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Why I left teaching.

Updated: Aug 9, 2018

Image of teachers and students, one has me with a couple of students.
Official Get Into Teaching Banner - I'm on the right

Imagine planning a different hour long presentation for up to 30 people up to 6 times a day. Several of the audience don't want to be there and will do their best to talk, interrupt, insult you or the lesson, or ask to go to the toilet at any given moment. Your boss could pop in at any time. They could either show people around the room while you are presenting or make a judgement on what your presentation covers in the 5-10 minutes they are there.

Now this isn't just a presentation where you talk the whole way through. You have to make sure that all of the people in the room are engaged with your presentation and if they are not, you are doing something wrong. You also need to know which person has which learning difficulty or pastoral need so that your presentation is adjusted accordingly. At the end of each presentation, each person should have been talked to individually and given some measure of feedback on how well they interacted with your presentation. At the end of the year, if they can't remember what you taught in your first presentation, you need to make sure you have a reason as to why that may be. Also, don't think you can plan your presentations and feedback in the usual work hours, you have to do all of that in your own time. You'll have meetings, covering colleagues, emails and phone calls that must be dealt with when you have those few hours of non-contact time each week.

The above is a very limited representation of modern teaching as it only covers a minor aspect of the pressures teachers face daily. The lesson isn't just a teacher writing on a board but making sure there are activities that each of the students can access. Teacher talk must be down to under 10 minutes because, well, kids just don't have the attention span (parents, politicians and obscure education research say it so it must be true ). I mean, its not like kids spend hours fixated on one thing ever.

There is a delicate balance between accessibility and challenge for each lesson. This changes between classes but even more so, between individuals. As a teacher you should know who is EAL, Autistic, Dyslexic, Dyspraxic, Dyscalculaic, LAC, ADHD, ODD, colour blind, Deaf, vision impaired or anxious and adapt each lesson so each student can access it. In 7 years of teaching I had minimal training (no more than 30 minutes on most and none at all on mental health issues) on any of the above but I was still expected to know how to differentiate each lesson to reach these students. I was also expected to do this without another adult in the room - computing very rarely needs learning support apparently.

The master teacher will have the creation of the seating plan down to a fine art. The seating plan is vital for making the students behave well, especially so Bob doesn't get distracted by Sue because their families are feuding (or insert any given number of reasons here). No matter how far away Bob is from Sue, they will find a way to disrupt your lesson. It is also likely that you will have multiple students that can't sit next to anyone else in your lesson.

Your lessons will be observed at various points in each term and though they are no longer graded (Ofsted used to grade lessons like they grade schools - Outstanding, Good, Satisfactory, Needs improvement) you will have certain tick boxes like challenge, engagement, differentiation, feedback, assessment for learning which will say how good your lesson is. So basically, your lesson is graded. Welcome to education speak.

Throughout the year you have weeks that are over-loaded with marking assessments, marking books and trying to give the all important feedback. Don't forget DIRT (Dedicated Improvement Reflection Time) in the next lesson so that students actually respond to their feedback which you can then respond to next time you give feedback.

Depending on the subject, you may be lucky enough to have the same curriculum as the year before. If, like me, you taught Computing or IT, you will find that in 7 years you will not have taught the same curriculum for every year twice. You need to recreate each lesson, sometimes teaching yourself the topic while you prep. Most teachers are now facing this due to the grading (from A-F to 9-1) and curriculum changes that have come into play over the last few years. Depending on your school you may also find your curriculum time cut to an impossible number of hours and still expected to get results - because everyone knows computing is easy and the kids are obviously already experts at it *sarcasm*.

In summary, teaching is hard work. I've only captured a small part of it - I haven't really mentioned the pastoral side of the job! It takes a lot of time and effort but also a huge amount of emotional energy! Very often people forget to say thank you when they should and pile on the pressure where they shouldn't. It is very likely, if you are to be graded as a 'good' or 'outstanding' teacher (though technically these terms no longer exist), that you will work at least one day in each weekend and several evenings in the week. Your half terms are just a breather to catch up on the marking and planning. If you do go on a break over half term, it will take most of the week to feel like you're on holiday and the rest of it thinking of all the work that awaits on the first Monday back. Summer holidays are great but anyone who thinks they are completely work free for teachers are delusional.

Every person going into teaching should know that you are going to be called on to put more into your job than just what your contract states. I think most teachers know that and are happy to go above and beyond for the students in their care. I think that schools abuse the fact that teachers care so much for their students to justify adding more pressure, even if it is unwittingly done.

Unfortunately for me, the time it takes to be a teacher became too much of a sacrifice. I decided that my little family was more important than other people's children. I decided to make sure I did as little work as possible on weekends and holidays. Unfortunately, this meant that the Sunday night anxiety from being under prepared for Monday became brutal. I don't like doing a job badly. It didn't help that over the last year, the first 3 classes I had each Monday were the hardest I've ever managed. Notice the word managed - I'm not really sure I taught them, more maintained some semblance of order on the edge of chaos.

It has been on the cards for a couple of years but the nail in the coffin for my teaching career was around the time Rosalie was diagnosed with Rett Syndrome. There were too many hospital appointments and medical professional visits and I hated that Tina had to face them on her own. Sometimes it would take a whole week after an appointment (we have had up to 3 appointments in one day for Rosalie) before I have managed to catch up on what it was for and any action I needed to take.

I didn't want this post to be too much of a moan about teaching. I have left the slight cynical tone in the post because it is honest. Teaching and being a family don't mix well even without the extra demands of medical appointments and rare syndromes.

So I've left teaching, taken a pay cut and joined a charity where I get flexible hours and I'm able to work from home. My job now is to build friendships with and organise events for international students at the University of Surrey with Friends International. It may be that I go back into teaching at some point in the future, but from where I am right now, it is more and more unlikely. Maybe someone should tell Get Into Teaching...

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