Leaving So Soon…?

There is a crisis going on in teaching. Actually, right now is a great time for crisises (not a real word) all across the world. Earth has been in the crisis business for the last couple of years and business is booming. There’s never been a better time to be a displaced refugee, endangered coral splat, NHS patient who’d prefer to stand or bag of sand salesman (flood reference) but for the purposes of relevance and cohesion, let’s stick to the one affecting our mutual vocation – the seemingly impossible task of retaining teachers.

There seem to be many contributing factors as to why educators leave the profession. Being a member of the Fleeing Rats contingent myself I can tell you why I only lasted 5 years and why it is that when schools find out I used to be a teacher some, not all, regard me with a look usually reserved for the rest of the kids while they watch the one class who gets to go to Alton Towers for the day dance gleefully onto the bus.

Workload: I learnt an important lesson after only a couple of weeks of training to be a teacher, but it didn’t come in the official welcome pack, rather as a weary piece of anecdotal truth: you can’t do everything. Teachers exist in a troublesome paradox where it’s universally acknowledged that to complete all set tasks is an impossible endeavour, while constantly being chastised and judged on your inability to complete all set tasks. I eventually had to weigh up the unrelenting workload; the data entry, the marking, the lesson planning, the ever-evolving curriculum, the hair loss and create a statistical formula which boiled down to which tasks, when not accomplished, would lose me my job. Priorities, people.

Support: In my first teaching role I was lucky enough to be in a fantastic English department, the flagship department and envy of the whole school. But it wasn’t an unfathomable algorithm or shares in Thumper’s Stumps Emporium that got us there. Yes, there was a huge amount of work to be done, there were constant obstacles to be negotiated and biscuits to be bought, but all was achieved through an uncomplicated system of mutual respect and support. In the inevitable highs and lows of teaching you need to know that someone has your back and having an entire department underpinning your work creates an environment where everyone wants to achieve and play their part. I’ve since worked in far less supportive departments and the damage that does to your enthusiasm and accomplishment can not be understated.

Behaviour Management: To tell the truth I don’t think I ever got this right. People say that you need to have a certain personality to roll with the everyday incursions that are commonplace in the classroom, but I don’t believe that. I think you need to develop this kind of personality alongside coping strategies which can only be achieved after years in the job and that was something I didn’t have. There’s no substitute for time and experience in every career, but none more so than in teaching – just ask any supply teacher. The problem is staying put for long enough.

These are not revelatory declarations. Everyone knows that teachers work too much (on average 54.4 hours per week – 60 for senior leaders) are over-stressed and undervalued while their earnings have dropped 12% in the last ten years. The question is not why are teachers leaving, that much is self-evident; the question is: what is anyone doing about it? If all of these factors are well-documented and as obvious as the pimple-pocked nose on a year 9, why has the profession been left, much like that nose, to burst? These are my proposals for solutions:

– More funding and higher wages
– Regular access to counselling services for teachers at all levels
– Less ‘visible’ marking
– INSET days which aren’t about teaching, but rather bonding
– One pupil execution per year
– A consistent curriculum with government supplied schemes of work (adaptable and optional)
– Job swap days – where senior and junior staff get to appreciate each others’ roles

One of these is just a joke, obviously. I mean, higher wages, as if…