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Unpopular opinion – I don’t like my class

Our undercover teacher defends the indefensible – that they don't like their pupils...

  • Unpopular opinion – I don’t like my class

At the end of the last year, I was forced to admit something I’ve never felt before, something almost unthinkable and certainly unutterable for a primary school teacher: I don’t like my class. I’m pleased they are going and I won’t miss them.

In eight years of teaching, I have had a wide range of classes with different academic, emotional and behavioural needs, and while I have had my complaints about each and every one of them, I have always felt a sense of both pride and sadness at the end of the year and maintained an interest in their lives thereon in.

So what was so unlikable about this class? Is it really their fault? 

Lack of connection

First of all, they were collectively extremely quiet: they give nothing back. I tried to inspire them and was met with ambivalence; they had no opinions on the state of the wider world and did not wish to develop any either. They voted (by a landslide) the class clown as their school councillor because they thought it was funny; they refused to seriously audition for the school play (all the key roles going to children in the other class); and they worked their way through four separate lunchtime assistants, to whom they showed no respect.

None of these things are great, but the truth is I look at the list of annoyances and misdemeanours and objectively I don’t see any good reasons why I was quite so ready to see them go.

On closer inspection, the class was made up of perfectly normal, academically bright, sometimes-likable children with a natural tendency towards quietness and no serious behaviour issues; children who had been through a huge amount throughout year with the pandemic; children who deserve fondness from their teacher. Yet I was unable to make a meaningful connection with them.

Maybe this is just a new form of ‘teacher guilt’ so in an attempt to ease my conscience, I have looked for reasons beyond my control for why I feel this way…

A crazy year

First of all, the split year made 2020/21 feel like the longest year of my career: the spring term’s potently draining mix of teaching key-workers’ children while simultaneously providing remote learning felt like a year on its own. The restrictions and implementation of covid-safe policies made the other two terms restrictive and unenjoyable. 

These Covid-safe rules removed a lot of the joy from school for the children. They have been trapped in their classrooms facing week-upon-week of ‘standard’ lessons with a narrowed curriculum to ensure their competence in maths and English. Their outside time has been strictly timetabled to keep bubbles away from each other, and they have spent an increased portion of their time staring at screens as they face interminably boring online assemblies.

We also did not get the great start to the year we needed. As a year 6 teacher, I would usually have the opportunity to form bonds with the children while on the school residential at the end of September. The build-up of trust from a week living together cannot be underestimated, allowing us to face the harder parts of year 6 with collective solidarity. Yet for my class, missing this trip was presented as part of their ‘sacrifice’ for the greater good. 

Little to celebrate

Then comes the fact that we didn’t face the toughest task of year 6, the SATs. Again, we were denied the opportunity to face a hurdle together and overcome it. We experienced a year without high points or moments to celebrate our achievements.

Finally, the pandemic has also introduced a range of new ways for parents to be in contact, and closed the door to a number of others. Previously, parents would be expected to make the effort to come and see you; complaints needed to be worth it.

What’s more, many of the opportunities for parent interaction came around positive events such as Sports Day, school plays and open evenings. Remote teaching opened us up to endless emails, welfare calls and video chats where the petty complaints of every child seeking attention from their parents has ensured we know exactly what they have to say about us.

Which begs the question, if I was so ready to be rid of my class, what does my class think of me? Would it make me feel better or worse to know the feeling is mutual? The general feedback from the parents is that I’ve done a great job. Perhaps this is just another way to tap into my teacher’s guilt!

The writer is a primary teacher in England.

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