I’ve left teaching after 15 years in three different schools. This morning I was contacted by a supply teaching agency because they are extremely busy at this time of year with staff off sick but the thought of walking into a school again filled me with dread. I’ll explain why.
I left my career as an English teacher for a number of reasons: mainly to pursue a career as a freelance writer – I was a news reporter before teaching and writing opportunities have come up. But there are a whole lot of other reasons I wanted to get out and I feel like sharing them. Mainly because I feel strongly that teachers (much like NHS staff!) are just ‘putting up’ with a job that is challenging, frustrating and highly undervalued.
There is so much pressure on schools, Heads of Departments and individual teachers to get ‘RESULTS.’ Schools are now businesses and pitch themselves against other schools to ‘win clients’ – pupils! Students become a commodity, a number, a statistic and therefore there is massive pressure to predict, analyse and judge by results. It takes a very strong head teacher, Head of Department, teacher to be unaffected by this. Unfortunately, because of this pressure people can be quick to judge, compare, put down and blame for simple mistakes and a culture now exists in many schools of believing that there are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ teachers. This even filters down into the mentality of the pupils and parents. Parents can often blame teachers and ultimately, it’s the teacher’s fault/success if results are good/bad.
School inset days and meetings are notoriously time-wasting. Again, it takes a brave head teacher to say no to the mainly useless information being delivered (E.g. how the school toilets have been decorated over the summer.) Even the so-called important stuff like Safeguarding can take up far too much time with social workers coming in to discuss case studies etc – conclusion: just tell the appointed safeguarding officer if something is disclosed. Inset days and meetings in general take up too much time when teachers could be planning for their lessons and gathering information about their classes. Another time waster is activities during tutor time. In some schools, you have to deliver ‘lessons’ in the morning when both teacher and pupil are not engaged and when it’s not a lesson that the tutor has prepared, it takes time to learn/read how to deliver it properly.
GCSEs have changed and many schools have changed their marking procedures. The rug is continually being pulled out from under teachers as criteria and grade boundaries are constantly changed. Teachers used to know the assessment criteria, E.g. that’s a B grade etc but due to the changes, there is now an insecurity around this. Students are understandably keen to know results of tests and assessments but some heads (again brave ones!) have done away with grades and are focusing on targets. How often do pupils only look at the grade and not the target. With targets there is less pressure on the teacher ‘getting it right’ and more emphasis on the pupil meeting the specific targets. Any Head of Department or teacher who says ‘they know’ what the grade of a particular paper is, would be a fool as criteria is changing all the time, even after the exam is set.
Responsibility on The Teacher
There are many pupils who do take responsibility for their own learning but there are also many who place the responsibility solely on the teacher. Whether this is for behaviour or effort, there is an increasing culture of dependency where many pupils expect more but respond with apathy. In many schools, if there is an issue with a pupil and they have been disciplined by a teacher, the teacher is also questioned and their word is not taken as law. There is a lack of trust and a lack of respect for teachers. Of course, we don’t want the days of the cane and other corporal punishments but if a teacher’s word is being challenged, this obviously dilutes their authority which is so important to uphold in a school environment.
I know this all sounds very negative and I could list the many great things about being a teacher. But for now, I feel very disillusioned with it. The answer? I’m not really sure! But I think schools/head teachers should start by being strong enough to make their own decisions and say no to a lot of the ridiculous hoops many teachers have to jump through. I believe a culture of caring about staff and valuing them is the key to any successful business. In any school, teachers should come first and the success, results etc will follow. I may return to it one day but for now I’ll just write about it!