How much courage does it take to be a teacher?

Standing Up for Schools - supporting those who have no power to support themselves

Standing Up for Schools – supporting those who have no power to support themselves

There were times when I was teaching in school when I would get home exhausted, and at times frustrated as a result of something that happened during the day. However, I never truly felt like throwing in the towel and finding some other way of making a living. I knew the that for every bad day I had at school, there would be fifty or more good ones, and that I could never wish for a better job than that of being a teacher.

Whilst I had the occasional bad day at school I never experienced anything like the stress or the horrors that Ali Khan has faced. An article in yesterday’s Guardian newspaper (17th March), written by Louise Tickle described how, after hearing an explosion, Ali Khan arrived at the school where he taught in Charbagh Pakistan to find it destroyed. The Pakistan Taliban, determined to show their opposition to education and their overwhelming commitment to ignorance, had blown up the school, believing that they could terrorise the local population sufficiently to prevent them sending their children to receive an education. I can well imagine that parents in that area must have experienced many sleepless nights, wondering whether to be cowed by this dreadful act, or to stand in opposition to the murderous bullies.

The Taliban could not have reckoned with the determination of Ali Khan and his colleagues. All fifty two of the teachers from that school returned to work, setting up classes by sharing with another school and operating a shift system. Many of the children and families returned immediately for lesson, others took longer, understandably apprehensive of what might happen. Ali Khan stated that he did have worries himself about returning to work, but then decided:-

“I was born a teacher, and I will die in the profession because of my passion for educating children.”

The courage of teachers like Ali Khan is incredible, and fortunately the majority of us who have the privilege to work in education will never have to confront such situations. However, Ali Khan’s story is sadly far from unique. The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) report that schools in seventy countries came under assault between 2009 and 2014. It is hard to imagine the courage required by teachers and children to continue in education in such circumstances. I am not sure that I could be this brave.

This coming June the Norwegian Government will being leading a move to afford schools the same status as hospitals, as sacrosanct spaces during periods of armed conflict. This initiative is receiving support from many other agencies working for child protection and children’s rights. The United Nations special envoy on global education, former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, is also joining this campaign, and has asked governments around the world to make a commitment to changing the current situation.

For those of us who work in comfortable educational situations it is difficult to conceive of what we can do from our positions of privilege. The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack recognises this dilemma, but believes that the weight of public opinion could be important in exerting the pressure required to ensure that governments back the proposed changes to current legislation. To this end they have launched a petition under the banner, Stand Up for School. This declares:-

“We, the world’s youth, teachers, parents and global citizens appeal to our governments to keep their promise, made at the United Nations in 2000, to ensure all out-of-school children gain their right to education before the end of 2015.

We are standing up to bring an end to the barriers preventing girls and boys from going to school, including forced work and early marriage, conflict and attacks on schools, exploitation and discrimination. All children deserve the opportunity to learn and achieve their potential”.

I am quite sure that Ali Khan will be hoping that such sentiments result in action.

The petition can be found at:-


9 thoughts on “How much courage does it take to be a teacher?

  1. I am just moved by the clarity Ali Khan has in his commitment.
    Here is an understanding,a deep concern and kindness. There is no ideology or dogma.
    My friend this blog has been the best thing you have shared.
    An inspiring challenge.

    • Thank you for your kind words Satish. Ali Khan is indeed a fine professional with a great heart and commitment to his students. If we can all behave like him then there is hope for the next generation of learners. Thanks for posting. I will see you soon.

  2. Hi Richard,
    Ali Khan’s courage is exceptional indeed but it takes a lot of courage to choose teaching as a career because teachers I believe are taking on the enormous responsibility – to guide and shape the future of the nations, in fact the entire human race. This is a commitment which requires a lot of courage anywhere in the world and a lot more to be a teacher like Ali Khan.

    • Well said Benny, A very thoughtful posting. Fortunately teachers like Ali Khan take their responsibilities seriously and as a result of this many children will benefit. We should all aspire to be like Ali Khan.

  3. Richard, I always wonder why schools are a target for the terrorists.. Why are they the soft targets? Innocent children who have their own futures to chart out.. What a horrendous way to threaten the public and authorities.. Helpless people target helpless victims..

    • I agree Malathy. It is one of the by-products of terrorism that they attack easy targets. It is a cowardly approach that sadly has devestating effects.

    • Hi Malathy, I think another factor that plays into why schools are targets for terrorists, is because of the terrorists’ fear of the ripple effects of education. To me, someone ‘educated’ (and I used this term guardedly, for the term itself is quite subjective, as Richard’s post ‘This man’s education could be put to better use!’ illustrates) person knows their rights, speaks up when they see injustices being meted out, and strives for the socio-economic improvement of themselves and the community around them. I think these three facets are but a few examples of why terrorists, or oppressors of any form, fear education and thus target schools.

  4. Teaching is a hazardous profession and not just in the way that professor Rose delineated. There are also everyday hazards. Teaching is often described as set of finite skills, knowledge and practices that can be taught in a university or on-the-job in the school. However, in the classroom teacher are subject to infinite demands. These include demands from the senior leadership to meet targets, expectation from parents and demands from government. In addition, there is also the demand from pupils for care, to be more than a receptacle for knowledge and to be seen as a person rather than a statistic. This is in tension with the need for classroom control, pupil discipline and to make levels of progress. These demands are infinite and never ending but never articulated and therefore cannot have a simple reply. Being in a position of being subject to a question that cannot be answered places teachers in a hazardous position.

    • Hi Niall,
      Some very interesting ideas expressed in your post. I wonder to what extent those of us who are teachers get some professional satisfaction from the fact that these “dangers” are inherent in our work. I personally like being part of a profession that challenges my thinking every day and means that I have to be responsive to a diverse range of needs.
      You are quite right, being unable to answer questions makes us vulnerable. It may also make us better teachers.

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