Disclaimer: this blog has been written from a positive stance. By highlighting some of the drawbacks of teaching I hope to a)present a realistic picture of the profession enabling those who go into it to do so knowing the bigger picture and b) show that some people DO stay in teaching and it can be the best job in the world!
I have been teaching for ten years. For the majority of those I have been and still am, fortunate enough to work in a supportive school environment. After five years of teaching I became a Deputy Head and I currently hold the position of part time Deputy/part time Head (who sometimes, rather fabulously, gets to teach). Most of the time, I love what I do.
Today’s headline that “Nearly a third of the 2010 intake of teachers have quit within five years” may be startling to some but not to me. Since this emerged just a few hours ago, I have read on social media some people’s views of why this might be so. And it led me to consider the reasons that, at times, have made me consider quitting.
These reasons are not based around those which often emerge in certain schools –poor communication, staff disagreements and feeling undervalued by management. If you work in a school like that, find another. They do exist and working in a school which supports and values you makes the difference to survival in the profession.
Assuming you do work in a school where your well being is a priority, there are still those drawbacks which can push you over the edge. Contrary to popular belief I don’t think that these are always ‘heavy workload’ and ‘long hours’. Many of us thrive on hard work. Some of us view many aspects of teaching as something we enjoy. Instead, I pinpoint those things that drill deep down into changing how we feel about teaching for the worst.
Here are some of the things that I have come up against:
- Change which makes us feel insecure. Some change is great. As teachers, we are used to change and for me, the ‘newness’ of things gives me an adrenaline rush. But the rate of change in so many areas of teaching in recent years – curriculum, assessment, school organisation – to name but a few, is quite frankly overwhelming.
- The sheer responsibility of our children/students. Let’s face it: this responsibility is utterly exhausting and it seems to be getting bigger. It is not just about test marks and phonics checks and reading levels. It’s about feeling the responsibility for so many aspects of our children’s well being. Do my students keep safe online? How is (insert name) feeling since her father lost his job? And what about that boy in your class who has been seen hanging around the estate late at night? And sometimes, again, this is overwhelming. This leads me on to……
- Wearing so many hats. I don’t just mean hats within our school role (teacher, subject leader, chess club teacher, etc.). I mean hats such as being a social worker, mental health worker and parent marriage adviser. Teachers are dealing with problems that fall under these umbrellas every single day.
- The challenge of communicating with so many different people every day. One minute you are asking a four year old how their weekend went. Then you are addressing staff in a meeting, or talking to a school development officer or perhaps consoling an upset parent. The next day you are giving a presentation on a course, then attending a child protection meeting with social workers and the police and finally, returning to school to talk to a Year 6 boy whose is devastated that his parents have split up. I can’t think of many other jobs where the art of communication has to be honed to such a degree with so many different ages and groups of people. It can be absolutely exhausting.
- The frustration of having such limited time surrounding professional development. This does not mean that going on more courses would solve everything. To me, it means more time to digest information from a course and disseminate it to staff More time to observe other teachers in your own and other schools on a regular basis. More time to sit and read research papers and really think about how to improve your practice as a result of them. More time to really discuss the implications of that new feedback policy. And more time to conduct your own research about an aspect of teaching most important to yourself.
- Current teacher training. This is probably a whole new blog but some teacher training courses really get my goat. I have been a school mentor for NQTs who have completed the PGCE from three well-known universities. I am not surprised that some NQTs quit rather quickly because, even when placed in a supportive school, some initial teacher training gives them the bare minimum to survive. For example, I have mentored Key stage 1 students who have left teacher training with a very patchy knowledge of phonics. This is unbelievable considering the government push on passing a test aged 6, which relies purely on decoding. This leaves the student teacher feeling that they would rather jump ship, and existing school staff working doubly hard to support them. There are many other examples where teacher training fails to hit the mark causing future long term negative implications.
These are just my feelings. I am sure that for every teacher out there, there is another reason, big or small, that is making teaching as a profession less desirable. The government should make it an absolute priority to find out the range of reasons for such poor teacher retention rates. I would be interested to hear the thoughts of others on this subject.