I decided to start my 3-year teaching degree back in 2009. A lot of my friends did a 1-year PGCE but since I didn’t have a degree already, I opted for a teaching degree. Nowadays bursaries are offered to students in order to encourage them to train to teach, and that is solely down to the UKs lack of teachers.
I think deep down I knew the job wasn’t right for me in my third year of training, but I thought once I got a permanent teaching job it would be different as I would have more control, rather than just ‘covering’ other people’s classes, and the kids would see me as having more authority. When the time finally came though, my lack of confidence got the better of me and I didn’t apply for many jobs. In the end I took a job as a technician in the classroom. I think this was the highlight of my time in schools. As much as I hate taking orders from people – and trust me, some teachers can be SO rude to support staff! – I had so much flexibility and I was able to manage my own workload, providing the deadlines were met. I could go to the toilet when I wanted, I could eat a snack if my stomach was grumbling, I could hide away in my office if I was having a bad day… Looking back,it was the perfect role for me. But at the time there was always that nagging doubt, what if? What if I had got a teaching job? I’d have more money for sure, and more respect. I would watch supply teachers just sit at the desk, completely oblivious while the class behaved like animals, and I would think to myself, I could do a better job.
When a job opportunity arose I was invited to interview by the Headmaster and I got the job. It was very different to my training! Like swimming without armbands for the first time, or riding without stabilisers. For once there was no-one watching me, so if I felt like deviating from my lesson it didn’t matter, as I wasn’t being judged – but at the same time I would still have to cover the topics at some point so there was very little room for flexibility! For the first few weeks I found enjoyment.
But then things changed very rapidly. My timetable was pretty busy and when I wasn’t teaching I had scheduled ‘PPA’ time, which is when teachers have time to plan or do marking without being interrupted. This time soon disappeared though that it was almost pointless as I had barely achieved anything. So I would end up working through break, lunch and after school.
Let me break it down. Each week we were expected to set at least 1 half-hour piece of homework per week. I had 16 classes of at least 22 pupils. Each pupil should get a grade, a comment and a target, plus any spelling or grammatical mistakes must be highlighted, which depending on the length of the homework can take anywhere from 10 mins per pupil to half and hour per pupil. Now I’m not a maths teacher, but even I can tell you that there physically isn’t the time to do that amount of marking! To add more pressure, book checks would be carried out at random times. This means that the head of department would come into the classroom and randomly look through a pupils book to see how well I’d been marking.
That alone was stressful, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Behaviour had to be logged, detentions had to be set and followed through (and when they didn’t turn up, they would need to be chased down!), lessons and resources had to be planned, meetings had to take place, emails had to be replied to, parents had to be phoned, homework had to be uploaded to the VLE… The list goes on. Honestly it was non-stop and you wouldn’t believe how lonely it was. You can see hundreds of kids a day and still feel completely alone.
I had several meetings with my Headmaster asking for help and support, and it’s probably also worth me pointing out that the school were very aware of the fact that I’d been diagnosed as having anxiety and panic attacks since I was 17. Nothing helped though.
Behaviour was terrible. I confiscated all sorts of items, I was spoken to like dirt (I’ve been called the worst word you can imagine, yes, that one!) school equipment and furniture was vandalised and I’ve had a chisel turned on me. I followed the correct procedures for each and every one of the incidents but nothing changed. You may also be thinking that, if I was in control of the class, or if they had enough work to do it wouldn’t happen. Well let me tell you that I planned each and every lesson thoroughly. I had additional resources prepared for those particular pupils and on occasions I shouted until I was red in the face and I lost my voice, but you can only lead a horse to water…
One day I came home from work and I froze. I came to a complete halt and I broke down. I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think, couldn’t move. I did what every daughter does in a moment of worry; I phoned my mum!
When you tell someone you hate your job so much you want to quit, they always give you the ‘it’ll be ok’ talk. You know the one I mean, the ‘it happens to everyone’ spiel. It didn’t help. The next morning I didn’t feel any better. I knew I couldn’t go to work but the time was ticking on, so I had no choice but to phone the school and call in sick. As soon as I heard the woman’s voice though, I burst into tears. I can’t explain it and I was SO humiliated. I couldn’t get my words out, but eventually she encouraged me to see my GP. When I spoke to my GP I told him everything. I told him how tired I am all the time, how my appetite had changed, how I lacked motivation, how I felt useless and vulnerable and he signed me off with depression and anxiety, and recommended me for counselling. Eventually my anxiety got sobbed that I found I couldn’t go back. That was it!
It took a long time for me to convince people just how much the job has affected me. I’ve had countless comments from people saying ‘you need to try a different school’ or ‘you should consider primary’, but NO! ….NO, NO, NO!! I am DONE! I am completely done with teaching and I need a job that I’m happy in. A nice little 9-5 job where once the day is over, I can close the door and switch off to work. I haven’t found it yet, for the moment I’m living off my savings, but my mental wellbeing is simply not worth the stress.