Saturday, 23 August 2014

Another Perspective

(If you're a newcomer to this blog and you'd like to start the story of how I came to leave teaching from the beginning, then click here.)

When my husband first talked about leaving teaching, I had two main concerns. The first was how easy it would be for him to find something else that he would find rewarding. My second concern was about money or the lack of it (rather obvious this one; I wasn't really ready to give up my gym membership and sign up for a future without holidays). Even at this stage though, the concerns were far outweighed by more positive emotions such as relief and excitement. 

The relief is perhaps hard to understand if you've not been married to a teacher. In a way, as a teacher's wife, I became part of the world of teaching. I've spent many a Saturday walking up and down the High Street helping to look for 'school stuff': props for the next play or role-play corner, baking ingredients, prizes, you know the kind of thing. I've also become excellent at backing displays, filing work, sticking labels on drawers, guillotining and gluing (anything to get him home sooner). That's the practical side. The emotional side is another thing entirely. It's hard to see someone you love being constantly battered by their work. I found it hard to relax and felt guilty about having free time when my husband was working such long hours at school and also working from home at evenings and weekends. Free time is limited and when inspections and Ofsteds come along, you can forget it altogether. This isn't meant to sound like a moan. I don't think that I had a bad life before my husband said cheerio to teaching and I was more than happy to support him in his career but I didn't know what kind of a life we were missing until he made the decision.

So were my fears founded? In a word, 'no'. My husband had obviously already put some thought into leaving teaching and suggested doing supply work to give him the time to research other job opportunities and also to give us a decent income while he found other work. He's now enjoying his new job and has no fears about changing again if necessary. I needn't have worried; he's a resourceful chap.

My second concern was money. I found that because we had a decent household income, and little spare time, we didn't have the time, energy or need to look for ways to save and cut down on our spending. When you have to, there are loads of ways that you can save money, make money and cut down. We had a good clear out and got rid of a load of stuff we didn't need at the local car boot. Not an experience I'd want to repeat but it was definitely worth it financially. Martin Lewis has saved me a pound or two as well. Following his advice, I've got more bank accounts than the average person but with a few strategically placed standing orders so that I can meet the minimum monthly funding requirements on the various accounts, I've managed to get a decent amount of interest for our money. I've also saved loads on gas, electricity, home and car insurance and holidays (so much cheaper going in term time). Finding out that the gym does a cheaper off-peak membership that actually suited me better was a bonus.

For me, the fact that my husband earnt a decent wage each month, gave me security. When I challenged my thinking, I really didn't need a teacher's salary to give me the level of security that I needed. For me, I learnt to be realistic about how much of a reserve we actually needed for those unexpected events. Funnily enough (well, not funny at all at the time) our reserve levels have been put to the test since my husband has said goodbye to teaching. We've recently had one of those dreaded unexpected events and it resulted in ten weeks with no second income. And guess what? We were fine. Okay, so we didn't go out as much and we didn't book the second holiday that we had planned but we were absolutely fine. And now that we're back to two full-time salaries, I feel positively wealthy. 

Now it's a completely different life. I have a husband who comes home from work at a reasonable time. Sometimes he meets me from work and it's lovely just to sit and chat. He seems a lot more relaxed and obviously, that's had an effect on me. It's given us both more free time as well; I hardly ever cook tea now. Evenings and weekends are times to be enjoyed; not just for getting stuff done that doesn't fit into the week and to bolster your strength for the week ahead.

Okay, so now we can't afford a posh meal out every week but that's no bad thing health-wise and I can honestly say that I enjoy our meals out more now than I used to because we've had to wait a few weeks. I take a lot less for granted and trying not to sound too cheesy, I feel like a better person for it.

The decision that we made for my husband to give up teaching has had a huge positive impact on both of our lives. We now have time to do stuff that we want to. The world seems to have taken on a slower pace and I love it. 

(In the next post I'll sum up the pros and cons of leaving teaching.)

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Money Issues

(If you're a newcomer to this blog and you'd like to start the story of how I came to leave teaching from the beginning, then click here.)

Right then: money. Let's state the obvious right from the beginning: if you stick to my plan of leaving your teaching position and taking a lower paid job, you will have less money.  But how much less? I'll go through my situation and tell you some of the things I've done to try and help the situation. Bear in mind that this is a worst case scenario (in money terms). If things are a struggle, supply is still viable and if you're really desperate there will always be teaching posts. 

The total gross income for my household has dropped by 40% (my new job borders on minimum wage but my wife has a moderately paid job). That sounds like a pretty big drop. But let's look at net pay. The drop is now only 32%. This is due to me virtually not paying any tax (not because I'm Lewis Hamilton but because of my low pay). That sounds slightly better, even though it amounts to a fair amount of money lost per month.

So it is still a big drop. I had learnt a valuable lesson earlier in my teaching career when I went part time for a few years. We wrote down how much we had to spend on essentials: mortgage, gas, electric, water, council tax, food. Some of those are fixed but we found cheaper deals on things like gas and electric ( was great for tips on this, along with bank accounts etc.). Plus we made savings  on gas and especially electric usage. For example, we didn't leave anything on standby and we only turned on lights in the rooms that we were in. Food was another thing that was easy to cut back on, we changed from a luxury brand to a normal brand, or a normal brand to a basics brand. Note that eating out didn't come under essential food, that came under a different budget. We saved some money on the essentials but more savings were still needed.

The next layer down were the things that we needed to help us work, the main one was probably a car (although walking or biking to work would be a massive saving). Again, comparison websites were great at getting the best deal for car insurance; companies don't reward your loyalty in the slightest. 

After all of those things were taken out of our net pay we were left with a figure. This figure had to pay for everything else, food out, presents, vet bills... everything really. So we gave ourselves a weekly budget. Any time we spent anything we wrote it down and it came out of the budget. If we wanted anything more expensive, we had to save for it. 

In my first ten or so years teaching I used to buy a lot of stuff. After all I was working hard so I deserved a treat: DVDs, CDs, computer games and consoles (all bought on the day of release), stereos, flash televisions, expensive holidays etc. All of these things gave me pleasure. For a short time. That initial buzz of a purchase soon left me and I had to buy something else. So I took on a management role so I could buy more stuff. And I entered a vicious circle: work to buy stuff, want more stuff, work even more. My purchases were a plaster on my general unhappiness at my lack of a life. But the plaster was one of those useless ones that kept peeling off, revealing the raw wound beneath.

Having a weekly budget forced me to think about two things when I wanted to buy something: Do I really need it? Can I afford it? If the answer to both was yes, then I'd buy it. My spending stopped immediately. I had more time from working less and so I didn't feel the need to spend, spend, spend.

When I went back to working full time I carried on with the budget, I had broken the cycle. In my new job I've got loads more free time. Instead of getting that quick fix of retail therapy I now enjoy doing activities that cost little. One of my favourite things is meeting my wife after work and sitting in a cafe chatting about our respective days. (Please note that this  isn't in a Costas but in a proper cafe run by proper people who can be bothered to greet you with a real smile and make sure that the tables are clear and clean and don't hassle you to buy Portugese Custard Tarts. Rant over.) I'm enjoying the extra time way more than the extra money.

I haven't mentioned mobile phones yet. You may have been shocked to see that a mobile phone contract wasn't on my essentials list. I know I'm extreme, but my retro pay-as-you-go phone costs me about £30 a year. All I'm saying is that it's worth thinking about the two questions I asked myself from above: Do I really need it? Can I afford it? It's definitely a place where savings can be made. (I think I've done well not getting really ranty again there.)

Mobile phones bring me to an important point: status. This is something new to me. I've been surprised at how much people value status. I always knew that it was an issue but recently I've been reading books on consumerism and economics and the fact that status is such a driving force has been a revelation. When I left teaching it didn't enter my head that people would see or treat me differently. One of the books I read said that people are worried that if they take a lower paid job they won't be able to stay in the same social circles, they will be cast out as a low paid leper. All I can think is that if their friends are that shallow then I'd rather be without them. My friends have all stuck by me and don't treat me differently at all. The status problem boils down to this: How desperate is the urge to leave teaching? Does the happiness gained from status outweigh the unhappiness of teaching? 

All of this is from my point of view and the situation that I'm in. We haven't got any children so that's an added complication we don't have and I can't really comment on how that would change my actions. My only thought is that I would include them in the budgeting process as it is an important life skill. Sacrifices do have to be made. To lose that much money a month means that things can't carry on in the same way. For example, I used to buy DVDs on the day of release from HMV because I needed them there and then. Now I wait until they have come down in price and buy them online, sometimes in a used condition. Also what I've done recently is downsize my car from a Focus to a Seat Mii. It has way better fuel economy and the car tax and insurance is cheaper too. (I also bike the 9 miles to work three days a week but this is more for fitness than penny pinching.) The thing that has surprised me is how much it hasn't bothered me. The gains have been too great.

I probably jumped into all of this in a pretty harsh way but there are ways to test the water first. It is always possible to carry on teaching and try the above things to make savings and see whether it is possible. Supply teaching is also a nice midway point because the wages are closer to a full-on teaching post but without a lot of the pressure. You will obviously come up with other savings that can be made in your own life. An extreme example would be to downsize to a smaller house, so there are always options. This may be something that you feel that you can't do right now at this moment in time but maybe things can be put in place to enable you to do it in three or five years. It's well worth it.

You may think after all of the above, here's this frugal mad man, leaving his permanent post and putting his wife through a life of scrimping and saving hell, and we're only hearing his side of the tale. So okay, the next post will be from my lovely wife, giving her perspective on things. See you soon.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

My New Job

(If you're a newcomer to this blog and you'd like to start the story of how I came to leave teaching from the beginning, then click here.)

My new job is a bit of a strange one, not something that I would have even known existed when I first left teaching. It's only been through luck and volunteering that I managed to find it. I am now a gardener but I work with adults with learning difficulties too.

It all came about because I made a promotional video for a department of the council that dealt with adults with learning difficulties. They were pleased with the result so I was asked to make a video for a gardening social enterprise. It was dead easy to make because wherever I pointed the camera something interesting was happening. I loved being there so much I decided to volunteer. And as luck would have it a job became available. I applied, got it and I've never looked back.

A typical day consists of loading up the van with petrol lawnmowers, strimmers and hedgecutters amongst numerous hand tools. I then take a team of four or five service users out into the community and we cut people lawns and generally keep their gardens tidy. I even get to use a sit on mower and if that doesn't make you jealous I don't know what will.

Sometimes we have to do garden clearances for people who are unable to do it themselves. We arrive and see a mass of long grass, overgrown hedges and shrubs intertwined with viciously barbed brambles. It's our job to cut all of this down - revealing hidden paths, patios and rockeries - remove the rubbish and do any finishing touches. These are some of the most rewarding jobs as the homeowners are usually so happy to have their gardens back in a tidy state that they feel more able to maintain. Tears have been shed.

Any brilliant aspect of this job in particular is working outside. Any sunny, I'm out in it. Any miserable rainy day, I stay and work in the garden centre. The winter was really miserable as a teacher, never seeing daylight. I don't tend to notice the shorter days now because I'm out in the light all day. I know that this won't apply to every job but it's definitely a bonus. No fake tan for me.

In my last post I talked about transferable skills. You're probably thinking, well then Mr Clever Pants, which teaching skills do you use in your lovely gardening job? Loads, is the answer. My behaviour management skills come into use on a fairly regular basis. Classroom management skills also transfer across pretty easily. I have to give out tasks to the service users and check that they carry them out properly and safely. Dealing with customers also draws on the skills that I developed when working with parents. An obvious link between teaching and what I do now is the training aspect. I train the service users to gain horticulture qualifications at our garden centre and also on the job. I've designed leaflets, produced spreadsheets and made promotional videos using the ICT skills I learnt whilst teaching. Oh, and I sometimes do the register.

As you can see teachers have such a vast range of transferable skills that they can be shoehorned into a wide variety of other jobs. Plus a teaching qualification can also be used to gain access to University courses and not just teaching based ones. If you're interested in retraining (and you've got a bit of spare cash knocking about for the fees) it's worth contacting a University and seeing if you're eligible. You may be pleasantly surprised.

I'm quite happy staying at this level of job. I don't get paid masses but I get home at a reasonable time (I work from 8:30 to 2:30) and never take work home. Despite that there are opportunities to progress if I wanted. I've done a high pressure job that pays relatively well though and I can't say that I'd want to go back.

Now that I've worked out there in the real world I've realised just how bad teaching was. I still work hard but I'm nowhere near as physically or mentally tired as I used to be. I generally work for ten weeks then have a week off. But on a fair few occasions I have worked for fifteen weeks without a break. If I'd done fifteen weeks teaching without a break I would have been dead. Yet in this job I don't need the holidays any where near as much. And when I do get a holiday it is a proper holiday where I can really relax without any job related worries. Despite the figures giving a very different picture, I would say that I actually get more holidays now than I did when teaching. It's a different world out there.

I've put it off for a long time, working really hard to give you the positives of leaving teaching - after all, it's the best move that I've ever made and I don't regret leaving for an instant - but it seems like I've skirted the issue of money for far too long. So I promise I'll deal with it in my next post.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Finding A New Career

(If you're a newcomer to this blog and you'd like to start the story of how I came to leave teaching from the beginning, then click here.)

Last time I had a bit of a moan about being a supply teacher but it served its purpose; it gave me time to look for another job.

Each week I tried to keep Friday free to look for alternative work. This didn't always work as sometimes a school would want me for a full week. But some weeks I would have a couple of days to look for jobs so it all evened out over time. This is time that I just didn't have as a teacher. The thought of even applying for another job within teaching seemed like too much of an effort. Supply teaching was a necessary evil.

I read a very good book about changing careers that I can wholeheartedly recommend: What Colour is Your Parachute by Richard N. Bolles. There's loads of good stuff in there but there were two main things that I took from it. As a teacher I got into the mind frame that I couldn't do anything else, that I was just a teacher and teaching didn't apply to anything else in the real world. The book taught me to change the way I viewed myself, not as a teacher but as someone with a set of skills. You've probably seen a list of these transferable skills before but it comes as a bit of a shock to see just how many skills I had as a teacher: communication skills, analytical skills, patience, persistence etc.

With this (large) set of skills under my belt possibilities started to open up. But here comes a problem. There was virtually no way that I was going to jump straight into a job with a similar salary. I was going to have to start off at the bottom and work my way up, if - and that's a big "if" - I wanted to. In the job that I finally got, people assume that I'm going to want to move up the ladder quickly and are suggesting ways that I can do this. But I'll come back to this at a later stage. As I mentioned in my last post changing careers is a low risk strategy because there is always teaching to go back to if circumstances change. And let's face facts, there will always be teaching jobs available. If you're anything like me though, once you're out, there is no way in a million years that you'd ever go back.

The other great bit of advice the book has to offer is how to go about finding a new job. I thought of all of the things that I liked doing and made a list: painting, woodwork, gardening, music, film-making, animals. I thought about contacts who I had made whilst teaching, for example, I had links with a local arts cinema who had an education department. I also looked into working at an animal sanctuary or a vets. While I was engaged in this pretty exciting process I had the opportunity to make a small promotion film for the local council. This eventually led to me volunteering at the place where I finally got a job. (Again, we'll come back to this later.) 

The point that the book makes is that sending out CVs and looking on the internet for jobs will get you nowhere. I've heard quite a few people say that they look on the internet every day but there are no jobs out there. There are. But you've just got to be more proactive in finding them. It involves getting out there meeting people, asking questions and possibly volunteering. Let's take my vets example. I could have gone around all of the vets in the local area asking them what I would need to do to become a veterinary nurse. Would I need any qualifications? Could I get these qualifications whilst working? What are the pay and conditions? Would I be able to volunteer to see if I like the job? And most importantly, have they got any positions available. 

A lot of jobs never even hit the internet. They are filled by the manager knowing someone or having someone recommended. If you show your enthusiasm for the job by actually turning up at their workplace you're more likely to find these hidden jobs. True story - my wife needed a job quickly when her University course went a bit pear shaped. She set off from one end of town and went into every shop and asked if they had any job vacancies. Eventually she got one at H. Samuels. It was temporary but at the end of her stint they were more than willing to keep her on. This was all done in one day. Admittedly it may take longer to find your ideal job but the principal is the same. 

So have a think about the skills you have, your interests and the people you already know who you would be able to talk to. Jobs can come from the strangest of circumstances as the rest of my story will show next time

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

First Steps

(If you're a newcomer to this blog and you'd like to start the story of how I came to leave teaching from the beginning, then click here.)

Last time I talked about my reasons for leaving teaching. Fair enough, surely every teacher has plenty of those. But how do you go about actually getting out of the profession?

You don't. Not straight away anyway. Because I had no other job to go to when I left my permanent position, I had to find some way of getting a reasonably steady income. The obvious way was to become a supply teacher. I put my name down with an agency and went for an interview. They seemed pretty surprised when I could answer their questions (especially the one about APP). They accepted me and told me they had plenty of work in my local area and I wouldn't have to travel far. This was a lie.

Fair enough, some of the jobs were relatively close, about fifteen minutes drive away. But some took me an hour to get to especially when I had to get down the M1 at rush hour. They did pay me a little extra for this although I can't say that I enjoyed the travelling.

Despite the fact that I know quite a few teachers who have gone on the supply list and love it - they've found a few schools that use them regularly and are quite happy with the arrangement - I actually hated it. Okay, apart from a bit of marking there's not much else to do at the end of the day, (no staff meetings - hooray!) and your nights are your own (hooray again!) but the whole experience is not pleasurable.

Having come from a situation where I was in complete control of what happened in the classroom (to a certain extent) and the children were well aware of my expectations, I was thrust into different schools and different classes where the children (and staff) would instantly treat me as a supply teacher. Basically like a second class citizen. One teacher started to tell me about one of the criteria for the Maths APP and was doing a really cracking job of patronising me. Funnily enough she told me completely the wrong way to do it which made me chuckle a bit. I have wondered since whether I was guilty of this attitude when I had my permanent position, and sadly, the answer is probably yes. 

One problem that I had with supply teaching was that, coming from a background of working in a deprived area with numerous behavioural difficulties, the supply agency kept sending me to the "tasty" schools, as they liked to put it. They knew that I'd be relatively okay so that's all I got. Constantly being sent to challenging classes where you haven't had a chance to build up the right relationships with the children gets to be hard work. They were generally okay, but yeah, definitely hard work. Saying that I did manage to get in a couple of nursery and foundation classes that were absolutely great. Shame I didn't do them often.

Money wise it wasn't too bad. Obviously I didn't get quite as much as I had done when I was teaching full time but I did okay. The first month or so was quite slow but things soon picked up (I'd got a little bit saved to cover this). Even though you can increase your chances of getting work by joining more than one agency, I never bothered. It was quite nice having the odd day off.

Another thing that I seriously disliked was having to get up early every morning and hang around waiting for the supply agency to call. Or not. Sometimes I thought I was in the clear only for them to ring at nine o'clock and I'd have to rush off to find the school. It's not the greatest of feelings, not knowing whether you're going to be working or not. As time goes on, schools started to book me in advance, which was loads better. Some supply teachers told me that they only went to schools who had booked them in advance. This is one advantage of having built up a group of schools who want to use your services regularly. This started to happen for me after about four months, but as I said earlier they were all pretty "tasty".

Now if you're serious about leaving teaching there is something to be aware of: if you are a half decent teacher, you will get offered jobs. My offers came from the schools that I supplied in and also from old headteachers. Even though I hated supply I knew that if I went back into teaching full time, that would be it, my life would be gone for good. So I resisted, as you would need to. Don't be lured back by the steady and safe income (money is something that we'll look at in a future post). Keep pushing on with finding your new career. 

The great thing about teaching (possibly the only great thing) is that there will always be teaching posts. So if everything goes wrong or your circumstances change there will always be a job to go back to. It's as close to no-risk as you can get. You may leave teaching, go on supply, be quite happy with that lifestyle and decide to stick at being a supply teacher. Or you may find that you've made a mistake and want to go back to full-time teaching. That's fine too. I would expect that a new job would come up within six months at the most. But my personal mission was to get out of teaching quick. Supply teaching was a means to an end. Nothing was going to knock me off my headlong course to freedom. Next time we'll look at how to start a new career. Exciting stuff.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Reasons for Leaving

(If you're a newcomer to this blog and you'd like to start the story of how I came to leave teaching from the beginning, then click here.)

Now you may be thinking, here's a guy who's just left his permanent teaching position with nothing else to go to, he must have been doing really badly. You may ponder about the behaviour within the class and the progress the children had been making. But actually it's the complete opposite; everything was going well. My class were great - yep, I was in a challenging area but I'd developed loads of behaviour management strategies over the years - and they had all made above average progress for the year. 

So why did I leave when things were going well? Part of it is the sheer amount of work and time I had to put into my teaching to achieve that progress. The children benefitted but I definitely suffered. The other part is the thanks that I got. I was in a meeting with one of the advisers from the local authority. Now, you'd expect there to be a fair bit of praise about the amount of progress. Nope, it went more along the lines of, "You need more 2Bs." Ah, thanks for that.

This level of gratitude obviously doesn't just come from the local authority alone. The government don't value the work done by teachers in the slightest. Michael Gove is on another planet. A planet where everybody knocks about in straw boaters playing croquet and other less savoury games in private boarding schools. He talks about taking the best things from private schools and implementing these things in state schools. Good idea; buy loads of quality resources and have class sizes of twelve. I wouldn't argue with that. It would make a real difference. Ah, no, he doesn't mean that. What he really means is to extend the school day so that parents don't have to pay for child care and reduce the length of holidays. It's a certain vote winner with parents but has it got anything to do with improving children's education. Not really. And if anything is going to cause a mass exodus of teachers, it's this policy. I was on the verge of exhaustion every single year; less holidays would have killed me.

I could rant about Gove for an eternity but let's switch now to the media. When Gove - sorry back to him again - removed the satisfactory category from Ofsted the papers reported that a large percentage of schools had got worse. They didn't mention that the criteria had changed. The reality that nothing had changed from one day to the next in the actual schools didn't matter in the slightest. To say that they are deceitful when reporting about teachers and education in general is a slight understatement.

It's interesting to note that when we did really badly in the world education league tables recently, things have only started to go wrong since governments have started sticking their noses into teaching. The National Curriculum, Numeracy and Literacy Strategies, the stupidly time consuming APP and of course OFSTED have all come into being to raise standards. What they seem to be doing is turning children (and teachers?) off education. In my last year of teaching, if you take numeracy, literacy and P.E. out of the equation I was left with an hour and half a week to teach everything else. And half of that had to be science. When your numeracy and literacy standards are low (due to stunningly low starting points) you don't really have much choice. 

Some commentators noted that in countries where the children are doing really well the teachers are respected as valued members of the community. So the complete opposite to here then.

The final nail in the coffin for my teaching career was the proposed change in pensions. Possibly I should have realised how bad teaching was for my mental wellbeing when my thought process was along the lines of working to the age of fifty (saving a fair bit of cash along the way), retiring and then starting my life. Yep, starting my life, because I hadn't had much of one while I'd been teaching. The thought of having to carry on longer than this was the breaking point for me.

So that's why I left. I'd given up eighteen years of my life without any real thanks, it was time to do something different. Next time, we'll look at the actual process of jumping ship in more detail. (Click here to go straight to that page.)