Teaching is bloody great. I can think of seldom few jobs where you go to the same room, in the same building, with the same people everyday and have a completely different experience. I love my job, I love the people I work with (even the ones I probably shouldn’t) and after almost four years in the profession I can honestly say I have no intention of leaving. But I can completely identify with those running for the hills.
On the back of my classroom door I have three class pictures. Peering into the room from behind a group of increasingly small children is the face of a rapidly aging man. I barely recognise the man in the first photo: He has spiked hair meeting in the middle like a shark fin, in a way that suggests he may just be Jedward’s older brother; his skin is tanned and smooth; his expression is a picture of youthful determination and naivety. What a difference a couple of years makes.
Looking back to that NQT year, I could not be faulted for effort, yet effort alone does not make a good teacher. I spent much of my first year hiding in my classroom hoping not to be found out, firmly clinging onto a steely determination to make myself into the best teacher I could be. I read, I listened, I learned from my mistakes and slowly I crafted myself into the type of teacher I’d always wanted to be. I put in the hours and as I did so I found my school day becoming longer and longer as I desperately tried to keep all of the plates spinning. And for that year the plates remained upright. I was the proverbial Jack of all trades, albeit master of none, yet like my plates, I was still standing.
In the years since, I have maintained the work ethic that I had in my initial year but the energy is quickly wading. Working from 7.30 in the morning until gone 5 each evening isn’t exactly an ideal working model, particularly when you often take work home with you and leave tasks unfinished. As my capability has improved over the years, so too have my responsibilities and titles. I now find myself as the leader of a Year 2 team in a three form entry school leading five teachers, five teaching assistants and 90+ children as we desperately try to navigate our way through the stress and data a SATs year always manages to create. So too do I have the lead on Maths in the Key Stage, along with leading a literacy initiative and my duties as a school governor. Alongside this I am attempting to complete my NPQML. The plates that were once spinning nicely now wobble like a bowl of jelly as I await the crunching crash of ceramic imminently.
Tasks that once seemed relatively simple now feel like the most labouring chore: maintaining an organised classroom, marking books, planning lessons, preparing resources, evaluating work, implementing ever-changing methods of assessment. The daily grind outside of actual teaching can be tough, and may you pray to whichever deity you follow for assistance dare you skip your duty for an evening for it will build up on you quicker than the debt on a forgotten pay day loan.
The energetic teacher from that first picture on the door has long since disappeared. In the mirror I now see a man aged beyond his young years: a size one razor taken to the entirety of his cranium in an effort to hide the rapidly emerging bald spots on the crown of his head; pasty white skin which suggests he hasn’t seen the sun in some time while dark wrinkles form under his eyelids; his expression is a picture of exasperation and exhaustion. He finishes each half-term like an extra from ‘The Walking Dead’ while his concept of quality time at home is slowly becoming falling asleep in front of the tele with his loved ones in his arms at the end of a long day.
What’s worrying here is that I’m no martyr. I am the new norm and many are doing much more than I am. This is the new expectation of an increasingly demanding profession. The powers that be seem set on implementing a system that simultaneously advocates increasing the retirement age while actively ensuring a generation of burnt out teachers. If this blog were a metaphorical plate, it crashed to the ground months ago as my most easily disposable task. Time is not a gift that is bestowed upon the new age teacher, and even during this week off I find myself cursing the headteacher for closing the school and demanding we take a break. Such demands will be completely ignored as I’ve come home with a list of things to do as long as my arm, all of which are playing catch up rather than putting down a platform for next half term and though I would normally have considered myself well organised, I know that my Easter holidays will be spent in much the same way.
Teaching is the most wonderful profession and I absolutely love my job, but the current workload is unrealistic and unsustainable. It is no surprise that 50% head for the exit door within five years. Should we wish to retain our skilled and dedicated young teachers, we need to change the system before the plates come crashing.