Time for a change?

I seriously considered leaving education today. And if I had a viable exit strategy I might have taken it further.

Did I have a bad lesson? Was a pupil abusive, violent or threatening towards me? Not at all. I had the pleasure of my delightful Y7s, made a breakthrough with my Y8s, managed some productive revision and even had a pleasant time on a cover lesson.

What made me think about leaving was the agenda for Monday’s full staff meeting. Item 1? OFSTED. And pinned up next to it, the minutes of a recent Heads of Faculty meeting.

  • In recent years we’ve been told our lessons have to be pacey.
  • They have to help the students demonstrate independent learning.
  • We have to give the students time to explore concepts and ideas.
  • We have to demonstrate progress. From every student. Every 15 minutes.
  • We have to make sure we build literacy explicitly into every lesson.
  • We have to show an awareness of which pupils are FSM, EAL, EM, GAT, SEN, SA, SA+.
  • We have to show how we make learning activities available to kinaesthetic learners, visual learners and audio learners.
  • We have to differentiate our work for multiple intelligences.
  • We have to aim for a 70:30 classroom.
  • We have to assess every student every 6 weeks (that is, after every 6 hours – imagine having to assess every employee at work at the end of every day).
  • When OFSTED show up I have to have a full suite of policies to show them
  • When OFSTED show up I have to have detailed exam analysis to show them
  • When OFSTED show up I have to have a detailed, evidence based SEF to show them
  • When OFSTED show up I have to have marking that demonstrates progress to show them
  • When OFSTED show up I have to have detailed lesson plans to show them
  • When OFSTED show up I have to have detailed ‘narrowing the gap’ data to show them
  • When OFSTED show up  I have to have seating plans to show them

Via the minutes of the meeting I was informed that in my gained time I also have to arrange for a collaborative observation program for my department. Every member of the department has to carry out observations and also has to be observed. Each observation must be written up, objectives set, observations repeated and the whole process evaluated. In addition to planning new schemes of work, updating resources, rewriting lesson plans using the new double sided lesson pro forma, preparing book scrutinies… oh, and at some point teaching all of the Y7, Y8, Y9, Y10 and Y12 students.

At the same time I am told that I will have to work for another 36 years. That I will receive less pension than I was promised (despite the fact that the TPS pot has been overpaid for many years). That tests are too easy. That my subject is not good enough. That I need to solve gaps in parenting. That I should receive performance related pay. That teachers are paid too much. That public sector workers in the north are paid too much. That teachers ‘cheat’ when the watchmen come. And today I’m told that ‘teachers don’t know what stress is‘.

Three local schools have had the dreaded ‘O’ visit them in the last 3 months. Two were graded Satisfactory (which will soon be officially less than satisfactory) and one was given notice to improve. SLT appear to be living in a climate of fear that is pervading every meeting, every document, every decision and every discussion. It appears that my job is becoming more and more about pleasing our overlords (Did I say overlords? I meant protectors – Jonathan Coulton) and less and less about educating and enthusing children.

I’m not leaving teaching today, because there are still too many moments that I enjoy. The XKCD comic at the top of the post perfectly sums up the reason I became a teacher. The idea that someone can leave the room knowing more than they did when they went in has always fascinated me, and that I have the ability to be a part of that is wonderful. The fact that my AS Computing class is taught almost exclusively out of schools hours – when neither I nor they are required to be there – fills me with hope. TEACHING is a great activity. Teaching, at the minute, doesn’t always feel like a great job.

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54 thoughts on “Time for a change?

  1. James says:

    After all the drivel that gets written on various web sites, this post pretty much sums up exactly where a lot of us are right now. Crackin entry, thanks!!

    • I ‘escaped’ just a few years ago and now ‘dabble in education’ – highly recommended for satisfaction increase and stress decrease – not necessarily for wealth! I still get involved with the basics of teaching (mainly revision and SEN tools but also in bringing the wonder of bees to kids and those young at heart).

  2. Mr F says:

    That post has certainly made me think… Am I contributing to a climate of fear? Leaders need to reflect on the possible consequences of their actions, however well intended. Mr F

  3. Now I don’t mean to gloat, but I’m taking my pension next year. If I’m honest it’s because I just can’t stand this rubbish any more. Am I burned out? I don’t think so (see http://www.digitalglue.org/ to decide). Do I find teaching unrewarding? No. Do I resent being told how to do something I’ve done reasonably successfully for 36 years? Yes.
    What is almost never acknowledged is that we know what we’re doing and we’d like to get better at it. Leaders who supported our expertise and helped us to develop it… now that would be something worth following.
    At times of stress I chant my Einstein mantra
    “Only two things are infinite: the Universe and human stupidity – and I’m not too sure about the former”.
    Keep up the good work:)

  4. Thank you for the comments James and Mr. F

    I’m slightly torn as I have a lot of respect for my SLT and I want to believe that they feel as pressured in all this as I do. That said, it is getting demoralising and it certainly makes me want to avoid anything above HoD like the plague.

    To Tim, you’ve reminded me of this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc. Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose.

  5. Mark, thanks for putting so eloquently a situation I’ve experienced myself. Whilst I really miss (as you say) *teaching*, I don’t miss everything else about it.

    I think this is possibly one of the worst times in living memory to be a teacher. And as a parent, that worries me.

  6. I left teaching four years ago because of exactly the reasons you outline. My students and my department were amazing, but the pressure and the ridiculous, unrelenting workload and the expectation that teachers can always do more left me utterly burned out. Seeing committed friends of mine still struggling with the profession but without the time or energy to find an alternative and retrain makes me feel terribly sad, both for them, and sometimes their students.

  7. enterprisegran says:

    Absolutely spot-on. This is why I am so happy that I made the decision to get out when I did. And I LOVE teaching children.

  8. Until recently I was an Adult and Community Education Tutor and also subject to Estyn (Wales Oftsted) inspections in a similar vein and this for adult learners, often aged 65 years plus attending 2 hours a week! My daughter’s school has had Estyn in last week, it has disrupted GCSE revision and my daughter has observed more than one of her most engaging teachers almost in tears after harsh observations. It is time that the teachers received the respect that they deserve instead of the ongoing put-downs. I agree with Doug that at the moment it is a worrying time. How can pupils and parents be encouraged to respect the teachers when the government and Estyn/Ofsted are constantly putting them down for teaching to their system?

  9. Couldn’t agree more. Such a terrible loss to eduation when so many wonderful practitioners are compelled to leave the profession for precisely the reasons you outline. I love teaching, but am sad to say I’m actually relieved that neither of my own grown-up children intend to follow in my footsteps.

  10. Wow…I’m a teacher in Belgium and the situation is sadly almost exactly the same! Also, and I’m sure the same is true over there…we have to accomplish all you mentioned with fewer people, smaller budgets and make sure that we also set up new projects every year.
    I also love the “teaching” aspect, but unfortunately, I have felt in the last five years that “teaching” is maybe about 30 per cent of what I spend my time on.

  11. Soo says:

    Thanks for articulating exactly what’s been in my thoughts for so long – brilliantly written! I have just over 2 years left before I can take early retirement…taking a 25% cut in pension by going 5 years early shouldn’t be a logical step but my theory is I will still have my health and my sanity so will be able to ‘live’!! I love teaching and will miss it. Something must be seriously wrong with the job if my mantra is now “I can do 2 years….can’t I?”
    Thanks for posting – it’s a great blog!

  12. Unless I strike it lucky somehow, I will earn my crust in teaching for a long time to come. Maybe I could move profession once my children have established themselves in the world. Until then teaching it is.

    It is uncomfortable reading your post Mark. I wanted to lend you my support. I know your work to be excellent. No matter what comes your way, please keep that in mind. The resources you have shared have directly helped me in my classroom. No small thing! Thank you.

  13. You’ve summed up my feelings about teaching too. I’m currently signed off work with work-related stress which has led to depression. And I’m not sure how long I can keep going in a job that’s making me ill. I’m a member of the senior leadership team, and I can assure you that we are under just as much pressure. I come out of every SLT meeting feeling like I must be an awful teacher because I don’t match up to what we’ve just said that every teacher should be meeting and that Ofsted will want to see. I can’t keep on top of the daily workload of planning, marking, assessing, form-filling… let alone all the other stuff like monitoring my team’s planning, analysing strengths and weaknesses of every tiny aspect of my team’s work and analysing data. There have been many times over the last year that I’ve considered leaving teaching. But I have no idea what else I want to do. Since I was a child, my goal has been to become a teacher.

    • A Morey says:

      Completely agree with what you’ve said, and I feel like I’m in a similar position but have just managed to keep my head above the water! (However, gaining a Teacher Improvement Plan at the same time!)

    • Adele says:

      I feel exactly the same way. Even though the pupils and the parents are supportive and can see you are doing everything for the children – who, I believe are still more important than paperwork….and when excellent practitioners like ourselves are reduced to tears most days because we haven’t met the impossible targets that have been set for us by people who don’t know what goes on in the classroom!

  14. Fiona James says:

    I could not agree more. The leaders of our profession have lost sight of the real purpose of our job and if they are not careful will lose more of the very people they need. I do it for the kids and enjoy every moment working with them in my classroom but wonder how much longer I can continue. 17 years in and another 20+ to go? I don’t think so…

  15. The list is depressing and should be unnecessary. It feels like sending the football team out with instructions to:-
    Pass to your own team
    Play with pace
    Use instep
    Play the long ball
    Keep head over ball
    Play short balls
    Control the ball quickly
    Shoot when you see the goal – make sure it is their goal
    Kick with both feet
    Don’t let them have the ball
    etc

    The game would quickly be unplayable as everyone would over think each play. Really it is far more simple. Children need to learn something appropriate to age and stage in lessons and preferably enjoy it. I don’t recognise any of those instructions in Ofsted criteria. All may arise in certain circumstances but sounds like box ticking.

  16. Dr P says:

    It is most troubling that the school inspectors insist on teachers pushing widely discredited ideas such as ‘learning styles’, and so called multiple intelligence. There are too many naked emperors walking around in education. Show me the data.

    I work in an independent school where some of the above thankfully don’t apply – one good reason among many for why independent schools succeed – and ISI are much more understanding of the idea that teachers and schools are individuals, that there are many ways to deliver an excellent lesson and supportive of the idea of ‘unity not uniformity’.

  17. Thank you for a fantastic piece, beautifully showing the issue facing the teaching profession. Like you, I love those lightbulb moments and the steady progress, classroom banter and new ideas. It’s the extra – and often, frustratingly, unnecessary – jobs imposed on us that cause stress, something Wilshaw seems not to have recognised.

  18. I left – not so much for ‘push’ reasons, but because I wanted a change. It’s amazing to see school culture and politics now that I’m steeped in a corporate culture. Professional respect, A ‘yes’ attitude from IT. Useful emails. Encouragements to take a break. Have some lunch.

  19. There is another approach to the OFSTED list. Ignore it. Your SLT will be in the hot seat, not you.

    The OFSTED team will arrive having already made their decision, usually a downgrade because some group are statistically under-performing. The SLT may be able to prove this is incorrect and maintain their grading. But OFSTED will actively downgrade excellent lessons to good or satisfactory to get the result they want. As a HOD or teacher you will be asked nothing other than have some failed teacher walking into your lessons. The current mantra is that the kids need their current levels tattooed on their arms so they quickly say where they are. And woe betide if any child switches off for a second. Your lesson is instantly downgraded.

    So why worry? I’ve had 8 inspections in 17 years and don’t lose much sleep anymore as most have been politically motivated and assessed. And have changed nothing,

  20. HeadSam says:

    I know how you feel and have had the very same thoughts frequently since January. I am a Head in a primary school and I hate myself for asking (demanding?) things of my brilliant teachers not because I believe that it is best for the children but because I am waiting for that call. Can I live like this for another 25 years (I’m 42)? I sincerely think not but I do not have the energy to plan my escape route (I’ll save that for the holidays).

  21. Louise ayres says:

    If I need to get.stuff off my chest I only need to read this, thank you. Plus initially I went into stress related panic because I didn’t know what SA stands for but thinking about it I am just one of the ten thousand today, immediately relaxed. Sounds like a new Movement group to me?

    • Thanks to everyone for their comments, sympathy, empathy and support.

      I deliberately left acronyms and jargon in there to highlight the point. SA stands for School Action (a pupil in the ‘learning support’ book but who is not statemented with a Special Educational Need).

  22. “Teachers have been deprived of professional freedom, denied the chance to inspire children with a love of learning and dragooned into delivering what the bureaucrats decree.

    We know that the countries with the very best education systems are those with the best teachers – and we know that the only way we can deliver real improvements in education is by strengthening the role of great teachers – and demising the power of the bureaucrats”

    Who said that? Michael Gove in 2010… Doesn’t quite feel as though we are there yet does it?

  23. A couple of years ago, I was working regularly in a reception class, part time on supply. A young teacher just starting out on her career came in for a day’s supply. As I explained what we were doing she said to me that I was the first teacher she had met in a classroom who was so enthusiastic about the work, a comment which shocked me but probably shouldn’t have done. But as I explained to her, I was part time, I was supply so no stresses about ‘pupil progress’ I had the energy to enjoy my job. I could actually concentrate on the children, I could think about what they were doing and learning not whether I was gathering the right evidence to prove I was doing my job.
    How many teachers’ and children’s lives and learning are being blighted by this continuous analysis. My own child has been stressing out about her ‘levels’ since she was 9, worrying about if she was going to meet her targets, worrying that the work they were doing in class would help her progress to the next level. I can tell her to relax, to do her best and enjoy school but this measuring of everything is so prevalent in schools that she still feels pressured. I did not expect her to feel such pressure until she was heading for her GCSEs. I am seriously disgusted with the way education is turning into a tick box culture blame game. There are so many wonderful things happening in schools yet somehow if every single lesson is not perfect and full of ‘bangs and whistles’ teachers are judged to be failing.

  24. Deg. says:

    I can honestly say that I am grateful to Sir Michael Wilshaw for his comments. I have spent most of the last year feeling really guilty for leaving teaching. Now I realise why I don’t need to! This is a great post Mark. Thanks.

    • barcelonaguirigirl says:

      I have been told by every AP or dept head that it’s impossible to do everything that they want, so I should just accept that and do the most important ones. That is ridiculous. If everyone knows it’s impossible, who is the biggest idiot: those asking or those trying to do it? I think it always ends up being me, because I try to do everything, despite the loss of most of my evenings and weekends.

  25. Great post Mark. Earlier this year I realised that too much of education is suffering from “Mad Management Virus- Beliefs such as:
    -Programmatic top down approaches always work.
    -Targets produced specified results with no unintended consequences.
    -Change is about engineering systems approaches employing negative feedback and control.
    -Quality philosophies are best implemented through paper-based systems and organisation-wide bureaucracies.
    -These methods have no bad effect on levels of trust, staff morale, absenteeism or turnover.” (Pedler, M. A Manager’s Guide to Leadership)
    The biggest thing that is being overlooked by education at the moment is that teachers educate students and this involves human interaction not paperwork and policies. Don’t get me wrong these are important but should not be the highest priority-teaching and learning should be. Bureaucracies seem to be trying to improve education through paper rather than inspiration. Mad… loosing some amazing teachers along the way.

  26. Jacqueline Harris says:

    I was SLT and after time out benig a consultant I’ve realised I don’t want to go back into schools for precisely the reasons outlined above. I still get to teach, quite a bit, modelling lessons etc. but I do not have to worry about OFSTED or any of the other things that used to keep me awake at night. I’m not earning a huge amount but my quality of life is so much better. I get to see my son and can take time off to be with him when I want or need. I don’t work all weekend and when I feach the end of the day it is the end of work. I also really enjoy the variety of working in lots of different schools. I’m not sure I’ll ever want to go back; sad as it used to be all I ever wanted to do.

  27. Emma says:

    I used to work in the corporate sector and found it soulless. I promised myself I would find a career that would allow me to happily admit that I loved my job. That career? Teaching. I love working with young people. I find them inspiring and refreshing. But recently I am someone who too often considers an exit strategy for reasons listed above (you took the words right out of my mouth Mark). And because all this detracts from the most important thing: supporting our young people with their learning, and helping them develop a love of learning. Which breaks my heart.

  28. Hang in there. I’m pretty sure every teacher had felt this way many times before. I think that we teach in spite of the education system. Frustrating, but it almost makes it more important for teachers like you to hang in there.

  29. barcelonaguirigirl says:

    It’s really good to hear from other teachers who feel the same way. Sometimes I chastise myself for being negative when all of these worries get me down. I LOVE teaching. I hate having to constantly prove through hours and hours of form-filling, box checking, and correct placement of hundreds of acronyms into my lesson plans what my students, parents and administrators already know. I want to continue to be a teacher, but I feel like it’s such a small percentage of what I’m expected to do that the constant fear of professional humiliation just might get to me in a way I can’t get over.

  30. Ms_Crazybug says:

    I am primary school teacher who is currently awaiting the dreaded ‘O’. I am only in my third year of teaching but I swear that this year is much harder than my NQT year. In my NQT year I was able to keep on top of things. In my second year I was doing ‘extra’ things to helped my teaching and received good observations. This year I can barely keep on top of what I should do, let alone what I need to do or want to do. I’ve been why this year just doesn’t seem to be working but upon reading your blog it all made sense. I LOVE teaching, I love working with children, I love the ‘Eureka’ moments, I love seeing the change in my class and they grow, but I hate all this endless lists, data sheets, reports, action plans etc, etc. I don’t mind doing these things if they actually benefit the learning in my classroom but it seem they are more about being able to tick things off when ‘O’ appears. The funniest thing is that ‘O’ now wants to spend more time observing lessons yet because of all the things I am asked to do, planning my lessons is probably the things I spend the less time on. Perhaps if we were able to spend more time planning and preparing lessons and less time creating a seating plan (which I have to change every time I move a child) or making sure every piece of work has a date and LO/LI (otherwise I get criticised during a book scrutiny) then my lessons would be pacey, exciting and meaningful because I would know that I have created the best lesson I could, not one that just ticks boxes.

  31. Fantastic post. How exactly are we teachers supposed to have the time, energy and love to keep kids engaged and entertained so that they actually want to learn?

    Cut the red tape and let us teach.

    @rossdotparker

  32. mark says:

    Hi, Mark. My narcissistic Google alert on my name sent me a heads-up on this post. I can only imagine what that must be like. Well, it actually sounds a lot like my last ‘real job’ so I can actually empathize. Here in the States, we have similar BS with No Child Left Behind and et cetera. The extent to which this crushes teaching and learning is just boggling and sad. Sometimes it seems as though those in charge of our educational systems hate children, teachers and learning. I know they don’t; they just act as if they do.

    Hang tough, Sir.

  33. leny lena says:

    Oh my. I am a tutor at a university and I am having the exact same thoughts today! I am beginning to feel that I am wasting my young adult years(I am in my mid 20s) in this profession while I have the chance to learn more in the corporate world! If I leave, I may go back into teaching but it will take loads of considerations.

  34. Yes to billselak post. Even with all of those problems and challenges, to leave and turn my class over to someone less experienced seems like quitting. Keep trying to find inspiration to teach and let the observations happen. If and when common sense prevails, those working to inspire and educate will rise to the top.

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