I’ve recently returned to teach in the UK after several years abroad, and I find myself being kept awake by a niggling need for greener grass. The endless heap of work doesn’t help either.
I was under no illusion that returning to the demands of teaching in the UK would be a shock to the system. And yet, I drive home each day feeling like I have been hit by a bus. Catching sight of said metaphorical bus before it reaches impact makes little difference to how it feels when it does.
I find myself wondering: is it my school? Or every UK school? Am I kidding myself that the grass could be greener on the other side? Should I cross back over the channel, or quit teaching altogether?
Most international teachers I worked with didn’t get into it for an easy ride.
Generally speaking, we were an adventurous lot who wanted to see the world and experience new places and cultures. The better work-life balance was a perk no one was going to turn down, but it wasn’t the main pull factor for most of us.
But I got used to it. I started a family. I filled my life up to the point that moving back to the UK would be of some detriment to the other areas of my life.
Some of my international teaching colleagues waited years to return to the UK because they were determined to find a job in a private school. Other teachers I know have been set on getting into a faith school. And then there are those who vow to never to return to the UK again.
Now that I’m here, I’m wondering if their attitude – which I had always written off as wimpy – is actually a very sensible point of view.
When I was on my PGCE course, I was given a piece of advice I’ll never forget.
“If you are thinking of quitting teaching ask yourself this: what is it that is making you want to leave?”
Is the reason universal to teaching? Or just a condition of your school? If it’s the latter, perhaps you should give somewhere else a go before jumping ship entirely.
I love teaching, of that I’m completely sure, but I also know that my current rollercoaster ride of a job is not a healthy way to live.
I’m back in the UK to stay, but can I sustain the demands of teaching here? Will it get easier? Could I find more time for my family and, who knows, even myself, working somewhere else? The first year in a new teaching post is always brutal, I know. I don’t want to put myself through it again if the pressures are similar elsewhere.
I’m in a very target driven academy – which is nothing unusual, I guess. There are a high proportion of children entitled to free school meals. Standards are high, which makes it a great place to learn and excel in my practice, but seems to omit a somewhat crippling pressure.
Books are scrutinised by three levels of management so presentation and evidencing of the children’s work are crucial. I take photographs of my pupils doing work and stick them in. Who’s it for, I wonder?
Marking is key and the children must respond to it. This is great because the focus is on them. But having to set individual tasks for each child, as well as keeping their spirits up with praise in up to 90 books per day doesn’t feel totally sustainable.
Planning must be detailed enough for a supply to take over for every lesson and be submitted weekly. Learning walks keep the pressure on classroom displays being the kind of immaculate incorporations of learning that usher me into work during the school holidays to get up.
I never imagined I would be that teacher, but here I am. I will become more efficient as time goes on and I’ve had a whole wealth of advice from my teaching peers of ways to manage it all.
Half way through the school year, I’m still struggling to get there.
I’m sure that I’m not the first teacher to find planning, marking, maintaining the perfect classroom, setting targets, meeting targets, and keeping 30 precious children happy and safe every day, exhausting.
I like to think I got into teaching for the right reasons and that it suits me.
I don’t want to leave for the wrong reasons, but I also don’t want to lose all connection with that work-to-live not live-to-work philosophy.
A friend once told me that there was a song for every occasion, and it’s currently The Clash that springs to mind: should I stay or should I go now?
The writer is a teacher in the UK