Teaching politicians a thing or two

30 April 2001

After close observation, I’ve learned something about teachers: there are two types, which bear no resemblance to each other.

There are the ones that education ministers criticise when they want a cheap headline. They’re fickle and failing, bolshie and bad for your children. They like to bring trendy lefty theories into the classroom and they go out on strike at the drop of a hat. Then there are the real ones, like all the ones I’ve ever met.

They joined the teaching profession to make life better for children, not because they thought it would offer an easy life with long holidays. No matter how disillusioned they get, and how cynical they appear to be, they still believe what they are doing is important and draw hope from that. And, like police officers, journalists and yes, even us politicians, they are never off duty. All the ones I know carry on helping children long after the classroom bell rings.

Take Robina, in my campaign team. As well as her teaching, and tireless church and community work, she also tutors dyslexic children in her home. Or Fiona, who’s mostly an education journalist these days, but still returns to the chalkface from time to time. The last time I saw her she was preparing for a day teaching primary schoolchildren about the Blitz. In her own time, during lunchbreaks and after work, she scoured east London for props and sound effects to make the lessons more exciting and meaningful. Or Isaac Anoom, who I dubbed “the man with the flattest stomach in Brent’ when I was on the local paper there. Not only did he inspire his pupils in one of the toughest areas in the country, he also raised a fortune for charity through literally thousands of sit-ups.

And then there are Tamara and Sarah, teachers I met through a website they help run. Tamara helps moderate a busy internet message board that attracts posters of all ages from 11 upwards. Sarah is one of the team that keeps the lively chatroom safe and suitable for all ages. As if this wasn’t enough, they and a dozen others are flinging themselves out of an aircraft in May in a sponsored parachute jump organised by Tamara to raise money for breast cancer research.

I can’t join them in the jump – after Montgomeryshire MP Lembit Opik almost died paragliding, the party’s understandably sensitive where gravity and candidates are concerned. But I can do my bit from the ground to help them raise money.

Hence this column. Please, click on the link at the end and pledge a donation. But don’t do it just for breast cancer research, worthy cause though that is.

Do it also as a way of recognising the unsung contribution of the real teachers who get ignored when the politicians look for the quick headlines.