‘The constant battle between being the teacher I want to be and being the teacher I have to be’

One primary school teacher highlights how the government’s increasing demands and expectations towards teachers make it more and more difficult to excel at the job

Hannah Smith

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What keeps me awake at night? Exhaustion, stress, anxiety, deliberation. It’s difficult to step off the treadmill that is teaching.

The endless and pointless paperwork, the needy parents, the constant daily demands from children, leaders and the government. The constant questions I ask myself: "Why didn’t they get it?" "How is this going to help?" "Is it even worth it?" "How many more get-ups until the weekend?" "How much longer can I stay on this treadmill before I have to get off?" Switching off from the profession is nearly impossible.

I have always wanted to be a teacher. I was inspired by my own teachers at primary school, the ones who would make school fun, and give you time to play outside and let you sit on their laps for a cuddle. How times have changed. Sadly, owing to government expectations, health and safety and the modern society we live in, these experiences are far and few between.

The 21st century has seen the introduction of a tick-box culture that has hijacked the teaching agenda and taken away teachers’ freedom, creativity and passion, driving many inspirational teachers out of the profession. Before this, teachers were still able to get the best out of the pupils, but did so by enjoying the journey with them, instead of focusing purely on the destination. It is well-known that children function best when they are happy and relaxed, and the same is true of teachers. So why do the government continue to ignore the voices of teachers and raise their expectations further?

Overworked and underprepared

I always knew the sort of teacher I wanted to be, based on a sentimentalised view of teaching; inspiring, innovative and supportive. I wanted to make a difference. However, it didn’t take long for the rose-tinted glasses to be removed and the reality of the current education system to be uncovered. Great expectations and ideas were suddenly flattened by the government’s demands. The sentimental version of teaching, sold to most aspiring trainees, challenged. This poses the question: does the sentimental approach need more reality or does the reality need a rose-tinted make-over?

I am a perfectionist. I strive to be the perfect teacher, in order to provide children with the best education possible, but I have realised that there is no such thing as the perfect teacher. I will never perfect it, nor will I ever complete my ever-growing to-do list. The constant pressure of time alongside the increasing workload is a problem that is ruling the profession. Even the 60-hour weeks do not allow enough time to plan and prepare consistently high-quality lessons and resources. This is all while completing the endless amount of pointless paperwork; my frustration is forever in competition with my motivation to be the best I can be. I am constantly torn between my pedagogical ideas and the harsh reality. Despite my greatest efforts, unfortunately, reality wins every time.

If the education system continues to raise its expectations, putting increasing amounts of pressure on both pupils, parents and teachers, then surely it’s only a matter of time before it the system will no longer be sustainable?

Hannah Smith is a Year 3 Teacher and SendCo in Oxfordshire. 

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