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The unexpected enemy

The unexpected enemy

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03 Mar, 2017

Quest ‘civvy’ contributor Ryan Mansfield reports from the resettlement frontline on an issue likely to be of concern to our readers: the unforeseen difficulties you may encounter with colleagues in the civilian workplace. While his focus here is on teaching, much of Ryan’s guidance has wider applications …

So you've left the Armed Forces. What do you do next? Which career will suit you best? Will it be for me? Well, if ëteachingí is jotted down on that sticky-note list of jobs that tickle your fancy, then this article should help you decide whether you want to dismiss the class, or dismiss the idea of teaching.

Where do I start? Teaching can be such a rewarding and satisfying job, exactly as it is perceived. Influencing peopleís lives for the better and imparting your knowledge to others. However, teaching also has its fair share of skeletons in the closet, which aren't always apparent until you've accepted the job and bought the tweed jacket. 

Every job you look at as a possible 'next step' will do its utmost to sound glam, rewarding and the right move for you, so it can be tough to distinguish whether you are suited to a job or merely falling victim to a well-pitched job ad. That's where I come in...

I met Ralph [regular Quest contributor Ralph Straw] when he accepted a lecturer post at a college I worked at. Like most people I go on to befriend and keep in touch with, my first impression of him was a slightly strange one. He was here to pay the bills and wasnít bothered what people thought of him: a unique character who spoke to everyone the same, whether it was our boss or the Nepalese cleaner who dusted our desks every morning. Ralphís attitude was one of likeable arrogance. Well, I liked it, despite the fact that some didn't. You see, he - like other Service leavers I have worked alongside - is a maverick. One of those people who nod, agree and pretend they are listening to instructions, then go off and do it exactly how they were going to do it in the first place. 

So let's do a little role play. You've got that teaching job you applied for. You've got your own desk, taken your briefcase out of the loft and been introduced to the office. You will quickly calculate who your friends are, realising who admires your straight talking, individualist attitude (those for whom you must be grateful), and who finds you obnoxious, annoying and frankly a bit weird. But you wonít care; they canít take the job off you now, right? I have no doubt whatsoever that, if this sounds familiar, you may enjoy teaching. You are at the front of the class, you are in charge and you can put your own spin on the proceedings. Sounds OK, doesnít it? But itís all the bullshit behind the scenes that may crack your spirit and make you wish youíd scrolled down that sticky note a bit further before making your final decision. 

Your pragmatic suggestions at staff meetings may fall on deaf ears, that logical approach to dealing with a problem will probably be argued, and your common-sense ideas will be tossed aside. People donít seem to like taking the quickest or simplest route ñ itís not impressive enough and allows them to procrastinate all day, look busy and make their job role more justifiable than it actually is. To quote Bill Gates, "I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it." And he's quite successful. Food for thought. 

I canít imagine how hard it must be trying to settle into an ordinary 9ñ5 having experienced some of the gruesome and dreadful sights you probably have. Many Service leavers say they find it tough to settle, and often bounce from job to job in the hope that theyíll find one that sticks. Well, unfortunately, one big problem you will face is unavoidable: the people youíll have to work with. Sure, most of them are nice enough; they think they are doing a good job, but theyíre not. Without a doubt the biggest challenge I have faced is incompetent staff: colleagues flapping over menial tasks, squabbling in staff meetings and inept line managers making kamikaze decisions Ö thatís just the tip of the iceberg, trust me. 

Working in such close proximity to varied personalities, especially when you are probably at the other end of the scale to the rest of the office, is sure to aggravate you. Add to the mix naughty kids that know how to push peopleís buttons and itís a ticking time bomb. Some staff will need no invitation or excuse to piss you off. Even though, six months earlier, you may well have been in a dicey or life-threatening situation, you will have to plaster on a fake sympathetic face and listen to colleagues genuinely worrying about the most insignificant things, like a daughterís prom dress that has a sequin missing, a fake nail that has come off or a flight to the Costa Brava that was delayed three hours, while expressing how stressful and traumatic it all was. Having said that, I imagine this applies to most jobs that include human beings. Get a job with animals, I say ñ they donít talk. 

Fortunately, there are ways around this. In 1910, one Nathaniel Baldwin invented headphones. Little did he know that, 105 years later, he would save the lives of my entire office, as his invention has at times been the only thing standing in the way of me killing them all. Iíd like to think that he once worked in an office environment too. 

That's right: forget your iPod at your peril. You will come across that one individual who lives for their job. They live for it so much they have a complete disregard for their job description. They try to do your job for you, too, and everyone else's in the office as well, and then bore you in the morning with how they were here until 6.30 last night finishing off their work, and yet they never figure it out. The type of person that bends your ear all day and asks, ëHow do you make it look so easy?í when the reality is how do they make it look so hard? Just remember, the busiest person in the office isnít the most productive but the furthest behind. 

By now youíve probably noticed a trend. Break time isnít quite the exciting escape it probably should be. Nope, the classroom is the place to be. From the class appetiser to tucking in the chairs and everything in between ñ the success or failure of the lesson rests on your shoulders, just the way you want it. 

Sounds OK, doesn't it? Freedom, control, responsibility and a pretty pointless teaching assistant (TA) Ö What could possibly go wrong? Well, enjoy the classroom environment for now because youíre never far away from a lesson observation. This could be an Ofsted inspection (the governing body that ensure teaching standards are being upheld) or an in-house one. 

The series of events that will follow will well and truly leave you scratching your head. A 54-year-old former catering lecturer will stand there with a clipboard and deadly serious face while telling you what is wrong with your practical sport lesson. Catering? Sport? Failing to see the correlation? Me too! This person knows absolutely nothing about sport, and surely if they were any good at teaching, theyíd still be doing it? Lessons are then graded 1-4 (1 being outstanding, 4 being get your coat) and you are given a list of unrealistic recommendations that completely contradict your boss: a classic lose/lose situation. This is where that artificial nod and smile can come in handy.

However, when the clipboard warriors tell you that there wasnít enough inclusion of maths and English in your lesson, thatís when your sides will really split. You see, maths and literacy skills in England are below average for Europe. In fact, in 2013, England was ranked 22nd for literacy and 21st for numeracy out of 24 European countries. Therefore, some bright spark high up in the education hierarchy decided that English and maths must be included in every single lesson, no matter the topic. Every lesson? Donít get me wrong, having seen those statistics I understand that something needs to change, but I think Iíve got an improved suggestion: better maths and English teachers? No? OK. Well, in that case, Iíd like to point out that in 2014 just under 35% of Year 6 students (10-11 years of age) were recorded as overweight or obese in the UK. So the only logical solution is that we should stop every lesson in the middle of algebra or Macbeth and do 50 press-ups. Itís exactly the same principle, surely, only not knowing how to head a letter wonít lead to coronary heart disease. 

One thing that may surprise you is that the majority of my bosses have never taught for a day in their lives. They tend to come from business backgrounds, referring to pupils as 'clients' rather than students, and suggest that the teaching staff are ëproviding a service', leaving you reluctant to ask them for advice as they ultimately have less experience than you. 

Last year, a female colleague taught a lad of 14 who still couldn't tell the time. The colleague suggested sacrificing her TA to help him, along with some worksheets, as she felt this would be more beneficial to the student than Pythagoras' theorem, which was the topic at the time. The boss simply replied, 'If we veer off the scheme of work he will not pass his course, and we must always remember what we are here for.' This sadly begs the question, are we really giving the youth of today the life lessons they need to go off into the world of work, or are we just jumping through hoops to gain government funding? 

All in all, in the right job and under the right management, teaching can be a really good reason to get up in the morning. Just remember, if you find someone in the office you get along with, escape the turmoil of office life with them where possible ñ make them coffee and donít let them get a new job before you do! Be warned about painful office chit-chat, ignore virtually everything your boss suggests and keep that iPod charged at all times. If you think you are capable of this, and have that fake smile down to a fine art, you might just survive. 

Good luck folks and remember, in times of real hardship and self-doubt, itís not you, itís those others!

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