I recently left modern languages teaching for an excellent job outside teaching. It wasn't the money that drove me to leave, but a series of other factors which are repeated all over the country as good linguists leave teaching. It is a crying shame that teachers who have studied and trained for five years should be lost to the education system so easily.
Undergraduates considering teaching modern languages may be deterred for several reasons: they study for four years for their first degree, and to add a PGCE may seem a year too long to exist as a student for many people. Debts increase, and although there is the promise of an adequate salary at the end, peers are snapped up by blue chip companies after their degree, on salaries of pounds 17,000 upwards - and their peers use their languages to do more than order un coca s'il vous plait.
Graduates who spend four years analysing the existential qualities of Camus come down to earth with a bang as they start their PGCE and learn lots of French (or German or Spanish or Italian) that they had never come across before - for instance "turn to page 23"; "where is your homework?"; "complete the table on page 89 as you listen to the cassette." Then they hit the classroom on teaching practice and watch professionals with an excellent command of the language spend 35 minutes trying to teach a bunch of bored teenagers how to book a room in a youth hostel, when the class: a) don't know what a youth hostel is; b) don't care; c) are never likely to go to France anyway. Many schools advertise posts for dual linguists, making it difficult for those with only one language to find a post. It is the same schools demanding two languages from their staff that only allow their pupils to study one of the two. In the school I taught in, six out of 80 pupils took two languages at GCSE last year. No-one from that school will sit two language GCSEs in 1999 or 2000. This is not an isolated problem, as studying two languages to GCSE level is increasingly rare in comprehensive schools. Get over the initial hurdles of foregoing a huge salary and a benefits package bigger than free red pens in the City, get on to a PGCE course, survive it and, being an unpaid trainee, manage to find a job. Then you will begin to suffer the problems which, together with a management style that lacked care, led to my leaving teaching: POOR RESOURCES: tape players that were unreliable and liable to ruin a lesson plan at a moment's notice. Fifteen dictionaries between however many classes as were timetabled on French simultaneously. Text books that the children either found ridiculously easy (top sets) and unchallenging, or had too much text in (bottom sets). Some new books appeared in my last months there, but a pantomime ensued; a rota to share 90 books between 200 children, each child had to have the same book each week - much valuable lesson time was wasted. …