It was during January 2014 that I first considered leaving the profession. I had only really been teaching a year.
The thought had hovered over Christmas, along with the ghost of failure to keep up and the whisper of doubt on my shoulder that doing this – teaching – for the rest of my life was like signing up for a prison sentence.
It is no secret that workload and expectation are currently issues in teaching; these alone impact teacher’s mind-sets and mental health and are often cited as fuel for the churning of those entering and leaving.
Having wanted to travel since I was a teen, I saw no way this could happen if I remained in the profession long-term and didn’t want to be paying higher fares just because I couldn’t holiday in term-time.
In addition to this, I’d only ever worked with children and was plagued with a niggling insecurity that I wasn’t capable of doing anything else.
I’d also always wanted to write a book but everyone has fancies like that, don’t they? I didn’t want to just fancy. I didn’t want to reach the end of a career in teaching and wonder ‘what if?’ or worse, resent the job for preventing me from finding out.
In March 2015 I eventually took the plunge and communicated I’d be resigning my position at the end of the academic year.
I honestly thought I’d be ending my career by rejecting a perfectly good permanent contract at a school I enjoyed being part of; it seemed mad to even consider leaving. Who does that?
I felt arrogant. A let down. Selfish. My school had embraced me into their community, their team and their future – and there I was absconding. What kind of teacher did that make me?
Luckily for me, my headteacher and the governors were lovely about my decision. Nothing changed – they seemed as excited for me about my plans as I was. And their reaction is actually one of the reasons I will return at some point; I was viewed as a person as well as a teacher, and in experiencing a response like that I inadvertently learnt the meaning of humanity.
I realised I wasn’t just leaving a job but a community, a place and a purpose. It has given me a stark reminder to hold on to, that education is about people – all people, including teachers.
Teaching would have me back when I was ready for it, whereas I, at that time, viewed a break as a ‘be all and end all’; I felt something of a traitor for not being ready to continue. However, I can now see that I was wrong, and appreciate the positives that the time away from teaching has offered.
Here are a handful of the benefits I gained from a break:
Having had both chicken pox and mumps in 2014, I was in dire need of a rest by the time August 2015 arrived! Some would say the time away was to recover from burnout, and perhaps to some extent that’s accurate. It had been a while since I slept so well.
In my time away from teaching I have spoken at events, written articles, consulted, spoken to university students, published research and worked for two well-known corporations.
By trying different things, I’ve found I can do things beyond the classroom and realised I have a skill-set to draw upon which I didn’t previously appreciate.
Experiencing a corporation allowed me to see that I could learn to do a completely different role to those which involve children and experience being part of a team in a different context, during which time I found my mind wandering to comparisons of leadership styles and office culture with educational settings.
The diverse, and previously scary, world of the job market is now less terrifying, and perhaps more valuably, I have a recent reminder of how daunting it can feel when you’re first learning something new.
As I said, I always wanted to see the world, so 2016 saw me take the plunge and wander to various countries as a solo traveller, talking to all manner of people.
Experiences such as discussing politics with nine nationalities the day after Brexit or conversations about the Trump/Clinton campaigns are ones which both illuminated and challenged my views.
I also felt a greater understanding of history and how it interacts with the present due to seeing points of interest, museums and in listening to the perceptions of locals. In times where there is much discussion around privilege, safe spaces and oppression of people in various ways, I feel the long awaited chance to wander has given me a broader understanding of the world and how I can support learners in navigating it.
It has also helped me to develop deeper subject knowledge and make links across places and times.
I have been lucky enough to review various education-related books which have helped me think critically about what we do, the contexts in which we do it and why.
Becoming fully absorbed in ‘Edu-lit’ when teaching can be a challenge, as it maintains a constant focus on work and diverts time away from other activities that develop one’s own identity. By being ‘off’, I’ve been able to continue swimming, walking, writing and socialising whilst broadening my understanding of the educational landscape.
I rarely read when I am in post. Looking back, I realise that a professional identity has been quietly growing, sculpted by the pedagogies of three interesting schools and exposure to different styles of delivery, but it is the ‘break’ that gave me time to really explore this, and to consider the teacher I was, and the teacher I’d like to be when I return.
One of the greatest things my time away has given me is a focus on the things I want to encounter in my teaching tapestry.
I know I’d like to experience working in an independent school or one abroad at some point. Why? Because I’m told the ethos of international schools is different to the UK and I know climate affects environment and practice too; there would be a different way of working in these contexts, along with a different culture.
I don’t know how or when each of these settings will be woven into the developing picture but it feels good to have ambitions.
For me, the time out has been one of the best professional decisions I’ve made. It’s refreshed my views and motivation and let me develop as a person as well as a teacher, which I’ve no doubt will positively impact my practice.
I’ve no doubt about this because I can already feel myself swimming rather than floating. I am excited about teaching. About students. About subjects. The Phoenix of fascination has risen from the embers within.
Teaching is no longer a prison sentence; it’s the home I come back to, loaded with Duty Free booty.