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.
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?
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.