On October 14th 2015, I taught my very last lesson as a teacher after a career of over 30 years in education, 27 years of which at my last school. It was last lesson of the afternoon and I was teaching a Year 7 class about the digestive system. The Deputy Head knocked on the door and asked if he could ‘have a word’. I had resigned a few weeks previously, to take up a job outside of teaching, asking to leave at half term, rather than the traditional end of term at Christmas, as my new employer wanted me to start at the beginning of November. However, the manner of my departure came as a bit of a shock and still shocks and annoys me to this day. I became one of the ‘disappeared’, a situation becoming all too common in schools around the country.
Earlier that day, I had written an email to my head expressing my concern about a mock inspection (mocksted) and concern about how excessive workload was affecting the health of my colleagues.
I was summoned to the Head’s office and when I got there the head was gushing in that she had found a suitable replacement early and that I could leave with immediate effect. I questioned whether my letter had been read and both the Head and Deputy denied it ( something I found rather difficult to believe). I asked if I could say goodbye to my form group, but I was told they would talk to them the next day to explain. She was trying to make out she was doing me a favour. Basically, I was told to go and not come back. Not a word of thanks for my 27 years service to the school. My colleagues were shocked, as was I. The next day I heard that my ‘replacement’ was a temporary supply teacher.
I felt that, I had been got rid of quickly, because it would be seen as a warning to others not to step out of line and enhance the culture of fear that seemed to exist in the school. The other worry, was that I was concerned that the pupils would think I had to leave because of some serious wrongdoing which, of course, wasn’t the case. Very un-Christian for a school that tried to boast about its Christian ethos at every opportunity.
So what do I miss?
- The kids – I really liked being in the classroom teaching. I loved the interaction of the classroom. It was rewarding when you realised that a pupil a ‘got’ something. Then there were those that would be real characters that it was a pleasure to have in your care. OK, sometimes some of them would drive me mad, but the vast majority were fine (despite what so many say about teenagers).
- My colleagues. I miss the regular social interaction with many of my colleagues. I worked over the years with some fantastic people; dedicated teachers who really knew their craft and worked really hard for the kids. Many had their own quirky ways of delivering lessons which certainly clicked with the pupils. However, in recent times, with a move towards uniformity of teaching that uniqueness was starting to disappear. My department used to have a real buzz and a sense of humour that was, shall we say, a little irreverent at times. It helped keep us going, especially at difficult times.
- Teaching Science. I’ve always been interested in Science and passing on that knowledge to the kids was a real buzz especially when you could do some entertaining experiments to make the point. The Van Der Graff, the Sodium and Water, the exploding coffee tin etc. Also being able to explain some everyday things using your science. Great.
The Negatives (you’ll notice there’s more of these!)
- The appallingly poor management and constant monitoring and micromanaging where it seemed that you were at risk of falling foul for not following the latest fad in education. The purple pens, the time sapping initiatives and the you’ve got to teach like ‘this’……etc.
- The culture of fear. No one would dare question the latest initiative for fear that they find themselves the next victim. I myself was threatened with misconduct for saying I wasn’t going to do any more unreasonable and unsustainable work out of hours. Some might call that bullying. Then there were the low-life management ‘informers’ that would screen shot social media posts and give them to the Head, possibly to try and curry favour?
- The spiralling workload involving paperwork often just done because they might impress Ofsted. The lack of work/life balance. No one dared object to these things, probably because they were fearful of being victimised.
- The need to attain increasingly unrealistic targets that were based on some very dodgy statistics. You’ll really cannot be sure what a 16 year old will get based on their performance at 11. A good statistician would be able to tear apart the target setting mechanisms that are happening in schools along with their effect on the careers of teachers. There are just too many variables.
- The hoop jumping for the annual appraisal. Having to gather lots of evidence just to prove that you were doing your job. It was almost as if you had to have evidence of every bowel movement! If your appraisal or the evidence provided wasn’t up to standard, there was always the worry that it may lead to capability or support (which just meant you would get more monitoring and micromanagement). Appraisal is supposed to be a positive exercise but at my school it was just a stick to beat staff with. A complete waste of time and of no benefit to the education of the pupils. I’ve even heard recently that the cleaners at my old school are now subject to appraisal and evidence gathering; stupidity reaching a whole new level.
- The lesson observations where you felt you had to jump through hoops and teach the way the school wanted to ensure you got a ‘good’. “TEEP” was the prescribed method of the moment. Any slight deviation and you felt you might be ‘requiring improvement’ (RI). I remember getting RI because a child was playing with his pen whilst I was talking to the class.
- The sleepless nights worrying how you were going to get it all done and if you didn’t, the consequences. The problem with teaching is that there are so many things that you are supposed to be doing, that you have to cut corners. Therefore, if someone is looking for fault, they will find it.
So what of the following 12 months?
After 12 months, I have got most of my self-confidence back after having it knocked out of me during the last five years of my teaching career. I also feel calmer and have more energy, not only in my work but also in my personal life. I have more time for my family and am more relaxed. I feel much more motivated in work and feel I am actually achieving something rather than being constantly criticised for the slightest thing. My whole outlook on work has changed. The last 12 months have been fantastic. What a difference!
For the first time in many years, I am treated like an adult in the workplace. My views are listened to. If I have a problem, then a colleague will help me out and talk me through the problem, and of course, vice-versa. A work atmosphere of mutual respect. That is what it should be like in all jobs. I feel valued and respected and most of all I don’t feel the over bearing stress that I had felt during those last five years of my teaching career.
I get a decent night’s sleep most nights and actually look forward to work each day. There are days when my job is challenging; I’ve not used my brain so much in years! Sometimes I feel I am getting nowhere, but that is the nature of my new job, it doesn’t phase me. I no longer want to retire at the first possible opportunity. I consider myself very lucky to have been able to make the move when I did.
Some have said to me that now I’ve moved on, I should forget about it all. To an extent, I agree, but 30 years is a long time to be in a job and not care any longer. I have friends that are still in teaching both at my old school and elsewhere. My wife still teaches as well. I also have two children attending secondary school. I care about what is happening to their education as they are in a system that is broken and suffering under the strain of box ticking edicts that come from above.
I have also heard that other staff have left my last school, some suddenly, like me, which I find most disturbing. Often these are older (inevitably expensive to the school ) staff who might speak out against the status quo. It seems that it is better to replace them with younger, less experienced, but maybe more compliant models I suppose.
Good luck to those members of staff in schools, including my old school, who have been forced out or feel they have been forced out. I hope you find something as enjoyable as I did. To those, including my former colleagues, that want to get out then start looking and hopefully something good will come your way.
Good luck, the grass is greener, there is a life beyond teaching.