Should I stay or should I go?

I’ve been quite exercised recently about the various discussions about the length and purpose of a teaching career, including the post from @secretteacher. This is not least because I am wrestling with a BIG decision – should I stay or should I go. Let us consider…

BBC 3’s “Tough Young Teachers” has thrown new entrants and their career paths into the spotlight. Now I didn’t know much about Teach First before this last week or so because it hasn’t really crossed my path. I’ve watched the first two episodes with great interest. Six weeks then chuck them in a classroom – actually, I think it’s cruel for both the young teachers and the kids. I don’t care how bright a young thing a body is or how bloody clever or how posh the school/university they attended, it’s like chucking Christians to lions!

There is promise – I reckon young Nick will make it despite his like tiresome use of the word “like”. He has presence in the classroom and seems to care about the kids. Claudenia might. Meryl – God help her. Here’s the thing, though, ultimately they’ll all be alright but probably not in teaching.

What I hadn’t realised about Teach First is that of you can hang out the two years and then want out, the organisation will organise interviews for you at top notch companies. I gleaned this from a colleague who, in a previous post, trained and mentored Teach First graduates one of whom told her she didn’t realise children like the ones in the school existed and she didn’t know how to talk to them. Of six TFers my colleague trained only two remain in teaching and one of them abroad.

This outrages me. Teaching shouldn’t be a stepping stone to a better, brighter more highly paid career somewhere else. Let me re-phrase that: our children should not be the stones that are stepped on to allow bright young things to gain entry to prestigious companies and jobs. Ever. Full stop.

At the other end of the scale, consider those forced out of the profession before they are ready- almost exclusively it seems older, more experienced teachers. There has been much mention of this on Twitter recently and it’s happened to a couple of my friends – one was deemed outstanding by The Forces of Darkness (Ofsted) for both her teaching and her responsibility as designated safeguarding officer. One, who had given outstanding service to her school over many years, was deliberately marginalised, and often ignored by the Head, as younger senior staff were appointed. What is that all about? Don’t we need a mix of young and older? Of old blood and new blood? Of wise old heads and bright young things? Of course we do. You can learn a lot of things in six weeks but no amount of fast tracking will give you that vital ingredient – experience.

An adjunct of this is the question of how long people should stay in teaching before they bail out for something else. Well how bizarre. Such a thought had never entered my mind – perhaps I’m just unimaginative. Would a person set off on their career path thinking, “I’ll do this teaching lark for a bit and then I’ll go and be a high court judge”? I can understand that many teachers will not want to remain in the profession forever: things change, life happens, it’s not for everyone, and some can’t cope. But it almost sounds as if teaching is something we jog along at until something better/more attractive comes along. ? I actually encountered someone once on a torture day, more usually called an interview, who planned to get a promotion for a couple of years and then go off to something more lucrative. I was livid.

How would this work in other professions? Would we expect – or be happy about – a highly trained and experienced doctor suddenly deciding to go and do something else? Do dentists and lawyers routinely just practise for a couple of years, fill their pockets and then go and re-train? In fact, why is there no equivalent of Teach First in any of these other professions?
Teaching, like these other professions, is not something to be taken lightly. Surely our young people deserve teachers who take the job seriously for the long term.

The other side of this coin is those who start off doing other things and then decide they want to enter teaching, invariably so they can make a difference. Sigh! I marvel at the ease with which they manage not only to make this transition but rise through the ranks. One example that springs to mind is working for Government to teaching assistant to teacher to deputy head in the space of something like 8 years. This is by no means unique – “I was in banking until five years ago and now I’m acting head” trilled one of the participants on my Masters course. Would that work the other way round “I’m a deputy head but I’d like to work for the Government” “I’m a teacher but I’d like to be a bank manager”? I suspect not.

And so to my BIG decision – how long I should stay in the profession. I’ve been wrestling with it for a while. You see, I really should be retiring (gulp!) but I can’t bring myself to go! I love my job. It’s a noble profession, a privilege and a joy. It’s not for the faint-hearted and it shouldn’t be for the chancers. I’ve seen and pitied those who count down the days to retirement – there I said the word! One colleague stood up on the first day of term – a training day – to display his T-shirt printed with the number of days he had to go until he retired at the end of the year!! But I don’t feel like that. I’m working with a great bunch of bright young middle leaders who work hard, bring fresh ideas and focused commitment and who value what my experience can add to the mix.

I love my teaching and I’m very successful at pushing my GCSE classes to be successful. My current Year 11 have all made a minimum of 3 levels of progress and all have Cs and above – one has an A*, several have As – achieved at the end of year 10. Of my last two C/D borderline groups, containing the bedraggled, the recently arrived and the disaffected, 80% attained C+ grades – best in the school. How can I chuck that all in?

I’m still interested. At the end of last term I attended a seminar given by David Didau on the perfect KS3 English Curriculum. My two colleagues and I are still discussing the ideas and how we can adapt them for our context. I’m all over Twitter bookmarking blogs with interesting ideas we can use as starting points. It fascinates me.

So what to do? Luckily, I’m healthy, full of energy and ideas, love my job and am successful. I thought about going this summer but somehow this seems a tad too soon.

Maybe next year.

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3 thoughts on “Should I stay or should I go?”

  1. It seems to me you have a lot to offer the kids (and staff), the school has a lot to gain from keeping you and you still have the hunger/passion. I would be in no rush to leave the classroom yet, we need people like you in the profession!

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