I am a primary school teacher and have been for over 13 years now. I trained for 4 years, and went straight into my passion. I then panicked and thought “shit, how do I know that I want to do this until I retire if I don’t at least try other options first”. So I left to see if the grass was greener in TV land (word up…it wasn’t). I missed teaching and so I returned. Then I met the man I knew I would marry, we bought a house, got married and fell pregnant. I left teaching again to have our first child. Again, I missed teaching and, albeit part time I once again returned. I fell pregnant with our second child, and once again, returned to teaching. I was like a human boomerang. But…not all that long ago, I seriously considered leaving teaching.
The last few years have been difficult for many in teaching. People are leaving at an alarming rate. The government are throwing so many incentives at the next possible generation of teachers to join up. Potential primary teachers could now receive a bursary of almost 12k. How very tempting to a student with choices! My worry is, fast forward 4 to 5 years, how will they keep them in teaching for the long haul? That is the golden question, and one that I fear the powers that be have not yet fathomed the answer to.
Pressure is constantly mounting and there are no signs of that slowing down. Schools were feeling more like machines to me than places to nurture and expand minds. The results heavy bombardment the government deem of utmost importance are priority. There is little room for nurture, curiosity and inquisitiveness. Everything is analysed and let me tell you, full time teachers work their bloody socks off to jump the hurdles. And then some. Full time teaching is a pressure cooker that I feel is about to blow. I have never known it to be so stressful.
Full time jobs are intense at the best of times but lets just think of the dynamic for a moment. We have a colossal amount of young caring professionals that are following their heart into this career. In a major sweeping statement, may I remind you that most primary teachers are young women. Young women who are at the age where their life is on the verge of changing in big ways. Maybe a mortgage, anticipating an engagement, married, or about to start a family. On the precipice of the path to their independent adult life. Except that they chose to teach. With that come full on, long days, followed by many hours of work in the evening not to mention the hours upon hours of work each weekend. Hell they may be lucky if they get a few hours on a Sunday to spend with their loved ones. Aren’t they lucky??
Now for those of you who don’t teach, or don’t know a teacher well, you may be forgiven for thinking ‘hang on a cotton picking moment, what about all this holidays you get?…..’ Let me tell you that this is like a red rag to a bull for a teacher. Just imagine for a moment you have 30 people in your house day after day, emptying various drawers and cupboards out and tipping it all on the floor to use? The state that your house would end up in would be unavoidable over several weeks. Even with the most motivational tidy up song on repeat each day!
Resources nicely mingled with others, some broken, various pieces missing, displays looking shabby, work to file, new resources to print, cut out and laminate, books to prep, cloakrooms to sort and label. That is before we even mention the colossal job of planning for the year and thinking of, and making resources for certain children who need individual help. These holidays may be holidays for the children. For teachers, it is still work. Only the kids are not there.
I have seen teachers at breaking point, teachers being signed off with stress, and we have all heard of teachers and heads taking their own lives. I have seen teachers who struggle on a daily basis because they have to find that delicate and near impossible balance between a happy family life and succeeding in this pressurised career. How is this ok?
Teaching is a passion, a calling if you like. And herein lies the problem. When you adore your job and the children you are responsible for are in your thoughts pretty much constantly you will take the stress and take the pressure and suck it up and deal with it. You do it for them and you put yourself last. Always. That is how important these little people are to you. By putting yourself last, your private life inevitably takes a backseat. So we take it, and so the pressure keeps coming because as a profession we are seen to be coping. Except the truth is, that is a lie. As a profession we are far from coping.
You may be wondering how I manage with having two children and being a teacher. The honest answer? I couldn’t. I am fortunate enough to still work in teaching but to not have the responsibility of my own class and the immense pressures that come with that. I cover classes and support the teachers that have their own classes where I can. I have the title of pastoral leader which means I am given the time to nurture, and boy is there a lot of that needed in primary now. Not just for the children. It is becoming more prevalent as each year group come in, but that is another story for another time.
So at what point do we stop and ask, to what end? Is a career Important enough to result in family conflict, or worse still, loose your family over? To be on the verge of a breakdown? A divorce? I categorically believe that you cannot hold down a successful, full time job in teaching and have a truely happy home life. The two just pull against one another. It would be unacheivable without a stay at home partner or a very patient parent or two to help you out. Constantly.
Once these young teachers begin a family, we are loosing them because of what? Pressure. For those that can afford to, family will always be on the upside of the see-saw, for those that can’t? It is a ticking time bomb. How can this be ok? Skilled and passionate teachers leaving the profession because it is an impossibility to find that balance. I don’t know what the answer is, but It breaks my heart to see such skilled teachers feeling like they are not good enough, and that they are failing. Failing at work, or failing at home, more than often, failing at both.
Just imagine that for a moment. I find it truly ironic that a job based on compassion, understanding, care and nurture appears to neglect those qualities in the staff employed to guide the next generation.
Are you a teacher, married to a teacher or have a friend that you know is feeling the same way? I would welcome your thoughts.