I love teaching and yet, at the same time, I hate aspects of it too. It’s like marmite. It’s a constant battle to try and master the balance between a career I adore and actually living my life instead of becoming engulfed, consumed and drowning. In search of this balance, after 7 dedicated years of teaching, and 5 promotions in the last few years, I recently handed my notice in and bought a one-way ticket to the other side of the world in search of, well, I’m not quite sure what. It all sounds rather glamorous, fairytale-esque or brave as some people tell me. Funnily enough, I have met many similar people along the way in my position. Not willing to burn out and escaping the monotony of everyday life, I’ve ditched the shackles of expectation and defied the norm in some respects. About the embark on my dream promotion, I threw it all away.
I’ve never taken a risk like this in my life but, 12 months on from admitting something was wrong, I believe that I definitely made the right decision to escape for a while. I deserved some time away for myself, a break, a complete rest and a chance to refresh, rejuvenate and re-evaluate life. Yet, whilst I now sit on a stunningly beautiful beach, admiring our breathtaking world, for the first time, in a long time, I’ve been able to truly reflect. You know, that thing that they always bang on about at University, whilst training to be a teacher, but in reality we never actually get time to do. I’ve been able to reflect on what I’ve left behind in the teaching world and what state I might have been in if I hadn’t taken this sabbatical and somewhat spontaneous decision to completely change my life. So, a few months in, here are the things that I do not miss in the slightest and the things that I also desperately miss about teaching – the profession that can turn you from an enthusiastic, inspirational, passionate performer to a deluded, cynical, stale oddity within years. It is a profession that is completely misunderstood; wonderfully rewarding and deeply destructive at times too. It is a tangled web of complexities that make it both intriguing and challenging.
What I do not miss:
I’ve not picked up a red, green, purple or pink pen in the last few months and it’s been heaven. Marking policies are now absolutely insane. I completely understand that constructive feedback is essential for progression and, yes, most of the time it works but it also takes up valuable time and becomes a disheartening task. You feel compelled to tackle every single literacy mistake and, even when they say, make them do more peer and self-assessment, you still have to double check that. I feel like marking is an endless problem that cannot be solved. The guilt you feel as a teacher is unprecedented. It is simply not physically possible, especially for English teachers, unless they have more time dedicated to it or more frees to make it sustainable and effective. It’s mind-numbing and demoralising at times. We need to reconsider our obsession with it and leadership teams need to think of more inventive ways to help teachers manage their marking.
Here, I am referring to the types of teachers that unfortunately drain life and enthusiasm out of the profession and take great pleasure in doing so. Usually found whispering in a corner, they are bitter and twisted about every single child they meet and every new policy that comes into play. They struggle with the ability to adapt to change; to accept it and to embrace it. They have “done it their way for years” and ultimately won’t change for any Tom, Dick or Harry. They’ll ask you why you have even considered a career in teaching and warn you to get out while you can. These spiky individuals exist everywhere – fortunately, they are few and far between. Smile at them. Acknowledge them. But never ever become one of them.
Apart from the free food that you sometimes get, if school can be bothered or afford it, and the relief in September when you haven’t seen 7am for 6 weeks, INSET is boring. Like any child on the first day back at school, I love seeing my teacher friends and reigniting the banter but, after an hour, everyone is yawning and everyone has heard it all before. I wish they would liven them up – make them engaging at least like we are told to make every lesson for the children! Challenge teachers to think in a different way; reinvigorate their passion for teaching instead of just harping on about facts, figures and Ofsted.
It has its uses and it is valuable but it is also absolutely ridiculous how obsessed we are about numbers. Children are not human beings any more in education – they are a million different statistics. Analysing data can help to see patterns and gives me clear information but it does not tell me: why the child is upset; why the child is acting in this way and why is the child not coming to school.
Although I’m at the top of the food chain, subject wise, I absolutely despise the hierarchy of subjects and how different subjects are judged and categorised according to an elitist view that certain subjects should be avoided and are not worthy. Ok, yes, literacy and numeracy underpin the majority of other subjects and are vital for everyday life but I despise the fact that some subjects have been completely disregarded, scrapped and destroyed. Mainly, this impacts upon the arts – some of the most valuable subjects society can offer. This is why so many children are disheartened and disengaged with school because it does not allow many of them to excel where their individual strengths lie. We’ve lost all of our focus on whole child development and personalised learning by replacing it with a warped view that somehow one subject is better than another. In my eyes, all subjects are equally important and children should have more exposure to various subjects to challenge them in different ways instead of being pigeon-holed and forced to study certain subjects because somebody in Westminster believes it’s a better subject.
6: Exam Culture:
Everything revolves around exams and exam results instead of the whole child and their personal, social, emotional and academic development. It’s as simple as that. We’ve completely forgotten and lost sight of the importance of helping children become good, honest, well-rounded individuals who feel happy, content and equipped to face the world.
Education is a pawn which Governments enjoy playing with. Too many changes without enough support, time and discussions with the people actually on the ground doing the hard work makes teaching exceptionally difficult because we constantly face battles between expectations that are unrealistic and our own professional judgement that is completely ignored by successive Governments. Standards have to be set but teachers also need more input as well and feel that they are listened to.
8: Break Duty:
Always placed on the busiest teaching day on your timetable, I would regularly forget my duty and be seen running through the corridors trying to get to my spot on time. Others, relish every minute of the power that comes with break duty. Huge coats are on ten minutes early and classes are dismissed before the bell just so they be on their spot in plenty of time and relish 15 minutes of shouting and screaming at sweating, floppy-haired children that are running around aimlessly enjoying their freedom.
What I do miss:
1: The children:
Ultimately, the children make the job what it is. They create the magic and the madness. They are at the heart of every decision you make and they never cease to amaze and entertain you whilst driving you insane sometimes too. Teenagers are quite misunderstood and have a bad reputation but the majority are just struggling to fit in whilst trying to find out who they truly are and at the same time making important life decisions. I miss the characters: the quiet ones who sit at the back and roll their eyes with you; the loud ones who always have some gossip to reveal to you; the grafters who will try their very best no matter what; the lazy ones who moan every single day and the class clowns who can’t help cracking a joke when the opportunity arises. Children somehow manage to put a smile on your face when you’re having a terrible day and also manage to make you pull your hair out in frustration. They are challenging yet intriguing and underpin every decision you make. I’ll never forget one of the classes I taught in my first year of teaching (the nightmare class) and a girl could not understand the plot of a particular story. She asked me to put it into pictures for her so I prepared it for the next lesson and she couldn’t believe that I had done that for her. It made me realise that if you selflessly give a small amount of time and effort for a child, they will respond to you and respect you even more. The children are why we do the job.
Because we spend a large part of our lives at work, your colleagues become like family. When you work in tough schools especially, you need your colleagues and their support more than ever. It’s a unique friendship because you are flung together in a working environment and wouldn’t necessarily have ever met in life otherwise. Having someone to offload to, being a shoulder to cry on or an ear to listen to is always important in teaching. I’ve been very fortunate to have met some incredible colleagues, whilst teaching, who have become cherished friends due to the experiences we have shared together; how we have worked as a solid team and how we have supported each other. I miss their loyalty, empathy and understanding.
To be a good teacher, you need to have flair, imagination and creativity in the classroom to keep your lessons vibrant, interesting and engaging. Sometimes, it is easy to become stale and yet teachers are some of the most creative people I know but you can easily become complacent and forget how creative you are. This means that it’s important to take risks; bounce ideas off other teachers regularly and have the strength to try new tasks in class. I miss creating new lessons that are aimed at specific classes and sometimes specific individuals in an attempt to engage their disengaged minds. It’s certainly a challenge and I wish we had more time to share creative ideas professionally sometimes.
4: My teacher stare:
Every decent teacher has one and can use it to their advantage. The teacher stare can have a profound impact and, as I’m out of practise, I’m concerned that I might lose my touch. I’ve been using it occasionally on my travels though. Once perfected, it never really leaves you.
5: Dinner Ladies, Caretakers & Unsung Heroes:
The heart beat of any school, I miss talking to the additional staff that are full of life and huge characters in school. Not only do I sometimes get a cheeky extra slice of bacon on my butty from the dinner ladies, they are also massively important to a school as some understand the children better than the teaching staff. We can learn a lot from the wisdom of unsung heroes who support the children unconditionally without question or thought.
6: The buzz:
There’s nothing quite like the buzz of a classroom environment filled with sparkling personalities, inquisitive minds and unpredictable moments. You can’t replicate that buzz anywhere else in life. When you have a class that connect, work together and are united, it somehow creates an aura that envelops the room. It’s hard to explain unless you’re a teacher and you’ve felt it – it’s magical.
7: The achievements:
A lot of people tell me that exam results are worthless and pointless. I understand their frustrations with a system that judges, pigeon holes and sometimes scars our young people. However, when you see the face of a child who gets the C grade that they have desperately wanted, and worked tirelessly for so they can get into college and achieve their dreams, it is a wonderful feeling. This Summer, whilst I was in Malaysia, I found out that someone in my set 2 class got an A*. This is the first time in my career that I have ever taught a child who got the top grade and I just knew she would do it. She was exceptionally quiet, reserved and polite. I wrote in her leaver’s book that she should aim for the very top and to believe in herself and she did it! It’s an unbelievable feeling to help someone achieve their ambitions. Her understanding and appreciatation of literature was remarkable. She defied all expectations. Achievements are not always a letter on a piece of paper though. They can be the smallest achievement – just making it to the lesson and sitting down or remembering a particular fact from last lesson or remembering not to shout out! Either way, encouraging success and celebrating achievements is definitely something I miss.
8: The challenge:
Without a doubt, I thrive on the challenges that face teachers daily. After all, without challenge there is no achievement. We have to be lots of different things to lots of different people. Working with young people, with various personalities, views and issues, is not easy but there is no other challenge like it at the same time. It pushes your mind and your skills to the limit. I miss the challenge of how I will deal with specific students’ behaviour; how I will engage the quiet ones; how I will teach a specific concept or idea and how I will support a particular child going through a difficult time. Maybe one of the biggest challenges for me is balance – being able to find a way to allow my love for the job not to be diminished and rise above the frustrations. Like in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the love is always more powerful than the hate despite the two emotions being intertwined. I still believe teaching is the best job in the world and, after my well deserved break, I’ll be back to continue making a difference in a way that no other profession possibly can.