Thinking of Quitting Teaching? Don’t Let Me Stop You, But Please Remember This – Not Every School is the Same

Teaching can suck harder than Auntie Ethel’s teeth when she realises the price of tinned mackerel has gone up again, says Tom Starkey…

Tom Starkey
by Tom Starkey

There’s not much else as drudgingly soul-sapping as hating what you do for a living.

With such a large proportion of our lives dedicated to earning a crust, the way we go about doing that and how it makes us feel really matters. It matters to your health, it matters to your relationships and it matters to your general outlook on life.

Although we often talk about the ‘work-life balance’ I don’t think the two things can be kept at opposite ends of a scale. They intersect. Sometimes they wrap around each other until you don’t know where one starts and the other finishes.

Unless you’re a genius of compartmentalisation, whether your work puts a song in your heart or knives in your mind will colour everything else that’s going on in your life – and this is amplified for teachers, who spend a fair bit more time doing their job than most.

So what happens when your teaching job sucks?

Because it can. It can suck harder than Auntie Ethel’s teeth when she realises the price of tinned mackerel has gone up again.

It can be a thankless, self-sacrificing, crappy way to make a living and unfortunately, when faced with the choice of continuing to do something that takes so much out of you or just chucking it in, many teachers see no other option than to make the very sane decision to walk away.

It’s completely understandable. The vampire’s bite marks of workload, behaviour, ineffectual management, government meddling and so on leave many drained, so leaving becomes less of a decision and more of a self-preservation tactic.

By the way, I’m not writing this to try to get any of you who may be on the brink of giving up not to, before you make a guess as to where this is all going.

I know how horrible the job can be and what it takes and it’s not for me to get in the way of anyone’s possible salvation. The situation comes with enough self-imposed guilt as it is.

However, if I have caught you as you’re considering stepping out of the school gates for evermore let me just say something. Not by way of persuasion, just something to ponder as a possible reminder that there might be other alternatives to leaving the classroom behind.

Before you walk, consider this:

Not every school is the same.

And I should know. I’ve worked in loads. Seriously. More than might be considered completely sane.

But anyway, what I’m getting at is that when you work somewhere that’s a steaming pile of donkey dung and have to face the donkey dung problems day in and day out it’s easy to imagine that everywhere smells like donkey dung.

That ain’t necessarily so.

Within the secondary sector there are massive amounts of variance when it comes to leadership, systems, the way the kids act, staff support and all the other key triggers that can convince people that teaching isn’t viable so do me a favour and consider:

Is it teaching that’s the problem, or just where you’re teaching now?

If it’s the latter, maybe a move might result in a lessening of some of the pressures that you’re feeling at the moment.

What about specialist provision? Special schools? PRUs? Is there somewhere that will be a better match? Can you viably get there? Are these too many questions? What are you having for tea? Have I reached my word limit yet?

Basically, what I’m saying is that, sometimes, it’s not the job that’s the problem, it’s the place where you’re doing it.

I hate to think that we’re losing people permanently because some schools haven’t got their act together, when there are so many others that have – and would benefit from your talents just as you would benefit from not smelling like Eeyore’s hindquarters.

Ultimately, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. But before leaving, just take a look around. Not every school is the same.

Some have effective behaviour policies. Some have leaders who do their utmost to shield their staff from gubbins. Some care about the wellbeing of those in their employ. Before walking off into the sunset, take a quick detour and see if you can’t get a look.

I know I said that I wouldn’t guilt trip anyone but (as I tell my students when I promise to let them go 10 minutes early if they write a page and a half’s worth) I’m a massive liar.

The truth of the matter is that kids need you. But that doesn’t mean you need to be in a place that makes you want to quit.

Thanks for reading.

Tom Starkey is a teacher and writer who blogs at Follow him on Twitter at @tstarkey1212.

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