There are many of these sorts of blog posts out in the world, which share the news that I am about to share. Many of them write negatively, a diatribe of vitriol about the current state of affairs, they demonstrate people who feel let down by the government and/or system.I have total sympathy with them, I have at times wanted to hurl abuse at the government, who seem to be unraveling something I hold very dear, but this is not that sort of blog post. I am not sure the government would even listen if I did waste my time on such words. So what is the point? These words are meant to bring people together, to encourage support, understanding and respect.
Today I handed in my notice. At the end of the summer I will leave the ranks of the teaching profession and join the (burgeoning) ranks of ex-teachers.
In my decision I have sought the advice of teachers, ex-teachers, family, friends, therapists, doctors, pastors and even God. This is not a decision that has been taken lightly. I leave at a time of crisis in education, and for that I feel guilty.
It is a time when teachers are holding on to the mast of their ship, while seas of chaos rule around them. They hold on to the mast of their belief in what they are trying to do. To educate, to inspire, to encourage, ‘to push back the barriers of ignorance’ (to quote an old friend – yes an ex-teacher!) To all those who continue to do so I wish you Godspeed. You are truly amazing and I thank you on the behalf of my children. We need you.
The teaching profession is one that I joined 18 years ago, I was young, full of enthusiasm, energy and a determination to make a difference in young peoples lives. That determination has never wavered. My youth has declined, my energy sapped by motherhood but it is my enthusiasm that has taken a battering.
You might think that the day-in-day-out contact with the country’s teenagers might be the cause of that battering. But you would be wrong. In fact, the thousands of young people who have passed through my classroom door are the reason I kept at it, for so long. They are wonderful, funny, entertaining, bright people who deserve teachers who are full of life, vigour and confidence. In fact they are best served by adults who are confident, feel valued and entrusted to do a good job.
So why is it that after 18 years I feel less confident to do a job that the day I walked into my classroom for the first time? Maybe it is the slow decline of my enthusiasm, caused by a being found wanting in my abilities as a teacher? Bad lesson observations – I’ve never had one. Negative feedback from students – I haven’t experienced that either. Parental complaints – none.
No that hasn’t been what has undermined my confidence. There are several things that have led to this state of affairs:
- The Media – There are few weeks that go by where I don’t drive in to school listening to the radio where education is getting a battering in the press. No wonder parents are lackinh support for schools and teachers if they are being constantly told of failings. Day in day out there are a myriad of success stories, students who achieve despite the odds – that, however, is not news worthy. Only recently with the SATs and the crazy hike in government expectations which both teachers and parents alike recognise are unfair, do we start to see parents backing the teachers. We need more of this. Parents supporting teachers and what they are trying to do, fair testing, realistic expectations and professional trust.
- Goal Posts – you never simply improve things by raising the bar. SATs, GCSEs, A-Levels have all been made harder, the new system of GCSE numbering means students will have to do more, jump higher and through more hoops to get a C grade. If things are too difficult they will simply stop jumping… Or the grade boundaries will have to be lowered. This is farcical. This isn’t education. This is politicisation and it has to stop.
- Professional trust – As a result of numbers 1 and 2 the trust in this profession has been being eroded for years. Parents question the system in front of their children, so too passing on their concerns and lack of confidence to young minds. This makes it even harder for young people to know who to trust and believe. I can honestly, hand on heart, say that the vast majority of teachers I know work as hard as they can, above and beyond the hours they are paid for, constantly reflecting on their practice to do better next time. Teachers are professionals, just like any other profession and take a great deal of pride in their work, put the students first and want the best.
So why am I leaving? I don’t feel trusted to do a good job. Performance Management, Targets, Data Analysis, all these things are meant to ensure I do a good job. Do I do any better job because of them? Nope. I know my students, who is not doing well enough, who needs me to stand over them with the right words of encouragement or challenge. The time I spend on all of the data does not directly equate to improved results. Do my students do well? Generally yes. Those who don’t, we know why, the student, the parent and I. Believe it or not, the student does bear responsibility too – but it doesn’t feel like that these days. You see with targets and data, the students responsibility dwindles, stats can be explained. Fact over situation. But children, young people, students and adults are not firm facts. Statistics are simply trends, people don’t fit that mould. Targets are all very well but we are people, dealing with people and in any class there are 30 plus different response to the same lesson.
In fifty minutes I will do all I can to meet the individual needs of the students I teach, deliver a variety of different strategies to help them understand and ALL make progress, ensure I give students a variety of ways to respond, demonstrate their learning and be aware of how they individually need to move forward. Plus set home work. And Repeat for another 5 lessons per day. Let’s sprinkle in some behaviour issues, a smattering of SEN specific needs. Detention for lack of Home work or poor behaviour. Sift in a student who needs individual time for a personal issue that may or may not need further investigation. Add a phone call or two to parents. I haven’t yet mentioned the resourcing of these six lessons, but that can be squeezed into ‘before school-pre staff briefing, break, lunchtime’. After school meeting done, it is now home to see the family before settling into the planning and marking for the next day. This is the recipe for teaching.
So then the government changes the goal posts, makes SATs harder, etch-a-sketches the GCSE and A-Level syllabi. (Some still have to be accredited for teaching in September this year!)
I am leaving because I am burnt out. I can’t fail the students I teach. I can’t end up as a bad teacher, it would break my heart. So for my sanity, family and self-preservation I have to go. I feel like I am letting down my colleagues, but I have fought the good fight, I have tried so very hard to be enough, to do enough, but I am sick of feeling a failure (even though there is no hard evidence or data to suggest I am). Thanks to the media and the government and ‘data’ I am beaten.
So please, if you are a parent, support your children’s teachers. They try so very hard. With your support, they will feel more confident and maybe they will keep going longer than I managed to.