Leaving teaching – Why I quit after just one term
With numerous teachers leaving the profession within years of qualifying, we know things need to change. But what makes someone not want to return after only a few months?
My NQT mentor’s first words to me were “This will be the worst year of your life.” I don’t know whether this was meant to shock, be a reality check or whatever, but it seemed the most negative thing anyone could have done. It also, unfortunately, set the scene for what was to follow.
I embarked on my sink-or-swim NQT year, and really did try to swim – but in the end, no matter how much I worked, it was not enough.
In a typical day I would do 10 hours at school and usually be the last to leave, just in front of the caretaker. I would then crawl home in traffic to see my own children for a short time before my wife and I put them to bed.
Dinner would then follow, before I headed to the spare room between 8.30 and 9pm, turned the PC on and stayed there for another two to three hours.
There were instances of marking books at 12.30am while I wondered just what the hell I was doing.
At weekends I alternated between working half the day on both days, and working all day Saturday or all day Sunday (we were told during our PGCE course to maintain that important work-life balance by ‘Having one day off a week’).
Either way, my wife – who has a demanding full time job herself – had to entertain and cater for our two young children on her own, while I felt guilty about (sometimes literally) pushing my kids away to sit at the computer, worrying about 30 other kids who had their own parents looking after them.
The only evening I had off was Friday.
‘Just work longer’
If, after all this, I was meeting my goals, putting in a great performance and keeping on top of everything, the pain would have been bearable. The trouble was that the exact opposite was happening.
I went from being graded ‘Good with outstanding features’ in my university lesson observations, to ‘Requires improvement’ quite quickly.
My marking fell behind, to the point that I hadn’t looked at some of the foundation subjects for three weeks.
I failed to meet several deadlines for submitting the 12 incarnations of the Individual Education Plans required for pupils in my class.
Peripheral things – like my classroom audit, maintaining the class webpage, ordering new furniture and putting up new displays – just didn’t happen.
My TA started at 9am after the children came in, and seemed to have so many responsibilities of her own that I was always having to tidy up, prepare resources and be ready for the next lesson entirely alone.
I had little time to bond with colleagues, as I rarely left my classroom. I was even struggling to keep up with the never-ending planning and the frankly demoralising task of resource-hunting and differentiating that had to be completed ahead of each lesson.
All in all, I felt that no matter what I did or how long I worked, I would constantly fail. When I broached this with my mentor, her response was “Just work longer.”
At the time, I was a 40-year-old male with a 1st-class degree and 18 years of professional experience working in London.
In previous jobs I had been interviewed on live national TV and radio, briefed peers and MPs on proposed amendments to planning legislation, serviced high-profile financial clients such as JP Morgan and The Bank of New York – yet here I was, sitting in tears alone at my desk in my classroom at 8.15am because I just couldn’t see how it was possible to do what was being asked of me.
I felt utterly and totally hopeless.
After just one term, I said to myself, ‘No, I am not accepting this’. And I quit.
What needs to change
Firstly, I don’t understand why there isn’t a centralised database of plans and resources that everyone can use, so that we are all on the same page and have time to focus on delivery.
At the moment we have a tragic and needlessly inefficient situation where thousands of teachers are staring at their computer screens until late at night, all searching for the same things.
Secondly, why go to all the effort of attracting people into the teaching profession and training them up, only to then dump them in it during their NQT year?
Why can’t that first year be team-taught alongside an experienced teacher who can help and guide you throughout, assist with the necessary planning and paperwork and show you by example how they do it and survive?
For me, this would have fostered an environment in which my desire to teach would have been nurtured and grown, rather than destroyed.