Throughout my life I have done everything that I felt was expected of me. I worked hard in school, achieved good grades in my GCSE’s and A Levels, went to a respected music conservatoire and then was lucky enough to find myself in a full-time job as a Learning Mentor almost immediately after graduating. Within a year, I was offered an opportunity to train as a teacher, and I’ve worked as a qualified music teacher for nearly ten years. I’ve always played it safe, followed the expected path, and never taken any risks. I can say that I’m happy to an extent, but not as much as I know I could be.
At the beginning of 2015 I made one promise to myself: if things were going to change, it had to be now – I was going to take the risk.
For some, teaching is a vocation. It isn’t mine. I’m a good teacher. In fact, according to my last three years worth of lesson observations, I’m an outstanding teacher, but I never set out to join this profession – my personal circumstances and being in the right place at the right time meant that I fell into the role rather than actively working towards it as a career choice.
I’ve been lucky to spend the last three years in an outstanding academy, with an excellent and well-respected principal, a great management team and a lovely faculty. Over the course of my career, I’ve worked with thousands of teenagers, most of whom are wonderful and who I have always had excellent working relationships with, and I feel like I’ve done it all. I’ve attended every parents evening, open evening, celebration evening and awards evening and I’ve hosted or participated in hundreds of concerts. I’ve supervised the day trips, evening performances, week-long UK based residentials and visits to France and America. I’ve played the role of teacher, parent, therapist, doctor, personal banker and seamstress to my students. I’ve laughed with them, cried because of them and mourned the few that I’ve lost. I’ve returned home at the end of a day on a huge high after brilliant lessons, and had endless sleepless nights after bad ones. During times when heavy deadlines have been looming, insomnia and I have become good friends.
I’m a firm believer in the idea that total career satisfaction is unattainable for most; some days will be good, some days will be bad and others will make you question every career choice you have ever made whilst glugging on a bottle of wine and crying on the cat, but I’ve always presumed that as long as the good outweighs the bad then you’re generally doing the right thing.
The good has not outweighed the bad for a long time. Today, I took the risk.
Today, I quit the teaching profession…
Despite the amazing opportunities I have been offered from my headteacher and support I have received from some of my colleagues over the years, I genuinely can’t remember the last point where I had a consistently positive period of time in teaching. To put it quite simply, I can’t cope with the pressure, and it’s making me ill.
In an ideal world, a teacher’s role is to teach, to support and to guide their students. It is our job to offer advice, to ensure progress is made, to make learning interesting, to inspire and to listen to their needs.
Unfortunately, in the real world, I’ve found that many teachers work far harder than lots of their students. Modern day teaching, even for those that are employed in effective schools, is not about fostering and encouraging a love of learning and a passion for a subject, it is about getting students to pass an exam or a course using criteria that is set by an exam board whilst being bombarded by data and outcomes, none of which the students will be held accountable for if they fail. It has now become a teacher’s job to almost do the work for the lazier kids because they’re scared of how the results will look. The kids know this too – I was even once told ‘you’re not allowed to fail me‘ by a smug student when I informed him that his grades weren’t good enough – and one of my biggest worries for them in their future lives is that when they do fail for the first time, it will be at a much higher cost and there won’t be an adult to step in and make everything better. Our lessons and the ability to do our jobs effectively are decided based upon a twenty minute observation and the data that demonstrates our students progress, our wages now depend on it, and I have seen accomplished and respected members of staff reduced to tears at the mere mention of OFSTED.
The pressure of the job has intensified every single year that I have been in the profession, and eventually it started to take a toll on my health. A year ago I was hospitalised with a severe kidney infection and a virus for nearly a week, followed by a further five weeks off in order to recover. This was caused because I ignored a urinary tract infection, mainly because of how busy I was. I can’t and don’t blame the school for this, but it is a common part of the job that members of staff within a school environment will work through illnesses because of the workload and worries about the detrimental impact that time off will have on their students.
My school and colleagues were very supportive and I returned in reasonable physical health, but that didn’t change the fact that the workload was there, and mentally I was sinking. I missed deadlines left and right. I had so much to remember that I forgot everything. However, what I found to be most frustrating were the pressures put on me with the older students and the achievement of their target grades, pressures that were not set by the school, but by government based targets. I started to feel constantly anxious and suffered from minor panic attacks, something that I had never experienced before. My mindset changed. I found it increasingly difficult to tolerate the laziness and apathy that some of my students demonstrated on a daily basis. I bent over backwards and exhausted myself hosting further coursework catch up sessions almost every night after school, repeatedly remarked coursework that was substandard due to the fact that some of my students didn’t bother to listen in the lessons and as it got closer to exams I became a verbal punching bag for stressed out teenagers. I rang parents, got other members of staff involved, praised, sanctioned and gave up a lot of my personal time to drag them (often kicking and screaming) to the finish line. Worse still, I started to take it personally and really dislike some of my students attitudes, particularly when they threw my hard work and support back in my face during their moments of stress. This is a common problem throughout the British education system, and is one of the biggest issues that all of my teacher friends have experienced in their careers. I remember that one friend in particular remarked that one of her most difficult classes was more focused on crowd control, not teaching.
At Christmas I realised that I simply couldn’t do it anymore. I had no idea what I was going to do instead, only that I knew that this was not how I wanted to spend the rest of my working life. Perhaps I am looking at life through rose-tinted spectacles, but I believe that happiness is more important than most things, and I was desperately unhappy. I was doing myself, and the students, a huge disservice.
I discussed it with The Bloke. We’re not married, we don’t have children or a mortgage and my only financial responsibilities are for my half of the rent and bills, the cat’s medication and vet treatments and a small loan I took out a few years ago. We’re not rich, but I have enough in savings to cover everything for a few months. At the age of 33, if I was going to do anything, it was now, and while I could see that he was (and still is) nervous about it, he has been steadfast in his support. Having witnessed what I’ve been through in the last few years, he wants me to be happy, and I’m grateful.
I am going to work until the end of the academic year, which is July and then that’s it, giving me about six months to find another job. No more data analysis and unrealistic targets, no more reports, no more relying on the performance of demotivated teenagers to prove that I am good at my job. However, I’m going to miss the school, my wonderful colleagues and most of those fantastic cherubs that I have been privileged to work with over the years. Taking such a huge risk is terrifying, but not nearly as terrifying as the thought of having to do another year in a job that could potentially destroy me both physically and mentally. I need to be happy. I’m walking away from a secure ten year career with an excellent salary, a brilliant boss and a strong pension, without another job to go to yet…
… and I couldn’t be more excited!
What about you guys? Have you ever taken a huge risk?
You can also find me on Twitter and Tumblr @suzie81blog and don’t forget to check out my Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/suzie81speaks