Ashley Pearce is a secondary school economics teacher in a comprehensive school just outside of Reading. Last year he was elected as a councillor for the Labour party for an area in South Reading. He is also a Reading FC fan and keen reader of educational literature.
There seems many similarities between the football manager and the teacher to me. To the outside world and perhaps the more cynical both may seem easy. You have longer holidays than most; your work day is short, and all you do is pick a team or just impart some knowledge on a small group of people. The reality of course is somewhat different.
The long holidays are not so long if you consider the long pre-season tours for footballers and the hours of marking and preparation for teachers. Match day for footballers hides the week’s training and time spent being drilled on how to defend set pieces, much like all the pre-lesson planning in preparation for teaching. The two areas also have probably more stats, tables, tests, graphs and comparisons than any other profession. The whole point of football is to get your team up the league table and, since the introduction of school league tables, this seems the main goal for many schools too. There is also the often over-looked fact in both professions of how many factors and people go into contributing to success. Whilst it may just be match days or exam days that these professions are judged on, to get to this point so many factors must come together.
In football, the players are the ones out on the pitch, having been tactically drilled by the long suffering manager. But behind him there are the physios to ensure they are fit, the dieticians to make sure they are eating properly, the coaching staff that have trained them, and the kit manager to ensure they are wearing the right get up among many others. The pressure on the manager though is intense. These days if the team fails the light is shone on the manager and more often than not they are sacked (a year and a half is the average life expectancy of a UK football manager). With the success of Football Manager everyone thinks that they would make the perfect manager; just sign a few cheap, young Norwegians, wait a couple of years and – boom – Premier league success is happening. This, of course, takes out the vital fact of human happiness. In reality the new signings may be homesick; they may have left families, be unable to speak the language; they may be living in a hotel or have marital problems, all of which are hidden on a Saturday when we just expect them to perform.
In exams, it is the students taking the exam but it is the teacher that has drilled them with an exam structure and laid on all of those extra revision sessions; the teaching assistants have helped coach them through; the exam officers have set up the testing; the attendance officers have ensured they are there, and the canteen staff have cooked the breakfasts. If students’ results are below par it is now the teacher that has to answer the questions. Much like football managers, the pressure and workload on teachers is pretty intense, and over half of teachers consider leaving the profession within two years of joining. Also, much like football, all Ofsted and sadly many senior leaders now see are a list of numbers, not a student. Last year one of my students had a panic attack in their final A2 exam despite countless practice drills and one student had a close relative pass away a day before the exam; what can you put in place for that?