Updated: Feb 28, 2021
“By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live in a dream world even for a few weeks… Only that community which enters into the experience of this great disillusionment … begins to be what it should be…” (Bonhoeffer, Life Together, 1939)
During my first year of teaching, the excited idealism I had learned on my PGCE crash-landed into the chaos of reality. I was not prepared for the noisiness of chairs scraping on the floor; the shock of learning assertiveness from scratch; the weight of SATs expectations on my back. For dreamers like myself, discovering a gulf between all that should be and all that is can be unbearable. Yet, this process of disillusionment is vital for transitioning from an imagined future school life to a present, physical one. It brings the new practitioner to a choice:
1. To leave and reject.
All too frequently, disillusionment can spell the end of a career, as new teachers reject the mess and stress of dealing with the actuality of school life and choose to leave. Given the time, energy and resources put into teacher training, this can be a difficult choice, and the bravery of making such a leap should not go unrecognised.
2. To stay and reject.
It is at least preferable to the second option, which is to stay in the profession but to hate it: to complain and rail against the job unceasingly, reducing it to pain and pressure, and becoming blind to the joy. Although the criticisms raised by those in this group are often valid, this option ultimately leads to unhappiness, both in the individual and in those around them.
3. To stay and accept.
The third option is to stay and accept the reality of school life. Acceptance allows the new teacher to start from their present circumstances, ready to learn, and ensuring that energy is directed towards the areas within their control. From this starting point, it is possible to notice and take in the beauty that is inherent to the messiness of all human relations, even while half-submerged oneself.
In this scenario, it is important that acceptance is not confused with flat compliance, otherwise it could be an easy get-out clause for facing the vastness of injustice and the full extent of one’s own potential sphere of influence. Rather, it allows the disillusioned new teacher to re-frame their criticism so that they no longer stand over a community in judgement, comparing it to their own imagined ‘perfect school’. Now they can begin to stand within it; to find belonging; to listen to the individual people around them; to appreciate them and be appreciated, until with a robust love, they are ready to ask, “What do I want for these people?” and “How could I contribute to bringing that about?”