Why do teachers leave the profession?

I had thought this would be easy to write. I have many a time thought about what I would do if I was not a  teacher. I have thought many a time about leaving the profession, but then I never do. So why not? It’s a hard job, but so is nursing, policing and many other jobs. It is all encompassing, but so is nursing, policing and many other jobs. The pay, although above many has been frozen for years and there are few pay escalations without significantly changing the nature of the job, but it is certainly a liveable wage. The holidays, whilst needed more than in most jobs, allow me to work yet still have time with my kids. In a few years when they are at school, teaching is a convenient job to fit around the childcare. Still most importantly, the reason I haven’t left teaching is simple … I want to make a difference.

I work very hard. Monday to Friday I get into work around 7:30. In a day I don’t often get breaks, most days I have kids in detention or coming to see me for respite in my room or whatever is needed. Normally my PPA time is filled with chasing my tail, dealing with issues that arise throughout the day, marking, meetings or planning. Then there is data captures, parents to contact and all the other time consuming, energy zapping things that can crop up in a day working with 100s of hormonally challenged and sometimes vulnerable 11-18 year olds. Occasionally I might treat myself to a cup of tea, but normally food and drink consumption is done at my desk whilst working! I leave work about 4:45 to pick up my boys from nursery, play with them for a few minutes before bathing and putting them to bed, do all my household jobs then get back to work about 7:30 until often gone 11. Unless of course it’s a parents’ evening, options evening or open evening then I stay at work until gone 7:30 (not seeing my children, not being there to put them to bed). I often work at the weekends too. Then if I’m not working I’m often thinking about work … that issue that’s yet resolved, how to engage this kid, what I need to do next week to keep my head above water. Oh, but of course 13 weeks holiday a year makes it all better! I tend to go in to work a few days each holiday to catch up. I often work evenings to plan for the following term and get my marking up to date. I am also tied to those holidays. I can’t just go for some winter sun in January like others do. I have to go on holiday in the given holidays when it’s more expensive and full of kids!! Throughout the holidays you don’t just switch off, it takes at least a week to recover from the previous half term and nine times out of ten I get ill which is my body’s response to stepping off the gas! I am shattered. Maybe this is why people leave. An unmanageable workload.

As well as physically demanding (entertaining teenagers involves a lot of ‘singing and dancing’ of sorts!) teaching is a massively emotionally draining job. This is quite possibly the worst thing. I have spent time worrying about students who are having a tough time at home. I have cried over my inability to help. Some of my students have awful home lives. It saddens me so much when I talk to them and they tell me that they have no table at home to do homework or they have no time to themselves because they are a young carer. Their parents don’t read to them or listen to them. They sit in front of their computers. They think they are worthless. They are not going to do anything with their lives because they are thick. They have no understanding of how important they are. I am by no means a perfect mum, but I wanted my children and I love them so much I would be lost without them. I want the best for them and would go without so they wouldn’t need to. So I am genuinely perplexed why people have children and treat them so awfully. I am genuinely troubled when I know my students aren’t looked after how I think they should be, loved and cared for like the amazingly important people that they are. That their parents aren’t proud everyday of their beautiful children. It saddens me so much that I want to make a difference to tell these students that you can do anything you want, you can be awesome. However, I also think, there will be a time when I cannot emotionally deal with it anymore and I’ll have to walk away. Maybe this is why people leave. It is too emotionally draining.

You start your career all bright eyed, you’re going to make a difference, you’re going to change the world. Then you step into that teaching role and find that there’s so much bureaucracy and red tape you’re stifled at every turn. Every job I’ve had has led me to think that those in charge get to positions and forget what it was like to be a teacher. They forget the workload and forget what teachers do in order to do the best they can do. Instead there is a distinct lack of trust by those from above. As for the government, where to start? It’s amazing how a four letter word can instil such disgust … Gove! Trying to halt progress and take us back to an outdated education system. The government seem to be endlessly pursuing new ways to ruin the education system, maybe that’s just my perception! Then there’s Ofsted. Whilst I do agree that there should be a monitoring system to ensure continual good practice and consistency, it is unfortunately Ofsted! A little organisation set up to make teachers jump through many teeny tiny hoops that are always moving! Again, just my perception, but to be judged on potentially as little as 10 minutes watching you and your students’ ‘progression’ can be heartbreaking. All the effort, all the time to make sure every student enjoys, learns and progresses significantly can easily go off plan because of so many outside factors and if that so happens during the 10 minutes you’re being watched that grading stings! Maybe that is why people leave. A lack of trust and continual moving of hoops!

I have a Religious Studies year 11 class. There are only a few short remaining weeks before their exams. It is worth half a GCSE. I’m going to be judged on their results, on a par with every other subject, even English, Maths and Science. Yes that’s right, my 1 hour a week, worth half a GCSE subject will be compared to the other subjects that have triple (plus) the time and are sold on their importance, but even so my Professional Development will be resting on these results. I can push these students all I want, I can inspire them but I know parents and all other teachers (rightly so actually) will be telling them to focus on English, Maths and all the other full GCSEs. If I was teaching GCSE English or Maths I would be complaining about the constant changes to syllabuses or the ridiculous amount of pressure put on me to get every single student a C or above (regardless of their ability, they all need above a C because of league tables!) League tables and data driven results don’t take into account all the other issues. The results that a student comes in at year 7 with are what we in secondary are judged on at GCSE. If they don’t make those 2 levels of progression then it’s the schools fault. The school has failed them. Not their parents, not society, but school! Maybe that’s why people leave. They just cannot meet the standards.

Finally, I am not proud to say I am a teacher. I find it embarrassing. In the old days, it had some gravitas, a respect, it was a valued profession. Not now. So maybe it’s the low status of the job. Maybe it’s the behaviour of students, maybe it’s the low wages in comparison to other graduate professions, maybe it’s the lack of career progression. There are many reasons why. The people I admit to being a teacher to always respond with ‘Oh I couldn’t be a teacher’. I think that’s true. I don’t think it’s a job for just anyone, it’s a vocation I suppose and maybe that’s why people leave. They thought maybe they could do it, but actually they were not destined to be a teacher!

I just think wouldn’t it be a treat to have a little trust and let teachers just teach and try to make a positive difference, then maybe, just maybe a few more might stay!


save the world

~ by ThatTeacherSays... on March 24, 2013.

6 Responses to “Why do teachers leave the profession?”

  1. […] Thatch: I want to make a difference […]

  2. What a beautiful, thoughtful article! This struck so many chords with me and yet, throughout all your descriptions of the frustration, the heartaches and the hurdles, there was still a tone of optimism and hope. Bravo!

    • Thank you. It’s hard, but it’s all about the students and even in all the grey times there’s always at least one student that’ll remind you why you love your job or why you do it!

  3. To me the issue that makes me want to throw in the towel on days that are rough, is the workload that does not seem to have a direct relevance to the teaching learning process. Like students, I need my professional developments and meetings to be in context, not so far removed that it seems a waste of time.
    All that said, and after agreeing with what you said, I love being a teacher, but wouldn’t mind a bit more pay 😉

    • Totally agree. All the pointless ‘training’ sessions and meetings make me think I could be using this time to prepare/mark/plan/collaborate and use my time more productively!

  4. […] Thatch: I want to make a difference […]

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