine how one’s state of mind might be at the end of a day driving through dark tunnels, all alone, but responsible for the safe and prompt carriage of hundreds of passengers.

I can imagine driving a tube would initially be quite an ego boost. It seems more dangerous than driving trains above ground, and the endless randomness of the vagrants that populate urban public transport systems must give rise to many an entertaining anecdote (eventually, once the police have arrived and removed them of course).  There used to be a harmless old man who sat at the end of the Leicester Square Piccadilly Line platform, surrounded by his plastics bags, dressed in a ragged almost shredded tweed suit. He wore a battered brown hat that always had a piece of paper stuck on the side, with meaningless collections of letters on it. I suppose he must have died by now.

I think that in many ways, teaching must come to seem like driving a tube train. That feeling that your job is to help others progress, and go about their lives, getting jobs and travelling around, while you are forever starting a new school year, or picking up the same train from the depot. In German, there is a saying:

“Kannste was, machste was. Kannste nix, lehrste was”

It roughly translates as “doers do, losers teach”. It’s not at all true, but we used to say that to our art teacher, mainly because she was a tiny bit useless – teachers of anything creative do seem to suffer that tag the most. An inspirational teacher can make a huge difference, as evidenced by far too many cheesy movies. Dead poet’s society is every 13 year old’s favourite film, or certainly was when I was younger. Inspiring teachers in real life are perhaps not quite in the same league, but they do push you in directions you perhaps weren’t developing on your own. One of my maths teachers helped me understand differentiation, which I did not think was even remotely possible for someone as poor at maths as me.

I never appreciated how much satisfaction they must gain from making a difference to children’s lives, but it is a shame how little value teaching has in society. The transfer of knowledge should be viewed as the most important job there is. Without passing on knowledge, we would start again rubbing stones together with every generation. Knowledge is what differentiates civilisations, and a lack of it destroys them. The trouble is, I am selfish, and I want to acquire knowledge in order to progress on to doing something else, creating something, rather than passing something on. In many ways, I’m slightly obsessed with knowledge, which would probably make me rather a bad teacher.

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