This week I read reports about ‘Staggeringly High’ numbers of teachers threatening to quit the classroom and couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of déjà vu.
Like, haven’t we heard all this somewhere before?
There are lots of reasons teachers might think of quitting in the current educational climate, and most are well documented. So this isn’t a blog about reasons, or arguments for any particular side. This is just a personal account of how close I came to quitting teaching, then rediscovering my love for it, and then almost losing my job anyway! And, where I’m at today…
So, I started teaching in around 2010. I loved it. All I had ever wanted to do was teach. The dream location and age group I would teach varied over the years but the ‘teaching’ part of the dream stuck with me from age 6 right up to qualifying. I qualified, I was consistently graded ‘outstanding’ and went on to work in a KS2 class. And, I loved it. Then, the leadership changed. We had CCTV in every classroom, planning was rigid and structured. Everything was checked. We were under scrutiny at all hours. Constantly. This was still my first year, in my first job. I started getting stuck in the world of never ending paperwork, observations, progress reports and meetings. And I started, slowly but increasingly, to feel the strain.
I kept working, at one stage I was working from 6am to 3am, sleeping around 3 hours a night. A reminder at this point that I have epilepsy, lack of sleep and this kind of stress is not ideal. And, the workload caught up with me, the stress and anxiety caught up with me too. I was ill. I had migraines, my seizures were back and I spent most of my time feeling sick and in some weird fog headed state of nothingness. I had no real support structure to fall back on, so I did what people do when they are ill. I went to my GP. They signed me off sick. I was off a a few weeks, went back and was ill again, and got into a cycle of this routine. And then I started to figure it wasn’t happening for me, teaching was not what I had expected. Less than 2 years into teaching I was ready to quit on my dream, having already forgotten everything I had loved about it to begin with.
One day, during a stint of being signed off sick, I was added to a group chat and flooded with messages asking me what it was like at school theses days. The messages were all from people who had quit in my absence and were surprised to learn I was still off work but hadn’t gone elsewhere as they all had. Everyone in this conversation was so positive. It was a million miles away from what my experience of them all at the school had been. These did not seem like the people I had worked with, these people were all so…happy! I was overwhelmed by the amount of them that were now telling me I was the best teacher they had worked with, that they couldn’t believe I had stuck it out so long and that I deserved better. They persuaded me to apply for another job. To not give up.
The short version of the rest of this story is as follows: I applied for another job, I got it, started at the school and was swept up into a world full of positive teaching experiences. Suddenly, I found support. I found a good union rep, a world of EduTwitter types to tune in to (see #teacher5aday and #PrimaryRocks as a starter) and, most importantly, a leadership team who matched my positivity and ambition. My life changed with my setting. I loved (and still love) my job.
I am now mindful of how long this post is. If you read this far, thank you! The next part is super short I promise.
Basically, my doctors mixed up my meds, I had nearly a year off sick while my neurologist sorted my meds back out. My school stood by me. My school supported me. I kept my job, and I am one half term away from completing this year in teaching still healthy and, more importantly, still happy and loving my profession.
So, what’s the lesson here? I guess the answer really is, I can’t say for sure. Everyone has a different reason for wanting to quit. My only advice comes from my own experience. Before you give up on the profession, be sure it’s the profession and not just the current circumstances that are the problem. Don’t forget, other schools are out there, other professionals who want to help you are out there too. Changes in education are always just on the horizon, and, with new elections, anything could happen!
For now, I’m happy, I hope anyone who reads this is too. But I guess you’ll all know about it if anything changes with me. And if you’re not happy, would you like to talk about it?