Firstly, a couple of disclaimers;
1. I just write, in whatever order it comes out of my brain, mostly about my own experiences. I'll try to highlight some key phrases for you skim readers!
2. If you are looking for data, stats and graphs you are reading the wrong blog!
3. I know there are jobs which could be deemed 'harder' than ours...I am not blind to this fact.
I guess I am what you would call a 'career teacher.' Went to school, went to Uni to train to be a secondary teacher (on a 4 year BEd no less - I am a rare breed) then went 'back to school.' I was just 22 when I was an NQT and have known nothing but schools (3 of them) since.
I am in my 9th year of teaching now but this does not tell the whole story as I have definitely considered leaving the profession at least twice with the third 'bout' of this happening right now. For me there are many reasons why I have considered leaving and reasons why I stayed which I guess leads me nicely into discussing the topic via a career 'lookback'. Trust me, this is easier to keep things in order in my little brain. :)
I think I was lucky in my degree course, it prepared me very well for my NQT year and gave me a lot of tools and resources to use. I fully knew how hard my NQT year was going to be and what was expected of me and it yeah, it was tough.
I was given 4 bottom sets, a real mix of kids who either 'couldn't do it' 'couldn't be bothered' or just never showed up. In a way it was safe, I could cut my teeth with some slightly more challenging kids to try and get some semblence of results out of them without the school really suffering results wise.
I was well supported and mentored by a deputy head and a non teaching member of staff who became my surrogate mum for a year. Things I could not tell my mentor I could tell her. She helped me schedule my time and workload to make sure I wasn't going to run myself into the ground.
The point....without that support as an NQT I don't think I would have coped. That's not to say that I was as good a teacher as I wanted to be at that point but the school supported me through a difficult year and at no point did I feel 'I can't do it.' It gave me the confidence to continue into the second year with the 'stabilisers' off.
I've watched the treatment of NQTs in subsequent schools and have seen how unsupported they can be. The staff meant to be supporting them do not have time given to them to do it effectively and constructively and very few have training in mentoring or coaching techniques. I have seen essentially bullying behaviour from heads of department and NQT's 'moved on' and 'failed.' Given the chance to mentor an NQT I would do it differently for sure.
I continued at my first school for 3 years and for many personal reasons at that point decided to relocate. I was moving from a rural school to an inner city school twice the size. New city, new school, new life.
The school I joined was very successful and thriving in the part of the city. The results were excellent and I was really looking forward to it. What I didn't expect was to feel like an NQT again.
The demands made of me were off the charts. Again, I was teaching bottom sets (3) but had the addition of some sixth form classes, something I hadn't had at my previous school which took a bit of getting used to. Expectations were very high, as they should be. For me, the problem was the way in which we were being monitored.
Teachers need to feel they are trusted. We are all trained professionals and in principle know what to do for our classes and our children. This means we have to change plans and differentiate, not follow schemes of work religiously regardless of the class in front of you. I spent a lot of my time feeling 'spied on' and isolated because I had the audacity to put some of my stamp and flair into my lessons. This, tied in with constant badgering about targets and data and reports and marking strategies that seemed to change every fortnight started the cycle downwards.
I wanted to leave. I wanted to leave it all because I couldn't cope. I was leaving the house at 6:30am and not getting home until 8-9pm. 5 days a week. I never had break or lunch as there were always kids in detention under the extensive behaviour management system.
But I had no one to tell. No one knew and to be honest no one cared. I was just one teacher in a department of 15. A cog in a machine, run by a faceless android and his spies sat in their high towers staring at their computer screens unseen to us but resented by many.
The joke is lovely readers no one noticed at all, they piled on responsibility (running a GCSE and an A-Level) without giving me any time or TLR and just let me suffer.
I knew I couldn't go on. I was done with mainstream teaching and functioning on nothing. I ate, worked and tried to sleep. I put on about 3 stone through no exercise and poor diet. My social life was non existant and my relationship failed. I smoked too much, I ate far too much junk....
Something had to be done.
It was then I started considering my options. What could a teacher do instead? I came up with nothing. Despite the fact we are supposed to have all these 'transferable' skills I couldn't come up with a single idea. So I started to look at other types of school instead.
Now I like a challenge. Something that I can say 'I did that.' I wish it could be limited to DIY but no. I went into teaching because of that old cliche - I wanted to MAKE A DIFFERENCE. You cannot make a difference when you are just a machine cog on a never ending treadmill in my opinion, at least not with the support of those around and above you.
So there was an advert for a job in a special school, subject coordinator. I went to visit, met the kids, realised quite quickly they had nothing for this subject, nada. I didn't have to think long!
Now this is the job I do now. I do love it. Small (but very challenging) classes, less marking, flexibility to cover the curriculum how I want to etc. etc.
I'm not working all the hours like I was...I still average 10-11 hours a day 4 days a week and 8ish on a Friday but it is far more civilised. I can concentrate on the kids and their needs.
Thing is, right now I want to leave. This may change but as I write I am done with it and this is the reason.
Workplace bullying, in the form of sexism, ageism and unprofessionalism.
You tell me when is it ever appropriate to be 'told off' in front of the kids? Never? Thought not.
Anyway, if you've got this far well done to you. To conclude I am going to list the main reasons I think teachers leave within the first 5 years based on my own experiences:
- The degree course does not always fully prepare them for the reality of full time teaching. I was lucky. Many are not
- NQTs are not given the mentoring/coaching time they actually need to develop as teachers and staff designated as mentors are not trained either. Support is essential to keep people happy and positive during the early stages.
- Teachers are not being trusted to deliver the curriculum 'their way' - obviously it is important the curriculum is covered but don't bind teachers up in rigid schemes of work which should never be diverged from. That's not allowing the teachers to be themselves. Let them have some ownership
- Senior management are essentially bullies in a lot of schools, sent out (at their inconvenience) when there is a problem. Now it's likely these managers were good teachers once. It would be nice if they showed it from time to time. Enthuse your inexperienced staff with fab lessons. Set an example!
- Time is not set aside for sharing good practice. I rely on Twitter for this as I am on my own but if I was in a department/bigger school I would want to have my 'finger on the pulse.' e.g. What are PE doing to incorporate Literacy and Numeracy? Could we use this idea too?
- There has been a lot of change recently. I am 9 years in and am on the 3rd reincarnation of my subject. It takes time to adapt to change. Teachers need support.
- When I worked in mainstream it was very rare to be told I was doing well. It was very rare to see a smile from a colleague. If teachers are genuinely doing well, or doing something innovative and successful....TELL THEM!!! SMILE!!!