Thursday, 27 September 2012

Please, sir!

So, Barack Obama wants to return to teaching after he's finished being President of the United States, does he? In an interview on ABC's daytime talk show 'The View' he said that 'working with kids' would be his ambition once his tenure as most powerful man on earth ended. (Clearly he hopes to have his lease on the White House extended for another four years first.)

I said something similar, once. (Although I wasn't the most powerful man on the planet.) When I gave up teaching five years ago I was sure I'd be back; I just needed a break. I did return to the classroom, of course, last year - working as a psychology teacher while my wife was on maternity leave. But once again the school bell rang and although I'd enjoyed my year immensely, I found myself starting to have doubts about the long term plan to return to teaching permanently.

My misgivings, though, have little to do with the classroom. Far from it. If the job was simply teaching and marking then there wouldn't be a problem. But it isn't. In common with just about every other occupation, it's about self-justification and administration - spending an inordinate amount of time responding to the demands of those from politicians to inspectors to Headteachers who seem to need to micro-manage every aspect of the job.

As an example, allow me to introduce exhibit A - the announcement last week by the Head of Ofsted that he would instruct inspectors to mark down schools that gave pay increases to teachers who were 'out the gate at 3 o'clock'. Sir Michael Wilshaw said he expected teachers to stay beyond the end of the school day in order to 'go the extra mile' for children, especially when working in poorer communities.

As I write this, at gone ten o'clock in the evening, my wife is still sitting at the dining room table, marking. She'll be there a good deal longer, too. As she is almost every evening. And yet the demands just keep on coming. Teaching, as defined by people like Sir Michael Wilshaw, is rapidly becoming mission impossible. No teacher 'out of the gate at 3 o'clock' can hope that's the end of their working day. With marking and lesson preparation extending well into the evening, every evening, encroaching into weekends and eating sizeable chunks of those oh-so-generous holidays, combined with the need to flee one set of school gates in order to arrive in time at another, I can certainly think of easier ways to earn a living.

This isn't a plea for teaching to be considered a special case. Lots of people work jolly hard, and I'll not single out any particular profession because we're all increasingly being asked for more whilst being given little in terms of pay or praise in return.

But I've decided I won't be filling any of the increasing number of teaching vacancies in the future. At least, not full-time. I've had twenty years of the highs and lows (more highs than lows, to be fair) and can only see the prospect of another twenty as being an exercise in masochism.

Which rather begs the question: what will I do when my time as daddy daycare ends?

Ask not for whom the school bell tolls... it tolls for me!


  1. Great post, Tim. My daughter is a teacher. She has two children, aged 7 and 3. She beats herself up constantly because she says being a teacher is making her a bad mother. I have to take them to school/pre-school every day except Friday. She can't get to school productions, sports days etc. She forgets to check her son's homework. She wants to read to him/help him with his homework but doesn't have time. Her 'long' summer holiday was squeezed into just a couple of weeks this year by classroom reorganisation at one end and lesson-planning at the other. She is also the Arts Co-ordinator at her school, and they are going for reaccreditation of the Artsmark: she is doing this with very little help from other, equally stressed teachers.

    She cries with tiredness. Her husband does his best to prop up their family-life, as do my husband and myself, and they do make family time over the weekends, but then she feels guilty because she has taken her children out instead of knuckling down with her work.

    She has had enough, too. She says she loves actually teaching, but hates being a teacher for all the baggage and stress that goes with it.

    I fully sympathise with you not wanting to go back - but the profession stands to lose so many teachers unless government ministers stop making such disparaging remarks and piling more work on teachers.

  2. This is a great and important post, Tim. But so sad. Like you said, many jobs make ridiculous demands, but it's not the same when a banker/engineer/writer/whatever gives it all up because of it. We are losing some of the best possible teachers because of it, and then we wonder why our educational system is in trouble, not to mention our kids. If it makes you feel any better, it's the same situation in the States. Organizations like Teach for America are now luring some of the best college graduates into teaching. But only a few of them stay after their initial contract is up. A very sad state of events.

  3. My mother taught from 1970 to 1999 and even then, without all the admin, I can remember her at the dining table when we were going to bed, marking papers, making posters and captions (no computers then) etc. Most of what she did seemed to outside of the classroom.
    Teachers are being lost already because of the extra-curricular things they have to do, but asking them not to bolt out the door if they have their own children to attend to is ridiculous. We all know that they might leave the classroom as soon as they have dismissed the kids but it's just so they can do a couple of manic hours parenting their own kids before they're back to the grindstone.
    Somehow I doubt that Obama's experience will be like that. More likely he'll tell them when he wants to go in. (And I like him, BTW)

  4. To answer your end question - you could consider becoming a District or County Councillor. Being active for your local community, new social circle, often interesting but sometimes tedious, a modest allowance that increases with additional responsibilities ( chairing committees etc.). You can bring your specialist skills (in my case finance, in your case educational knowledge) to the scrutiny process. Just a thought!

  5. What a great post - and so, so true. When I qualified, and started working, as a primary teacher in the late 1970s I loved my job. I worked hard, I marked books, wrote reports, prepared lots of fun and interesting lessons, created all my own Visual Aids (as we used to call them pre Smartboards and computers)and worksheets/workcards. I was also allowed to use my own professional judgement (learned over 4 years at college) about how things were taught, and when a child was ready to move on. I still had some time to myself, and was able to have a social life. My pupils progressed and I think I taught them well.
    I think it all went wrong when the National Curriculum was introduced. I was on maternity leave at the time and when I went back, first to supply teaching and then as a class teacher (part time) it was all different. I've dipped in and out of supply teaching/class teaching for the last 15 years and the goal posts have been changed on a yearly basis it would seem. I've decided to stick with supply from now on. I know I am very fortunate to have the luxury of being able to make that decision, and I know many people can't afford to. A lot of the joy has gone out of teaching now and it seems that it's no longer anything to do with the development of the child, moving at a pace which is appropriate for them. It's all about targets and the children are not seen as real little people any more, just numbers on a page, or green boxes on the spreadsheet if they are making expected progress (or red boxes if they are not). I'm not surprised that lots of people are choosing to leave teaching - it's certainly not the job it used to be.


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