About 4 weeks before the original lockdown was put into place due to the coronavirus pandemic, I went to a barbers in Derby. I was in the area visiting my sister so when I saw the barbers I thought…why not?
I walked in and one of the barbers was already waiting beside the chair that I would be sitting in. A black gown in his hands ready to put around my neck like some sort of backward superhero cape.
His first question was…”what is your name?” There was no need for him to have asked me what style of haircut I wanted.. because…I’m bald! Very, very, very short back and sides for me.
“My name is Halil”… Intrigued by this information he dug a little deeper with his questioning…
“Where is your name from?”…
“It’s Turkish” I tell him.
As it turns out we are were both Turkish. His family hail from Bulgaria and mine from North Cyprus. We conversed in our mother tongue for the duration of my time there.
We got talking about all sorts, you know the usual – weather, the economy, holiday destinations, brexit etc.
It was a pleasant and very casual interaction. It was like I was talking to a friend from back home in Cyprus.
We then got on to the discussion of work and jobs.
Now, throughout the whole of the conversation up until this point the barber referred to me as abi (ab- ee) which means brother. Actually, it’s used mainly as a mark of respect when talking to a man who is older than you. For a woman it’s abla (which means older sister).
With the answering of one simple question the tone of the conversation changed completely.
“So, Halil abi, what do you do?”
“I’m a teacher….ilk okul öğretmen” (Primary School teacher).
His eyes lit up, his back straightened “ooooh Halil bey, really? Wow!”
‘Bey’ means chieftain, leader, sir, lordship.
He stopped shaving my head – it wasn’t a great look for me to be honest. His shift in focus went from mowing the little hair I have to wanting to serve me. He asked if I wanted a cup of tea or if I’d like something to eat. His reaction to me being a teacher was something I was not expecting. It took me a few seconds to comprehend the change in his behaviour. It wasn’t unpleasant, but it was slightly uncomfortable because this was a reaction I am not accustomed to.
I was sitting in a barbers with a Turkish tea in one hand and a plate of baklava on the table next to me.
Generally, when I tell people I am a teacher, the response is usually monosyllabic – “oh” or “ok” or “right”. Then, more often than not, there is a comment (laden with sarcasm) about the length of the holidays we get or about just how easy the job is in relation to other jobs in other sectors.
Education in Britain is not revered in the same way as it is in many other parts of the world – it’s definitely not the same as in Turkey or Cyprus.
Why? Why is this profession not seen to have the same level of admiration that it does elsewhere? My own personal feeling as to why it’s not seen as “high” in society’s estimation is linked to two main reasons: the media and the government.
It is fair to say that education can be described as a “political punch bag”. It’s pummeled and pounded by policies which leave it battered and bruised and so financially strapped that it leaves many a headteacher and teacher wanting to throw in the towel.
And when the education system can take no more and it moans, groans and winces with every move it makes, the media (in the main) jump in with both feet, eager to vilify, ridicule and negatively portray the system that we work so hard for.
A study was conducted in 2018 by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research and the Varkey Foundation. The study was, in simple terms, carried out to find the answer to this question “What do teachers really mean to us?”.
The research concluded that teachers mean a hell of a lot to us as a society! The link between countries that held teachers, and by proxy education itself, high societally the greater the performance of children in schools in those countries.
Sunny Varkey (the founder of the Varkey foundation) went on to state this –
“Now we can say beyond doubt that respecting teachers isn’t only an important moral duty – it’s essential for a country’s educational outcomes.”
The system I am proud to be a part of is one that we all want to develop to give the children that we serve the best possible chances in life. To create well rounded individuals who will be able to work alongside others, constructively challenge ideas and to build and develop a society that not only tolerates difference but actively embraces it.
When I told the barber that I was in fact a headteacher his reaction was one of pride. He called over to the other barber in the room…
“Hey, this man is a headteacher…A HEADTEACHER!” He was genuinely beaming.
After he had finished shaving the little hair I had on my head, I walked over to the till and proceeded to take out the money to pay him but he refused to take it. He was adamant that I didn’t need to pay and that he would not accept my money. All the time he referred to me as ‘Halil bey’.
It goes without saying that I couldn’t leave without paying him…so I left a tip which covered the original cost and a bit more.
But I left thinking how surreal the whole experience was but equally feeling like I was in a profession that is important in so many ways. I felt proud.
I just wish this feeling of pride in the education system was reflected in our society. I wish the work that we do was positively amplified in our media (and our struggles sensitively worded). I wish the education system’s status was boosted and raised up to where it should be by our government. I mean, without a strong and highly thought of education system (both academic and vocational), all other job sectors are weaker and future generations will not be able to maximise their potential.