Teaching: a Toxic Profession?

I’ve been playing it safe on the blog recently.  Posts like this one have been of the informative variety or Point Shoot ones trying to help me cultivate a ‘gratitude attitude’ – an important aspect of mindfulness.

The reason? Constantly juggling family life and being a teacher is taking its toll. But I couldn’t work out why.  Family life is the same as ever – a mixture of chaos and cuddles – and on the face of it my job is the easiest its ever been.   My timetable is lovely.  The students are lovely.  My colleagues are lovely. So everything is lovely, right?

Wrong. To paraphrased Hamlet – there is something rotten in the state of education and it is draining many members of the teaching profession, including me.

a cup of coffee and some marking

The shadow of austerity has hung over pretty much half of my teaching career and it is making the vocation that I entered even harder than ever.

So how was my job different pre-2010 to post-2010 and how are the children in our schools being effected?

Class Sizes

In my experience key stage 4 and 5 classes have increased in size by about 30% and some have grown by as much as 50%.  Before austerity hit it was much easier to nurture, stretch and challenge the teens in our care.

Teachers had the time to really get to know their students and the areas they needed help in. Students could get regular feedback on their work and their progress robustly monitored.  Fast forward seven or so years and this may not always be the case. Students can ‘get lost’ in bigger classes, will not always get the important individual feedback that would have once been available and their needs not met as effectively as they could have been a few years before.  There is also a possibility that lessons may become less creative and less focused on developing transferable skills with debates, group work and discussion activities all more difficult to facilitate effectively with larger classes.

Stressed out teachers

Teaching has always been intense. During my first two years of working in the classroom I would regularly work a 50+ hour week. I used to jump out of bed on a Saturday morning and plan all my A Level lessons for the week ahead.  However, as a profession we were less stressed.

Morale was fairly high and so it was easier to be engaging, compassionate and empathetic with colleagues and the students in our charge.  This may not be the case in lots of schools at the moment.  Stressed out teachers are just in self-preservation mode and may appear snappy, ‘jobsworthy’ or unsupportive due to the immense pressure and strain that they themselves are feeling.  This is not to say that there are not still lots of teachers going ‘the extra mile’ for those they work with but this is becoming more difficult when paperwork and the pressures of student attainment are mounting up for those at ‘the chalk face’.

The expectation that parents and children should pay for textbooks

I feel deeply uncomfortable telling our students they have to buy their own textbooks.  However this is the expectation now. Pre-2010 this wasn’t the case.   This often means that the student who comes from a less well-off background struggles to buy the textbook and has to go without something else as a result.  Or they take longer to buy it then someone else and this could negatively impact their learning. Surely this isn’t fair?  It rankles.  There’s lots like this in my day that doesn’t sit easily with me now.  This isn’t to blame the school where I work.  This is just the nature of working in state education in the UK in 2017.  It’s physically and emotionally draining.  I suspect it’s a feeling that many other teachers share too, and I’m sure is a common feeling across the public sector generally.

And yet while the situation in classrooms worsen, expectations of our teachers continue to rise. It is clear that the drive to raise standards rests firmly on the shoulders of teachers.

But our own living and working standards are falling.  Real pay is falling, workload rising and morale is at rock bottom. We are being squeezed.  There is only a certain about of time people can work in this situation before it negatively affects their well-being and that of their family. And so teachers are leaving the profession in droves.

So far I have continued to teach in these times. It is not a decision made for financial reasons.  I pay as much in childcare as I earn.  You see I’ve always got enough signs from the people I work with that I am making a difference. The thank you cards, the examination results, the smiles and heartfelt goodbyes at the end of an academic year. My gut feeling.

And yet this seems to be changing. I don’t believe in the curriculum I teach anymore.  Anglo-centric history that doesn’t celebrate diversity nor teach about other cultures the way we did pre-Gove (yes his legacy as Education Minister still lives on despite him no longer being in office).  And I am constantly thrown into situations I feel out of my depth in as CPD opportunities dry up due to budget cuts.  We are finding our way with lots of things – new GCSEs, how to help students in this age of social media, the mental health crisis hitting our young people, the list goes on.

And so to get to the title of this post.  The other day I was listening to the radio and it was a feature about toxic people and how to handle them. The expert advised for people to ask a question of the people around them and if the answer was ‘yes’ then essentially you should cut and run.

The question was:  ‘Am I being harmed more than the good that I do?’

It dawned on me that this question could also apply to the teaching profession.  And in all honestly I think – yes.  At this moment I may be being harmed by my day job more than the good that I do for the students I teach.

Maybe it’s just the ‘November’ or ‘week ten’ effect.

Or maybe the career I entered fifteen years ago has become a toxic profession.




  1. November 18, 2017 / 7:36 am

    As the only member of my immediate family not in the teaching profession I totally see this. Great post 👍

    • onamindfulmummymission
      November 20, 2017 / 10:46 am

      Thank you X

  2. November 18, 2017 / 9:53 am

    Oh no!!! This what the government has done they are driving the best people, the most passionate and caring out of teaching and it makes me so so cross. I totally understand everything you have said here and I think if I was in the Uk I would have stopped too. #thesatsesh Brilliant post! 🌸

    • onamindfulmummymission
      November 20, 2017 / 10:45 am

      Thanks so much Catie. You are so right. XX

  3. November 18, 2017 / 3:05 pm

    I found this post very honest and believe that many teachers are feeling exactly the same way. I’ve seen teachers in their thirties already showing signs of being disillusioned by the profession. #thesatsesh

    • onamindfulmummymission
      November 20, 2017 / 10:44 am

      Thank you – yes mindfulness doesn’t always have to be about positivity (as you know) it is about honesty too. X

  4. November 18, 2017 / 4:44 pm

    It is the same here in the U.S. My fifth grader just lost a really great teacher because she found a better position that complimented her skills outside of teaching. The politics of Education has become way too daunting for many teachers who just want to teach our children in the best way they can but the overbearing curriculum they have to stick to and the ever dark cloud of state standardized tests that loom over the teachers every year is gut wrenching and we are losing a lot of good teachers because of it. I don’t believe the profession itself is toxic per say but rather the powers that be are making it that way with all of their high, unrealistic demands on teachers, parents, and students as well as the bureaucratic red tape that teachers are constantly finding themselves up against. It really has to stop!

    • onamindfulmummymission
      November 20, 2017 / 10:44 am

      You make excellent comments and yes are exactly right re the ‘toxic’ bit. I’m so sorry that you lost a grade teacher recently. Thanks so much for the thoughtful comment xx

  5. November 19, 2017 / 5:35 am

    Im glad you’re shining some light into the life of teachers, and the stresses that come with this profession. Because I think that a lot of us parents just don’t know. I completely agree that expectations of teachers is high, and this profession has been the bud of the joke for far too long. We need to change. #thesatsesh

  6. Clare xxx
    November 19, 2017 / 9:32 pm

    Oh, Hayley, I’m so sorry to hear that you’re feeling this way, and so guilty to have ‘jumped ship’. You’ve very much expressed the ways that I was feeling too though, and so eloquently. If you *ever* want to talk, you know where I am. And if you want a virtual hand hold while you also leap before the ship sinks I’m your gal. Big hugs xxx

    • onamindfulmummymission
      November 20, 2017 / 10:41 am

      Thanks Clare – what a lovely comment. Don’t ever feel guilty! xx

  7. November 22, 2017 / 9:22 pm

    #thesatsesh no way, it isn’t toxic, protocol is – this term is heavy emotionally and the winter months don’t help BUT I think its the best job on the planet – I have a clear purpose and yes most days I can’t get even close to my ‘to do list’ and i often think I’m talking to myself….but then i have moments like today – when my yr 11’s sit an exam – do shit, and i feel like I’ve failed them – and then today we go over the paper and then PING the classroom is lit up and they left understanding devolution. A concept that most adults don’t get. Keep smiling lovely, keep digging and faking those smiles. I know one thing to be true – our profession and the children in our care NEED us. The need love, reassurance and consistency (unlike my ability to photocopy), we survived week 10 and will sail into week 11 calmer.

    • onamindfulmummymission
      November 23, 2017 / 4:35 pm

      Thanks so much lovely – you are right on so many levels here xx

  8. November 23, 2017 / 12:45 pm

    I know a lot of mums who have quit teaching because they didn’t feel like it was compatible with family life – it sounds very stressful. #ablogginggoodtime

  9. mackenzieglanville
    November 24, 2017 / 11:41 am

    I used to find the same thing with nursing, the politics and budget demands reduce the care that I wanted to give! I totally agree teachers are under-appreciated and it is so wrong! It is sad to think that some children are missing out on textbooks they need too. Thank you for sharing this with #ablogginggodtime

  10. November 24, 2017 / 7:39 pm

    Thank you for writing such an honest post. I’m sorry you feel this way, but not surprised. Many moons ago I wanted to be a teacher. It’s all I’d wanted to do since I was small. Circumstances meant that it didn’t happen, and I feel I dodged a bullet. I have the utmost respect for anyone working in education – successive governments have all but decimated the profession, and I fear for my children’s futures. It sounds as though you have some thinking to do – good luck! #thesatsesh

    • onamindfulmummymission
      November 24, 2017 / 9:47 pm

      Thank you so much xx

  11. November 24, 2017 / 8:59 pm

    The eduction system in this country has definitely been destroyed over the last few years. There seems to be to much emphasis on form filling and box ticking in terms of results and not enough on engaging children in the learning process. My son loves learning but school is stifling that rather than enhancing It and I know that’s because of the pressure the teachers are under to meet certain targets, that’s all the parents evening seem to focus on. My parents are both teachers in secondary schools and I know they are feeling it too, something really needs to change and the power needs to be given back to the teachers x

    • onamindfulmummymission
      November 24, 2017 / 9:46 pm

      You are so right – how disappointing about that parents eve appt. So disappointing xx

  12. November 24, 2017 / 11:15 pm

    So many of my friends are teachers , and some of the most talented , empathetic women I know have left the profession this year. Such a loss but I Just think they do feel their home life is suffering and it’s not appreciated. So sad , teachers are so necessary , good teachers are an inspiration #thesatsesh

    • onamindfulmummymission
      November 26, 2017 / 10:01 pm

      It is so very sad. xx

  13. November 26, 2017 / 12:11 am

    I wish that teachers would get the kudos and benefits for the hard work that they do day ina nad day out. After all, we trust our children with them all day for years! They should be the highest paid and most revered in the culture, everywhere. Bravo to teachers! #thesatsesh xoxo

    • onamindfulmummymission
      November 26, 2017 / 9:59 pm

      Thank you xx

  14. mackenzieglanville
    November 26, 2017 / 11:35 am

    popping back from #thesatsesh

  15. November 27, 2017 / 8:56 am

    Twelve years of teaching and I was done. I handed in my notice last Christmas and haven’t looked back. My love was gone and no doubt a lot of that was due to how the profession changed. I thought it was my vocation but now I don’t know. #familyfun

    • onamindfulmummymission
      November 27, 2017 / 11:21 am

      Wow – this is very though-provoking. Thanks for your honesty. XX

  16. November 28, 2017 / 7:38 pm

    Having listened to others who are teachers in the past it sounds like the profession has changed over the years. I don’t understand why the children should buy their own text books after years of not having to. I think you should do what makes you happiest after all we only live once. #ablogginggoodtime

  17. November 30, 2017 / 4:56 pm

    That’s really sad actually, to hear of it’s demise. You hear it in the media a lot but reading it like this has really made it hit home. I have heard so many teachers complain about Gove and I don’t really understand how he changed things but what I do understand is that no one seems happy about it and that he seemingly has a lot to answer for. It really is a shame. It seems as though austerity has taken its toll in so many sectors and nobody really knows if it is going to get any better. We can but hope I guess. Thank you for joining us lovey #familyfu

    • onamindfulmummymission
      November 30, 2017 / 9:08 pm

      Thanks hon – yes I agree austerity is taking its toll on the country in general….. I wish it were not so…. xx

  18. December 9, 2017 / 10:08 am

    I missed this post and I have to comment……as a teacher of the Primary phase, it’s shite down here too! the stupid amount of testing has destroyed all the creativity. When I first started teaching, it a child brought in a spider/it snowed, some dad had a new car, we would all talk about that, draw pictures, I would find related books etc etc. Honestly on my teaching practise all these things happened. Move forward (cough) 23 years and all that has gone. I feel I have to rush children through concepts as I don’t have the time to consolidate things, the grammar in year 5 and 6 is crazy, the maths curriculum is far to hard for many, many children and if your child has minor special needs, I’m afraid they are lost. I am so thankful that my own children are almost finished. Parents, you have to fight for your children now and you MUST do stuff at home with them if they are to keep up with the curriculum. The new GCSEs and ALevels are crazy hard but so is the stuff children are supposed to learn at Primary level too. I’m joining you Hayley but adding a Primary soap box! I still love the teaching but plan to go part time again soon; it’s just too much. Xx

    • onamindfulmummymission
      December 9, 2017 / 9:08 pm

      Oh I really don’t know what to say… I am so pleased you commented but so sad that it’s the same at primary level too (though I suspected as much). I’m so sad that you guys lack the time to explore important issues and concepts and can’t believe that my Yr 2 son is coming home and telling me about similies, and semi-colons! Surely 7 year olds don’t need these in their lives yet?! I wonder about my little ones moving through the system and am worried…. XXX

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