I love teaching – I really, really do. The absolute joy of knowing that I’ve made a difference to the lives of my pupils fills me with pride. I feel that I have been called to help give children the best start in life.
And so I realise that being a teacher is more than a standard nine-to-five job. I’m not afraid to offer up an evening or two to run an after-school club. Examination revision sessions do not faze me, and CPD in my free time is far from a chore.
I love to teach, love to talk about teaching and I love to share good practice with other great teachers.
But, I have to confess, I’m fed up. I think I’ve had enough, and I just don’t think I can keep on going. The alarm goes off in the morning after another sleepless night, and I lie in bed in the darkness, contemplating whether to phone in sick – but I don’t want to pass the burden of covering my lessons on to my colleagues.
Coronavirus: The impact on teacher wellbeing
Where once I looked forward to a morning coffee with my colleagues before the day began, my heart now sinks while I wait to see what lesson I will inevitably be covering during my one free period.
I enter the building after a temperature check, and colleagues walk tiredly along corridors, raising their eyebrows at one another in solidarity. Smiles and cheery hellos have been replaced with a knowing sigh. There is no time to chat.
I am running in the rain to my next lesson, where I have to wipe down door handles and frantically clean desks, chairs and equipment, ready for my next bubble to arrive.
Behaviour issues are starting to crop up. I have never struggled with my classes before, but now my students aren’t able to focus, and their lack of motivation is affecting the classroom environment.
Breaktime used to provide the time and space children needed to let off steam and socialise with their peers. But now ball games are banned and children are forced to stay in their bubbles, knowing that they can’t even go to their mates’ houses after school.
All about survival
Mental health issues are rife, and children are desperate for support from teachers who are struggling themselves. It is hard to keep up with which pupils are absent and who has missed what. Who is working at home and who is too unwell to work? Which bubble will be sent home this week?
Yet lesson observations still continue. Performance-management targets will still need to be met, even in the face of adversity.
At the end of the school day, the staffroom used to be filled with the laughs of colleagues and the warm buzz of inspiration, as teachers shared tips and ideas with one another or offloaded their concerns. What strategies worked with that group who are tricky in the afternoons? Why does Mr Smith always let his class out late, cutting into my learning time? Who broke the photocopier and just left it like that?
Now, however, the building lies silent as teachers dash home, cold and exhausted, after another busy day. My mind is busy with to-do lists that need to be tackled: behaviour logs and admin tasks, in addition to planning lessons and providing feedback. I must not forget my reports are due next week, as well.
It’s all about survival. No warm hugs from my teacher friends. No time or space to offload my concerns. No glimmer of hope that things will get better soon. And after a long, tiring, worrying half-term, I now fear another national lockdown.
I know I’m not the only one who feels this way – a lot of my colleagues have been saying similar things. This is simply not sustainable. This is not safe.
And yet Covid shows no signs of going away. This is what our profession has become.
I can’t carry on like this. In a profession where there is a national recruitment and retention problem, we risk losing hardworking, loyal and dedicated professionals who just cannot take any more.
Do I hand in my notice at half-term? I don’t want to, but I feel I may have no choice.
The author is the deputy head of a primary school in the Midlands