For the first time in a decade I’m not preparing for the return to school tomorrow – the dreaded in service to start the term where you’re told about cuts, exam results and any other bad news they can think of. And it’s such a relief to be away from all that – but to hear myself say that is a bit of a surprise because the job wasn’t all bad, it just had bad parts to it. I know all jobs have their shortcomings so I’m not ignorant to the pressures and problems other careers foist upon their staff, but teaching was tough at times.
So why did I leave? Several reasons but for me it was mostly the adults not the kids. Fellow teachers egos and attitudes often got in the way of the job; trying to play you off against other staff in the department to create a sense of competition. This was something that really annoyed me because you have to work as a team to get through the amount of work and stress the job throws at you – the last thing you need is a bullying presence trying to unsettle you or even put you down. Also there was the climbers that were only interested in moving up the greasy pole and didn’t really care about teaching. Too often they weren’t great teachers anyway and their rise up the ranks would never have happened in the private sector because they would have been found out.
Parents could also be a pain. Refusing to accept that their child wasn’t as capable as they thought often lead to finger-pointing of your ability to teach – the blame game is a big issue in some schools I have taught in over the years and what makes it worse is when the staff who should deal with it don’t you find yourself having to justify your work over the laziness of a pupil. Parents’ Evenings are thankfully a thing of the past too. You never saw the parents you really wanted, instead you had the quiet hardworking child’s parents in front of you asking what more they could do – sometimes too much and projecting their ambitions onto their offspring.
My biggest problem though in the end was me. The frantic mood swings that my bi-polar sometimes affected my work; at the bottom end I struggled with depression and the pace and volume of work that is expected of teachers and at the top my mouth engaged often without the brain being involved in the process and that’s not good for the pupils.
Often when I was struggling with the depression I would have to rely on lessons that involved the students getting their heads down and working without much input from me or marking was piling up because my mind wasn’t in the right place to get things done. Neither of these is conducive to an ideal classroom situation – although I would say in my defence that it always resolved itself by the end of each year and all work was done that should have been. Motivation is the first thing to go when you’re down and you struggle to see how you will achieve outcomes etc., so when I saw Curriculum for Excellence coming I knew it was time to get out. The fact it was so poorly designed and organised by the SQA meant that I would have struggled even more trying to keep my head above water. I know fantastically capable teachers without mental health issues that have been the same, so I dread to think how I would have been.
With the hyper state you riff and banter a lot more – are more playful and free with your classes. While that can be brilliant to use that energy for some classes, in others you become bored with the peace and quiet while the pupils are working away and I would find myself starting chats with them about different things or going off on a tangent when leading a lesson. Then the anxiety and guilt would kick in as you said something your mouth had decided upon on its own and you could hear words and jokes coming out your mouth that were either close to the bone or just downright inappropriate for a classroom setting. There is no malice or intent there but having spoken with my specialist about it he told me about several others who have said and done seriously outrageous things and faced problems because of it.
Ten years on I have fond memories of many classes and individual pupils and colleagues from the many schools and years I taught, in fact I’d go as far to say that it was the youngsters that kept me in the job for the last couple of years. I had some great times in the classroom, taught texts that struck a chord with some pupils, introduced ideas that I’ve had good feedback on and the extra curricular work – especially for Comic Relief – was some of the most fun I have had in the last decade. But tonight I have a real sense of freedom knowing I’m not going in tomorrow to the industrial coloured paint, the sea of faces that wish they were still on holiday and the department head that goes over your results with a fine tooth-comb even though you did the best you could.
I salute those who continue to teach our kids. While there are a few bad apples in there, overall the majority are professionals who give up so much of their energy and time to make the experience of school a positive one. I felt I couldn’t do that anymore so I stepped aside – and there are others that should maybe do the same before they get (any more) bitter and twisted.