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.)