To be frank, I started teaching, because many of my friends were also applying to teach or were already NQTs – all spoke highly of the profession and the HOLIDAYS! Moreover, I thought and hoped I’d be able to teach brilliantly and enter a profession with a high degree of job security.
I taught in two schools – both were incredibly high achieving schools, by local and national standards. Teaching provided an opportunity to teach brilliant subjects at GCSE, but predominately A Level, with dynamic colleagues.
Many aspects of teaching were rewarding, primarily when lessons, schemes of work and resources would discernibly develop students’ subject specific knowledge and skills, analytical proficiency and evaluative rigour. You knew you were doing the job well, lessons were engaging and challenging and ultimately the students were moving closer towards being ready for college, university and employment. Fundamentally, you could make a genuinely positive difference: students would develop a genuine interest in your subject and become increasingly motivated to succeed and this would contribute to their capacity to go apply to study or work at great institutions.
However, the magnitude of marking (assessment), report writing, PR events (Open Evenings and Parents’ Evenings), ever-increasing exam performance focus and stringency relating to performance related pay structures created, for me, an educational landscape, which culminated into an unsustainable level of stress and anxiety.
I must stress; however, I think that many schools, especially the ones I taught in, had legitimately commendable aims and aspirations, which were entirely orientated around creating exam outcomes that elevated students’ future life opportunities – creating glowingly expansive possibilities for these students. In my opinion, there is no arguing with that ideology. Notwithstanding, this often materialised in very challenging targets (and speaking candidly: they felt practically impossible to achieve); I didn’t feel I had the capacity (mostly in terms of the intense number of planning and assessment hours involved) to achieve such targets, sustainably.
Ultimately, I would work until very late each evening (the work would continue at home, usually five to six hours in addition to the hours of the school day, each day, for four days of the working week), with the exception of the summer break. I would also, broadly, work the equivalent of 9 till 4 over both days of the weekend, not leisurely but steadfastly. The issue, as I perceived it, was that (and I still believe this to be the case in any school) the volume and level of work I was doing still did not seem sufficient to rise to the height of the prevailing expectations and standards being extolled, in education today.
I’m training in finance now – and the contrast is STARK. The firm I work for may or may not be representative of a typical private sector firm, but I have work-life balance alongside professional development and a myriad of work duties. Something I didn’t feel I had whilst teaching. I would, however, be unfair if I didn’t categorically underscore the following fact: I had excellent teaching colleagues, who did achieve work-life balance and achieved amazing results and whilst I feel my standard of teaching was comparably effective – I couldn’t find a way to work at the speed necessary to make teaching sustainable for me, but where I couldn’t others have, can and continue to do an outstanding job.
Teachers need to do what’s right for them. Before making the move, it may be worth you reflecting on whether there is scope to revise your methods. There may be areas for you to trim back on your hours, by re-configuring your methods for marking and planning, without compromising the quality of your teaching! If you do this and/or have done this and it all still feels too much, then maybe, and this is a conservative ‘maybe’…you should reflect on whether you want to try to rethink your teaching model (the way you work to deliver the best tracing you can) and whether this can deliver the results you need to feel that you’re doing a good enough job, by your own standards. However, you must also consider whether this will produce the results necessary for you to keep your teaching employment secure (i.e. can you deliver the results tied to your performance related pay targets?)!