I promised something more light hearted. I keep this on my wall at home, where I work.
When I was younger I related to Calvin, now I empathise with his dad a bit more. This strip is one that stuck with me and feels pertinent when I think about work/life balance and remembering what is important.
I like teaching but do not like being a teacher. There is so much stuff that teachers have to do that is basically irrelevant to the education of children that it can overpower and overwhelm any joy you can get from seeing a child learn.
Teaching is an emotionally draining job and the children can be extraordinarily trying at times but the inherent value of the position is not beyond doubt. It is all the other stuff aside from that, that being a teacher entail that spoils it. Whether it is writing feedback and learning objectives that the children can’t read yet, ensuring that you only mark in a certain colour pen, having to spend so much time on data and data analysis to formulate action plans that you’re too stressed to implement effectively or just spend an entire weekend producing resources that fit the specific learning criteria you have to fulfil. It is just too much (for me at least) to continue doing.
I am fairly certain that never in the history of teaching as anyone ever said ‘I want to go into teaching because I want to spend all of my weekend collating data.’ And if they have, they probably shouldn’t be a teacher (even if they are suited to a large part of the job).
At the end of my 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 reasons for leaving teaching, it seems appropriate to return to our dear Sir Michael Wilshaw,. In lamenting the number of teachers who leave or moan about the profession, he says:
The increasing numbers of former bankers, lawyers and accountants applying to be trainee teachers suggests others have no difficulty in recognising teaching’s allure. It’s a pity that too many in the profession cannot do the same.
Does it not click that it’s the ‘many in the profession’ who have experienced the ‘allure’ and decided to leave that says there is something rotten in the state of Denmark? Should those voices not be louder than that of the ‘bankers, lawyers and accountants’?
Does any of this sound familiar? Please leave your thoughts in the comments.
Observation. Learning walk. Book scrutiny. Planning scrutiny. The words just send a shiver down my spine.
I understand and appreciate that it is part of the job and there has be a degree of accountability for teachers but in my current school every aspect of one’s teaching was put under microscopic analysis and dissected. This is understandable but problems and dissent arose when the criteria against which we were being judged would change, not only from month to month but week to week and even day to day. It became fairly difficult to keep up with what we were expected to do, seeing was what we were expected to do was constantly in a state of flux.
At the start of the year it was insisted that we focus strongly on continuous provision (primary speak for an ‘early years style’ approach), allowing children continual freeflow access to different areas of the curriculum. In one of my observations the feedback even included ‘ensure children have continual access to all areas of the curriculum’). A lot of energy was expended by the team working on the continual provision before it was decreed that we needed to take a more formal approach and essentially drop it (but still retain the look of it, in case OFSTED visit).
The whole school got hammered on progress demonstrated in the children’s books, so the suggested advice was that we focus on small, demonstrable steps of progress in the children’s work. Following this, one group did an activity where they cut and stuck labels for a non-fiction report. The following day they applied the skills to write their own labels. This may sound low level but was an achievement for the specific group and targeted perfectly for their ability level. The feedback was that the children were not showing enough progress in their work.
I was supported by a teacher from another school, to help me with my planning. As she was a good practitioner and my school were keen for me to learn from her and employ similar strategies with regards to pace, for example, I copied her planning structure and delivery, pretty much wholesale but still made it my own. The feedback from that observation was that the planning still required more detail and the delivery required more pace.
So, maybe I just sound like a ranting old moaner but as I experienced examples 2 & 3 (which came in very close succession) I came to realise that it was fairly clear that I was unable to provide school with, either what they want or what they need, mainly because they were not sure themselves.
Part 5 of 5 to follow soon. Then some more lighter hearted stuff!
This is highly specific to my current circumstances but goes someway to paint a picture of the context surrounding my departure.
In the four months between starting at my current school and resigning, one of my phase colleagues went off long term sick, another resigned through workload, the other confided that they were going to depart whatever (which they did they day before me), a TA left to get a better work/life balance.
In other phases, a member of SLT has been off with stress and yet to return, one teacher was sacked within the first month, another left at half term and finally, the teacher who replaced the colleague that left at Christmas, was told on Wednesday that their contract would finish on Friday. Not July as originally told.
As you can imagine, there are many reasons for all of these but it is safe to say morale is not good, nor is it conducive to feeling any sense of stability. For want of a less pretentious analogy, it’s like trying to build a house on unstable foundations.
This became apparent fairly soon into my second year. It’s not acceptable to reach a point where you are happy with your lot and stick to that. Additional responsibility is foisted upon you, such as subject leadership, without you being able to say “Errr, actually, I don’t really think I’d be very good at subject leadership.” Of course, if you don’t accept it then its something else to hold back your pay progression.
During one of my PGCE placements, although the lessons were going well (which is what I was focusing all my attention and energies on) and I had a good relationship with the children and other staff members, the head essentially told me that one of the reasons I wouldn’t get a particularly glowing reference was because, up to that point, I had not participated in or offered to run an after school club. After that, I felt compelled to spend time, after school, helping out at board games club and rugby club. I like board games. I hate rugby. In retrospect, I think that is a totally unfair expectation to place upon a student.
In another school, I was originally told I was to be humanities leader, I was then suddenly put in charge of ICT and computing. This is evidently because I wowed the head with my computing skills. By sending her a ZIP file.
We know who the 40 percent are and that I am one of them. What I should explain is why I am one of them, which may go some way to explain why I did the almost unthinkable and left mid-year.
Here is part 1 of the three, fourfive main reasons that I chose to leave:
1. Work/life balance.
This is the main one and you will hear it over and over again from teachers. Again, maybe we’re just being serial complainers with another moan but I got to the point where I was working six and a half days a week, including most evenings. Some people may thrive on that and enjoy such immersion but I need to compartmentalise and when you’re working to a timetable like that, there simply isn’t the opportunity to switch off. Or if you do, you’re essentially still on stand by, as there always something else you’ve still not done.
There came a time, shortly before I resigned, when my 3 year-old son came to see me while I was working. He wanted to sit with me and asked to watch lego videos. I had to tell him to go away because I had to work on next week’s guided reading.
That was the point that broke me. That was the point when I decided to go.
I qualified three years ago, leaving a boring job to have a great (but hard) PGCE year and entered the profession with some degree of confidence in my teaching ability and some degree of optimism that I had finally found a career that suited me and in which I would be able to thrive. I ended it feeling the exact opposite. Lacking confidence in my teaching ability and strongly resolving that teaching isn’t and wasn’t ever for me.
So what happened? Why did I leave, doing that thing I promised that would never do, of leaving a class halfway through their year? The reasons are many and I wanted to start 1 of the 40 Percent as a way of clarifying why I did it and what you could do if you find yourself in a similar situation.
If you read the Michael Wilshaw speech that the above quote comes from, there is much in there worth discussing. While it might seem churlish (if that is the right word) to pick and comment on a year old speech, especially when he, himself says ‘there is a difference between a professional with a legitimate criticism and a serial complainer with another moan,’ it feels very much that what he has said, his view of teaching and the context in which we teach, that has laid the foundation for a large portion of my unhappiness.
But then again, maybe I’m just a serial complainer with another moan.