Dear teaching career,
It’s over. After 32 years I’ve decided to leave. It’s not me or the children. It’s you.
When we began our relationship in 1986, you gave me the freedom to choose what I taught and when I taught it. I loved that creativity and flexibility. After working hard on the “basics” in the morning, a sunny afternoon meant an impromptu game of rounders, a treasure hunt or an Andy Galsworthy-style art activity. Kemal still got his place at Cambridge, Erin her property portfolio and Ajay his business.
When did I start to fall out of love with you? It’s been gradual. Even in the so-called glory days, you were never the 9am to 3.30pm gig that so many imagine.
In the early days, the opening of Songs of Praise would be my cue to plan and mark for the week ahead and the job would be finished in a couple of hours. But worrying about schoolwork started to cast a pall over Friday night, marking nudged into Saturday and planning started with the Andrew Marr Show and ended with the 10pm news on Sunday.
Socialising on a school night? You made that so difficult, to my shame I turned down a free ticket to a Prince concert for this reason. All work and no play results in a dull workforce. In my first year, you allowed the staffroom to be filled with knitters, crossword solvers and even tolerated smokers in designated areas. One member of staff even fitted in a lunchtime swim at the neighbouring baths. Again the children from that era didn’t suffer, if anything they gained from having relaxed fully-formed adults in their charge.
Initially you seduced me with the best perk of teaching – the six-week summer break. As I contemplate navigating the world outside of teaching, I will miss those long holidays. However, I am close enough to recall that the reality was usually this scenario:
Week one: succumb to the inevitable virus you’ve managed to avoid all term.
Week two: sort out the house, which has gone into “free fall” from the weeks of reports and deadlines.
Week three: “maintenance”, ie doctors, dentists and all those other things you can’t do in term time.
Week four: holiday! (Where a proportion of time is spent in a National Trust property gift shop looking at resources for school.)
Weeks five and six: in school setting up the classroom.
Ah, the classroom. In the early days you let me have carte blanche as to how I decorated it. The walls were festooned with the children’s work in a riot of coloured frieze paper and labelled with different fonts. They would look with pride at their work displayed, usually the product of an enjoyable art lesson. Now you make me put up “working walls”. In spite of having the hypothetical subjunctive definition displayed for most of the year, how come only five out of 30 got that question right in the Spag test?
Segueing into Sats, my lovely late mother used to say: “A child doesn’t grow by being measured”, but now the last year of primary school is an endless round of practice tests. Year 6 used to be about preparing for secondary school, the residential and the end-of-year performance. You fully indulged my Cecil B De Milne tendencies and allowed full-scale all singing, all dancing productions such as Bugsy Malone, Oliver and The Lion King.
Now after the writing has finished in late June, you just allow enough time for a generic, soulless leavers’ play. The residential has been moved to Year 5 and is no longer the last bonding rite before the parting of the ways that is secondary school.
I hear that you are struggling to recruit. I watched your recent advert and loved the slogan, ”every lesson shapes a life”. Being entrusted with the next generation is a privilege and one part of the job that I will always be proud of. If you were a Tinder profile, I would swipe right.
Sadly, like most online profiles, the reality doesn’t match the description. I fell for you in the first place because of wanting to make a difference to children’s lives, but a prescriptive curriculum and phenomenal pressure to meet unrealistic targets doesn’t allow for this To Sir with Love-style relationship with the children.
I wish you well and for the sake of the future generations I hope that others will take my place. My teachers were nuns; in spite of their media portrayal, I found mine to be inspirational and totally dedicated to their vocation. I now realise what made them great teachers – they had none of the extraneous worries of family lives, mortgages, or even the worry of what to wear each day.
So teaching career, it has been, in spite of all my grievances, a blast. I have loved the children and my colleagues. I think it’s only fair to let you know that I plan to rekindle a relationship with an old friend. They are lovely, languid and I didn’t realise how much I missed them: Sundays.
Good luck, and for the sake of the children and the adults, who take care of them, get your act together.
All the best,
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THIS is why I quit teaching 8 years ago!