As I started in the world of work my Dad once told me that whatever job you do, you start off loving it, then you hate it, then you just tolerate and do it. I don’t know how right he is about that because I’ve never been in any job other than teaching long enough to experience that whole cycle. However during my time as a PGCE student and now almost 6 years as a teacher I feel as if I have gone through the various stages of loving, hating and tolerating many times, though not necessarily in that order.
There have been many times when my dislike of my job has made me consider a career outside of teaching, and this has come from variety of sources which I will discuss later. Fortunately for me,and many other teachers, these negatives are often outweighed by the intangible job satisfaction I cant imagine getting from any job other than teaching. As I explained to a colleague earlier this week, I am lucky enough to teach some classes that I would happily teach for free and do so over a many other of my pastimes or hobbies. So why would I, or any one of the 47,700 teachers in who left the profession in 2010-11, choose to do so.
Personally, and I suspect for many others, it has nothing to do with pay. We would all like more pay no doubt, but as long as we have enough money to look after ourselves, a little more or a little less isn’t going to make that much difference to our long term happiness. I just said I’d do some of my job for free, so I cant really be that unhappy if my pay rises by 1% instead of 3% in a given year. Closely linked with the pay argument is that of pensions. Yes they are getting worse. Yes it is frustrating that the government appear to be able to propose and push through such changes that break previous agreements. However, they are still pretty damned good when you compare them to anyone working outside of the private sector so as teachers we cant feel too sad about the amount we will be getting. Nor is day to day happiness likely to be affected by long term considerations such as what we will be doing in our retirement.
So why do people leave the profession? Well no post about teaching and unhappiness would be complete without a mention of Ofsted. Whilst they might not create unhappiness as such, they certainly create one of the most stressful atmospheres I have ever experienced in my life. Having worked in a school which, when I joined, had recently entered special measures, I have seen my fair share of such atmospheres. I’m sure there is no other job or industry where the subjective judgement of someone observing 30 minutes of your work in a whole term, or year, or longer, has such an influence on the way you and the organisation you work for are seen by others. If anyone doubts the subjective nature of this process it is worth me pointing out that due to the regularity with which I have been observed by Ofsted I have actually taught and been observed teaching exactly the same lesson to two different classes. On one occasion I was judged to be a “good” teacher with outstanding features, and on another occasion merely “satisfactory”. In any job where you perform consistently but are judged differently for consistent performances, it at best creates frustration, and at worst creates anger.
This brings me on to my second point. Personally, to enjoy doing anything I like to feel as if I am getting better at it. This inconsistency of observations as described above makes it difficult for an individual to know for certain that they are improving and therefore difficult to derive happiness or satisfaction in this respect. If someone cant say for certain that they are improving, this could perhaps be replaced by the knowledge that they are in a position with the support and expertise around them to allow them to develop and get better at their job if they themselves put sufficient effort in. So conversely when someone feels like they are in a situation where they feel that support and expertise isn’t there they are likely to feel frustrated and unhappy. From my own experience this latter situation is the more common one. Where CPD is organised by the school because someone says it has to be, not because it is the best tool there is for improving the quality of teaching in a school. Where several good lessons are observed by SLT and the only way to improve suggested is to use mini-whiteboards for AFL. Where any attempt to encourage discussion and evaluation of existing policy or procedures is seen as criticism and “being difficult” rather than a genuine attempt to improve practice and skills within a school. In my experience schools are not places that innovate very well, especially when the attempts or persuasion to innovate comes from the bottom up rather than top down, which conveniently leads to the next issue.
In any workplace people like to feel they can make a difference. In one sense there is no better job than teaching to contribute to a feeling that you are making a difference, and as a teacher I’m sure that we all make a great difference to pupils’ lives in a variety of ways. But try and make a real and noticeable difference to the place you work in and you are likely to come up against a variety of barriers: health and safety; what Ofsted want; time; money; “that sounds like too much work”; and “have you filled in the orange, blue and green forms in triplicate?”.
The final reason I think many leave the profession, and I realise the apparent contradiction in what I’m about to say, is other teachers. I often tell people that I love teaching, but I don’t like being a teacher. Too many teachers, as in many other professions or occupations have got stuck where they are, spend their day whinging to anyone that will listen, but wont move on, whilst those who have only been in the profession for a couple of years pick up on this negativity, see a miserable and cynical version of themselves in the future and get out before it’s too late. Many “career whingers” get so stuck in to this that it is difficult to have a stimulating and meaningful conversation with them as it always comes back to how terrible life is doing the job that they have chosen to do for the last however many years. So much so that it gets to the point where those of us that still have some energy and positivity are much more likely to have a stimulating conversation with the 15 year old pupils we teach than the highly educated colleagues we work with.
As I said at the start of this post, there are many reasons why teachers may leave the profession and above are some of what I consider to be the main ones, or at least the main causes of unhappiness in the profession. Even though these negatives exist, there are far more reasons (about 30 of them every hour) why many people go into teaching and many stay there for their whole careers. On the odd time when I consider leaving the profession I ask myself what I would rather do. Six years on I am still struggling to come up with an answer.