According to The Guardian – July 2017, almost a quarter of teachers who have qualified since 2011 have left the profession. This made me think about the ‘why’s’ and thought I’d share things from my perspective, a teacher, in my 4th year teaching in a primary school.
I absolutely love the job, I consider myself to be very lucky because the school I work in is fantastic. I started as a newly qualified teacher (NQT) here and found everybody approachable, asking for help was nothing to be ashamed of as there is no ‘school politics’ and everyone is treated equally with respect. As an NQT, I regularly asked for help with planning and teaching strategies and had regular meetings with my mentor whom guided me every step of the way and played a vital role in moulding me into an inspiring teacher and for that I will be forever grateful.
I graduated at the same time as ten of my close friends. I was the only one to receive regular support from the school I started at; even though all schools should be mentoring their NQT’s, my friends sadly all got the same response from their mentors – “I’m just too busy this week”. Not only is being a newly qualified teacher a daunting prospect for anyone; but feeling lonely and lacking support and guidance during the first year when you are laying the foundations of your career is not a very good start. From the ten newly qualified teachers, eight have dropped out of teaching all together, which is ironic because they were all graded ‘outstanding’ and were filled with vigour and eager to fulfil their dreams of becoming successful teachers and making a difference.
On my first day of practise, the headteacher told me quite frankly that the best grade I could expect was a ‘3’ which was ‘satisfactory’. I remember feeling totally baffled by this upfront statement, so I did everything in my power to be ‘outstanding’. I put in at least 60 hours a week (I still do this), ran various lunch time clubs, I did an assembly and I did 100% of the week’s teaching through the last phase as the teacher was off with an injury. Still, I was given the ‘3’ grade I was told to expect. I informally challenged this and wanted an explanation as to why I failed to surpass the ‘3’ grade. The headteacher simply said, “Nobody should be graded outstanding. It puts too many new teachers in the wrong mindset when they enter the profession. They genuinely believe they’re outstanding and when they get a job in the real world, they can’t handle it when the going gets tough.”
How right she was…
I left Bradford College with a Satisfactory Grade. I spent all summer realising that I was in for a rough ride. I knew I had to be organised and that was absolutely key. I worked so hard that summer planning and getting my classroom just the way, I wanted it. I knew every child’s name by where they were sitting. I knew everybody’s strengths and weaknesses before the 1st of September because I spent time with the class’ teacher in July discussing my first class. I was ready. I can’t say this for sure but in hindsight, had I been graded outstanding, I’m pretty sure complacency would’ve crept in somewhere that summer. Perhaps, I would’ve gone to sit in the beer garden that afternoon instead of planning a topic on Ancient Greece. Who knows!
Furthermore, I also think there are far too many individuals within education, creating curriculums and laying down the expectations when they fail to understand the challenges teachers or pupils have. Imagine the outcome of a teacher acting the part of a site manager on a building site or a chef trying to plan the landscapes of a royal garden. In education, the result of a non-educator stepping in is; wasted paperwork, pointless tasks that revolve around data that come to absolutely nothing, marking (it’s never going to be the right way because another school does it differently), over the top assessments and unnecessary pressure on staff and children with tests. It is thus no surprise our country is facing so many mental health issues within education, teachers and pupils alike.
I was doing a lesson on fractions with my Year 3 class the other day and like always, when starting a new mathematical topic, I asked “When do you think we will need to use this in our lives?” One girl confidently answered “for a test!” This actually turned into a PSHCE (Personal, Social, Health and Citizenship Education) lesson on how we can use our skills and dealing with feeling nervous. Children and teachers are becoming swallowed in this ‘test taking culture’. Even I am guilty of thinking ‘If these tests are not up to standard then what will happen to me?” I’m sure that’s how most teachers and headteachers feel. Albert Einstein once said “Everybody’s a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” I’ll leave that one with you…
I often wonder if our education system wants to prepare our pupils for the future or the past and not having any voice is making teachers feel helpless and frustrated.
Personally, I believe the key to ‘surviving’ our current education system as a teacher, is maintaining a good work-life balance and excellent behaviour management in the class room. A teacher’s job is never finished, there is always something that needs to be done, but burning yourself out is not the answer. Switching off from that is hard, but you’ve got to do it if you want to be in this for the long run and you want to stay healthy and sane. At the end of the day, being a teacher is just a ‘job’ and we need to learn how to balance the important things in life, such as family commitments.
I often get asked by students in my school for advice when going into teaching. The best advice I can give anyone is this:
Take your time applying for the right school. It is vital that it is the perfect school for you. You are an incredible human being who is about to enter an amazing career in shaping the lives of children. There are school environments out there with a lack of respect for others and some feel that asking for help is shameful. A really good mentor of mine at Bradford College said that you will get a good feel for the school when you view it, a good school has a culture that you want to be part of. I viewed many schools in the build up to getting my job. One particular school I viewed had the secretary give all ten of us NQT’s a guided tour around the school. One teacher politely asked where the head was and he was met with the response “They’re looking at you all through the CCTV.” I remember thinking gosh, I’m a student teacher get me out of here!
After the ‘tour’, I was asked to stay behind and see the headteacher so I did. I was virtually offered the job there and then, however, as they said they needed someone with musical qualifications, I politely declined despite the temptation to gloat about a job in March lined up for September.
Colleges and Universities will put pressure on students to get a job asap, but I find this causes people to settle for the first possible job offer as they are scared of not getting any offer at all. Teachers are dropping out at an alarming rate and part of the problem is that the NQT’s are settling for the first available job instead of investing the time and effort into searching for the right school for them. Teachers need to value themselves more. This is not a profession you choose simply for having a job. Being a teacher is so much more than that. I constantly remind myself of the reason I wanted to teach – it is all about the children and people seem to forget that. Somewhere along the pressures of test scores, the children are being forgotten. The education system needs to re-evaluate things as teachers enter the profession to nurture children and unlock their potential, help them to feel inspired to be the best they can be. They don’t test for character in SATs. That’s up to you the teacher to get the best out of the next generation. Tick the boxes that need to be ticked and enjoy your job.
Written by Ben Hope, PE Coordinator, Year 3 Class Teacher, St. Patrick’s Catholic Primary.