Like many graduates, fresh-faced, gleeful and wanting to change the world, I became a teacher.
After completing an immense NQT year, I was told in the last weeks of the summer term that I would be moving across to the academy chain’s main school. Well, either that or redundancy.
Loyalty was the mantra, so I moved. That’s when I felt the full force of modern-day teaching.
The main teacher had left and the head of department was on maternity leave. I was a recently qualified teacher, teaching seven separate exam groups. Some were such high stakes that students’ university hopes were pinned on my shoulders. Given the situation, I managed to settle my anxiety by plodding along.
In the end, we had some pretty fantastic results, including a student going from an E to a B grade. I was keen to build on this success.
Piling on the pressure
Within weeks of the new autumn term starting, the returning head of department piled on the pressure. Assessments were virtually once a week, and meetings with senior leadership team felt as though they were on a daily basis.
I estimated that I’d marked over 500 assessments by October half-term. Eating lunch in my car after work and not sleeping at night were damaging my health.
I was burnt out, worn out and going home every night to do more work, often till the early hours of the morning. After some consideration, I visited my GP, who prescribed anti-depressants.
Workload was copious, scrutiny was heavy and so was the bullying. Every email, every minor issue – for example, telling a student they needed to revise – would result in an email from my head of department, copied to various members of the senior leadership team.
It didn’t stop there. Students, many of whom had enjoyed a comfortable upbringing, flat-out refused to revise. Results looked poor and, when January mocks hit, my subject was at the bottom of the school.
Disheartened, disillusioned and depressed, I kept fighting. I held revision sessions after school and during lunchtimes; I handed out glossaries, homework booklets, two assessments a week, more mocks. I tried and tested everything.
One morning, I visited my head of department with my intervention list. She told me: “You are not doing enough for the students”, and suggested that I make phone calls home to pupils’ parents and stand at the gates at the end of the day to escort students to revision sessions. The very core of my being felt attacked: my commitment to my students was being questioned.
I missed family weddings, funerals, social gatherings, and everything in between. I put my job ahead of my mental health and still had my commitment questioned.
In April, a month before exam season, I was pulled into my 23rd senior leadership meeting of the year. I asked to leave and have since not returned to work.
Trainees and new teachers need nurturing, and their enthusiasm needs harbouring. Shotgun accountability is driving us away from the profession.