Getting a job in a school that is the right fit can be a career game-changer. One teacher reveals how her hunt for the perfect working environment took her six years and four schools but proved to be well worth the wait
Around 12 years into my teaching career, I know that I am now finally in the school where I truly belong. I found my teaching home at the fourth time of trying, and I am all too aware that I am rare in persevering so long to find it.
You cannot underestimate the impact of finding yourself in a school that does not match your ethos, your personality or the way you see teaching. I believe that, ultimately, you cannot master the craft of teaching, enjoy the job or thrive in a school where you simply don't feel like you fit in.
Finding a home
The first school I joined as a newly qualified teacher was a very creative one. Though I worked hard and my pupils did well, the feedback was that I was too fixated with structure, which I suppose, at the time, was my way of ensuring coverage of the curriculum.
But as time went on, I grew increasingly uncomfortable with what they wanted from me, and after two years, battered by negative feedback, I became convinced that I could not succeed in the school. We just weren’t right for each other.
I was optimistic about the next school, which offered a more structured approach to learning. Convinced that my teaching style was overly structured, I thought the school might be an ideal match. I was wrong.
Again, I was at odds with what the school seemed to value, but at the other end of the spectrum. And the end result was the same: I did not enjoy my work and neither did I feel like I was progressing. Try as I might, I never could fit their expectations. Two years later, now filled with more self-doubt than ever, I decided to move on again.
I know that so many teachers give up after their first bad experience. They think it is them, not the school, that is the problem. But I truly loved teaching and hoped that I would find somewhere for me.
So, I joined my third school, having decided I should just be my authentic self and teach without trying to fit into a box. The problem was that every teacher in the school did just that and this led to an environment in which I found I did not have the parameters to make me feel at ease.
I jumped ship one year later, concluding that my next school would be my last try at the profession. I wasn’t a quitter, but I had given it six years and maybe I just wasn’t cut out to be a teacher.
The right choice
My fourth school, now my current school, was different from all the rest. I had finally found a skilled and supportive team who appreciated my skills, and where those skills were valued and matched what the school was trying to do. Suddenly my shortcomings were not so tragic, my strengths were valued.
It is still hard work but I am delighted to do it because I no longer feel like a failure.
I will always be thankful to the schools that shaped my experience. They’ve helped me to learn what kind of teacher and leader I want to be. And I am so glad I kept searching.
How many young teachers do we lose because they end up in schools where they don’t feel at home, and so they feel they are not cut out for teaching? Too many, would be my guess. We need to encourage teachers to keep trying new schools.
My advice for anyone who really wants to teach, yet feels they don’t quite fit in, would be to try one more time and then one more after that. Really reflect on what you value and where your skills lie, and tirelessly seek out a school where those attributes and values will fit.
Talk to as many people as possible to find potential schools – recommendations from colleagues are invaluable – and when you visit these schools, ask the important questions that will tell you whether this is the place for you.
Schools can be fantastic places to work but only if you find the right one for you.
Heba Al-Jayoosi is assistant head at Mayflower Primary School in London.
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