Why I Left Teaching

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.

Blame Culture
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.

No Time
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.

Assessment
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!

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School staff stereotypes (sorry!)

1) The Behaviour/Inclusion Manager

Usually a woman of about 50. She’s an ex or current smoker so has a gravelly voice that’s on the loud to booming side. She has a local accent and knows all the naughty kids, including their parents and grandparents as she’s been at the school long enough. They behave for her due to the latter and also because she’s different to every other teacher in the school. She wears slightly masculine clothes and/or has her collar up.

2) The over friendly LSA (Learning Support Assistant)

See behaviour manager as can be similar. Talks to pupils throughout your lesson about their dead pet dog/last night’s EastEnders and tells you what the class are normally like and individual students in detail while you’re trying to set the work/teach them.

3) The Welsh P.E teacher

He’s young, semi-attractive and looks a bit like a rugby player. Not very intelligent. Always in the staff room. May have edgy facial hair. Down with the kids. Loved by most members of staff: women, because there’s a dire shortage of male eye candy so he’s a 10/10 in this environment. Men, because he can talk about any sport.

4) The po-faced, weary female teacher

Of uncertain subject but often maths and sometimes English. Hates her job and herself. Moans about students at break and lunchtime using individual names hoping someone else will say they also find that student hard to deal with. Would benefit from a good spa day.

5) The jolly ‘I’ve been at this school for years and will still be here in years to come’ male teacher

Again no fixed subject but let’s say geography or science. Grey hair, affable.. Has been teaching in the same way for 18 years and doesn’t like change. Wife may also work at the school in which case they will sit in same staff room seats and drink/eat same things at same time. Always has a packed lunch.

6) The young Senior Management

Wears a suit, carries a walkie-talkie may even be wearing high vis and never sits down. Will always be smiling and will say hello to supply teachers. Never see them eating or drinking. Talks in acronyms.

7) The Headteacher

Two types: elusive or stealthy (you either never see them or they creep up on you and you think they’re just some jolly type see number 5)

 

 

The novelty is wearing off..

I keep having days where you never know what to expect from class to class. One can be a dream and I get to teach my subject and the next can be a nightmare. In one school, I had an English class of Year 8s and we discussed Blake’s ‘A Poison Tree’ before they wrote an essay. Then after lunch I had a horrible group: “Can I go to the toilet Miss, can I go and get a pencil Miss, can I get a rubber Miss?” I had to send three pupils out for being loud/arguing with each other. In the end, another teacher came in. It’s one of the most demoralising things when another teacher walks in and the class is silent and they then tell the class off for you. It’s helpful but soul destroying all the same. I guess I just try and think, if they were my class and I was at this school as a teacher, things would be different. As a supply, you have to have a tough skin. I think if I was doing it for five days a week instead of two, I’d be traumatised.

So, that happened again at the next school. One lovely class of Year 7s and then a horrendous class of Year 8s straight afterwards. A class of 31 pupils. Some came in late, many were loud, shouting, some didn’t sit down. One came up to me and asked to go to pastoral as her skirt was ripped, another came up to me and asked to go to the toilet. After they had all sat down, they still weren’t quiet: “Can we watch the Woman in Black?”

“We watched it last lesson.”

“It’s there on the desk.”

“No.” I said. “We’re reading this story.” (by Edgar Allen Poe, which is really long with loads of words that the kids won’t understand. Thanks arsehole teacher for setting this cover..!)

After sending about five rude/noisy pupils to sit with the Head of Department (She offered!) we finally got to the read the story. The pupils kept talking through it so I stopped and kept trying. In the end I gave up and told them to read it themselves and then answer the questions. It’s one of the worst things: feeling defeated by a bunch of 13-year-olds.

After lunch, my faith in teaching was restored with probably one of the best classes/lessons I’ve had since doing supply. Year 10 were learning about the play An Inspector Calls which I’ve taught since I started teaching 13 years ago. They were bright, keen and engaged. I think they appreciated having someone teach them as their regular teacher had been off school for a while.

Me: “So why doesn’t Mr Birling accept any responsibility throughout the whole play?

Pupil (called Theseus but I’ll forgive him for that): “because he’s so obsessed with upward social mobility that he’s too insecure to be able to care for anyone else but himself.”

“Yes!”

 

Why you can’t just ‘turn up’ in teaching.

 

7am call from the agency. “I don’t want you shouting.” My partner said, worried about my voice. I thought, yeah, actually I won’t bust my balls today. I’ll just turn up. Surely, it will be easier if you don’t care or put in much effort. How wrong could I be!

The day started off ok for someone not caring. A computer room – Year 10 were writing stories. I couldn’t stop myself helping them a bit but I let them get on with mainly time-wasting. I felt a bit guilty.

Next, Year 9. There were 32 pupils squeezed into a small claustrophobic classroom. One girl came in late and sat on a desk, ignoring me. “I’d like you to come and sit at the front near me.” I said.

“Is it because she’s black?” A mixed race boy piped up. I really didn’t know how to answer that.

“Er, no.”

I started the class on the work, most started it but a few boys decided to muck about. (If I was bothering today, I would have split them up.)

“Yuk!” one of them shouted. I walked over to the table and there was a bit of crème egg on it. Instead of trying to find out how it got there, (bothering), I calmly removed it and put it in the bin. It happened again. I calmly removed it, (still not bothered) but as I walked to the bin I saw the whole chocolate egg crushed on the floor under a boy’s desk. (Oh Dear) This is where I would normally remove the boy from the room to find out if it was him and park him in another classroom/call for the Head of Department. Instead I said, “Clean that up or you’re not going to break.” (Lame) Next time I looked, the crème egg had been rubbed further into the carpet with a dictionary. I called for the Head of Department who removed both of the boys. “Is it because I’m brown?” One said as he left the room.

“You’re not that brown anyway.” said the other.

I learned my lesson with this example of how bad behaviour can escalate if you don’t act. I thought I’d continue with my lack of effort until the end of the day though..

Last lesson on Friday with year 7, this should be fine I thought. First kid: “Can we sit where we want?”

“Yes” (Something I never normally say!)

Result: Chatty, loud, silly behaviour for an hour and my reminder that the more effort you put in the easier a class is to manage and ultimately work!

It’s not all bad…

Why am I supply teaching? It’s something that I never thought I would do. The thought of walking into the unknown used to send shivers down my spine. After having a baby last year, I thought I would take some time off. Going ‘part-time’ in my old school would have meant working four days a week… chuck in the planning and marking and you’re working full time again! With supply, you’re flexible. I thought it would be an interesting challenge and a chance to see some local schools. It’s fascinating so far. There have been some lovely schools. The two I’ve already blogged on just had more to talk about!

Just down the road from Academy Two is a boys’ grammar school that couldn’t be more different. As soon as you turn up in the car park, you know. Sixth formers mix alongside lower years and it’s all calm! I walk to the classrooms through orderly corridors, passing old school photos and 100-year-old framed rugby shirts. The boys enter the room calmly and say, “Morning Miss.” The cover work isn’t suitable as they need computers but the pupils are resourceful enough to come up with something else they need to get on with. They leave the lesson, “Thank you Miss.”

At a school like this, you get to have interesting conversations with pupils, “Miss, Why do Australians wear cork hats?”

“They used to use them to keep flies off, as they get lots of flies in some areas at certain times of the year.”

“Oh, I thought it’s because they like the smell of wine.”

You even get to teach them sometimes! If it’s an English lesson I’m covering, I’ll always aim to add something. I’m enjoying teaching without all the planning, marking and meetings. It’s great to be able to go on the bell and not have to go through a backlog of pointless emails or go to time-wasting meetings.

At another school, I wait in reception and another supply teacher turns up, also for English. We get onto the subject of why we’re doing supply. She says, “I’m leaving teaching; it doesn’t make me happy. I’m 27 and want to get into a graduate job before it’s too late.” I wonder if any job really makes you happy all the time. She’s also got some inside gossip on the school as she was here the day before. “I think a teacher left without any notice.” Ooh, I think. On our way to the English department, a teacher showing us the way asks, “So you two seem quite capable, why are you doing supply teaching?” I’ve been asked that a few times in schools. I wonder if teachers are weighing up the options.

An average day follows. Some pupils are difficult, some are good. It’s funny how you see the same patterns of behaviour across schools. I guess human behaviour is essentially the same. My last school before half-term was interesting. All girls, most very good and well behaved but there were a small percentage of difficult, surly girls. It’s a shame to stereotype but they had names like Armarnii and Shanel (really!?) While teaching a Year 11 group, I hardly got a word out of the class. No one put their hand up or wanted to read out any work. I got the impression that the ‘hard’ ones made all the others scared to shine. I thought it was a shame.

So next term, I’m looking forward to being in some other schools. I think the more interesting anecdotes come from the more difficult schools but we’ll see..

 

Academy Two

I didn’t even notice I was driving through a council estate. I didn’t notice that there were gates around the school. As I drove up, the gates were shut so I parked outside next to a beaten up community centre that I didn’t notice and quick-stepped up to the school in the pouring rain.

Science cover all day urgh. Gas taps etc. Oh well, I remained optimistic as I was shown to the science block and didn’t notice the pupils hanging around in corridors during tutor time. I looked at the cover work: all text book copying or poster making. It all started quite well with Year 11 and rapidly went downhill from there. In they came, looking bored. Register, “Coats off, bags on the floor… Carly coat off now.” Class started work. Suddenly, four huge ‘man-boys’ saunter in.  I react with my usual response, “Outside!” Once outside they tower over me and wear faces mixed with humour and confusion. “Why are you late?” “Stand still.” One of them has a full beard. They look at me in shock as if they’ve never been challenged before. I soon realise that this ‘telling off’ has no effect on them whatsoever.

Next, Year 8, how hard can this be? They’re only one year up from cute Year 7s right? I start off with the same behaviour tactics I always use that ‘usually’ work. Bawl out the kid who commits the first naughty incident and the rest of class doesn’t bother to challenge you. I soon realise that THIS DOESN’T WORK AT THIS SCHOOL. Sean gets his phone out within minutes. “Put that phone away.” Phone put away but out again after two minutes. “Put that phone away or I’ll take it off you for the rest of this lesson.”

“You can’t take my phone off me. My mum will come up to the school.” …. constant battle with Sean and phone throughout lesson.

Next, Year 7, poor needy little things. I feel sorry for them that they have to put up with this school. They’ve drawn the short straw somewhere.

Out at lunchtime and not a teacher, let alone member of senior management to be seen. All locked away safely in their offices, terrified to come out. The pupils run riot, shouting and swearing. At least the Academy One has a high presence of senior management.

Last lesson on a Friday with Year 8. I don’t know why I remain so optimistic after the day I’ve had so far. Maybe because their class photos from Year 7 look so sweet and innocent. How wrong could I be!

Bell goes. Pupils start gathering outside the door, “Yes! We’ve got a supply.” Some come bounding in. Some don’t. Some from the class next door come bounding in. Ok. Just get them seated I think to myself. Hmmm. Most of class seated. My expectations have lowered: they can sit where they want as long as they sit! Two girls come in late with their phones out, completely ignoring me. The rest of the class are loud and some pupils are still walking round the room. OMG. Late girls still with phones out, one of them is filming or pretending to film a group of boys.

After a while of settling most of class to work (copying something I have drawn on the board!) I knock on the adjoining room’s door. The weary looking teacher offers to take two of the pupils who refuse to settle/work. They refuse to go and she pleads and cajoles them until she promises them they can help her do ‘circuits’ So their bad behaviour is rewarded. Ten minutes later the naughtly boys return triumphant to get their bags and tell the others. Two other boys ask the teacher If they can join. At this point I’ve given up. Yes go please! Another reward for being naughty.

I couldn’t get out of there quick enough. On leaving, I notice the gate, the beaten up community centre and the council estate and feel sad. I know places like this. It’s a bit like the school I went to when I was growing up. I’ll never return.

I have also been to some ‘nice’ schools. I’ll update on them soon!

Academy One

“Who the fuck is that?” a pupil shouts behind me as I enter the newly built academy for my first day of supply teaching. Great, I think to myself. Young, business-like senior management stand in high-vis with walkie talkies as students enter for the day, “Morning darling,” one says, desperately trying to relate to the ‘kids.’

So, up to languages for cover. As an English teacher this is better than covering maths or science lessons. At least there won’t be any numbers. There is a class in my cover room for tutor time. They all stand for a prayer but no one puts any feeling into it. I get the impression that there is no history, tradition, gravitas to the school so they have to work hard to create a feeling of belonging and pride. In older ‘good’ schools this naturally exists, luckily for the pupils. The tutor is having some weary altercation with a Year 11 student, “It’s that attitude…blah blah.” I switch off and look at the limited cover work I’ve been given. The tutor lets me log onto the school network to check the cover work and when he leaves, ominously shouts over to another teacher, “They might need ‘someone’ up here today with two cover teachers.” Ok, thanks..already doubting my ability Mr Pessimistic!

First lesson with Year 10 Spanish. No cover work. Can’t find it anywhere. I send a student to find someone. Thankfully the class is small and friendly so I choose a text book and they start some work. Period 2 and 3 with Year 7 should be fine I think to myself. Little did I know. The bell goes and they come bounding in. I nearly send one girl away as she looks like a Year 11. No joke. I look at the class photos and she’s on there. Glad I didn’t say anything. Class starts to settle after five minutes and suddenly the door bursts open and five boys bundle in. “Wait outside!” I bellow. Class starts work. Once outside the boys are running around along with kids from other classes who have already been sent out. “Line up!” I shout again. One boy (Reece) shouts in my face, “Who are you? You can’t tell me what to do you’re not my teacher.”

“Sit over there!” I shout. The other boys line up, thankfully a bit sacred as they are only little. “Why are you late?” I ask them all individually as they apologise and file into the classroom.

“Come here.” I stare at Reece. He does. “How should you speak to me?”

After an apology and quickly settling Reece into the room to a seat on his own. I start to explain the task again. “Create a city on Mars, including all you would need, shops, schools etc. You have to write it all in French and you can give it a name.”

“Uranus!” shouts Reece.

“We need to talk outside again Reece…”

After a few more Year 7 lessons , “She looks like Voldemort” I hear one shout. “It’s a supply!” shouts another. It’s on to Year 10 Film Studies. ‘Watch a film’ says the cover work. How hard can this be I think to myself.. I battle for most of the lesson with two boys who are insulting each other, one says the other smells. He does, poor thing. And then another boy has his phone out. “If I see it again I’ll take it off you.” I see it again. He refuses to give it to me. I send for another teacher. He gives it to me and so on…. It’s so draining after one day of supply and you can see it on the permanent teachers’ faces: they’re resigned to it, they’ve lowered their expectations. Why should they put up with that? Why should the good kids put up with that? Why are schools so unequal? I guess that’s too big a question to answer.