Monday, 14 September 2015

I Teach Therefore I Am?

I've been a teacher for ten years. A decade - half my adult life - spent working in the same school. And despite the challenges, despite the derision in the media, I love teaching and I'm proud of being a teacher.

When I first entered the profession I doubt anyone expected me to stick at it. I was renowned amongst friends and family for my mercurial nature, changing jobs, flats, and hair colours almost as often as I changed my clothes. It was therefore a surprise to everyone, myself included, that I didn't just stick to teaching: I excelled at it.

Whilst I roll my eyes at the concept of "a respectable member of society," teaching gave me the chance to become exactly that. After spending my early twenties going down some pretty bad paths, to find myself commanding the respect of a classroom full of teenagers, instead of in hospital or rehab, felt good. Teaching changed my life immeasurably for the better, giving me the resources to buy a house and travel, but also giving me the self-worth I'd been searching for, giving me a reason to get out of bed in the morning. In short, it made me grow up. 

So why, then, am I considering leaving the teaching profession?

I'm an excellent teacher, and in fact I've done the most effective work of my career in the past twelve months or so. But I'm not happy.

Why not? Well, there's the obvious answer - workload and stress - and that's a large part of it. You'll notice that I said in my opening paragraph that I love teaching and it's true: I love being in a classroom with a bunch of teenagers and leading them through the knotty problems of literature. However. I do not love the stuff that comes with being a teacher: the paperwork, the endless targets,  the constant pressure of Ofsted, the responsive marking (this is where the student writes a piece, I mark it, they reply to my marking, then I reply to their improvements. Brilliant idea, but imagine doing that every single week for every single student I teach). More than that, I detest being complicit in an education system that I believe actively damages young people.

Ultimately, though, it comes down to quality of life. I just don't have the energy anymore to give my all, day in day out, in the classroom. To psyche myself up to perform for five lessons, then complete all the planning and marking on top of that. At the moment I come home from work and all I'm capable of is sleep. I'm only 37, I'm pretty sure I shouldn't be feeling this exhausted all the time.

But right now I'm terrified. If I'm not a teacher, I don't know who I am. And I don't think I want to be a teacher anymore.