The number of teachers seriously considering leaving the profession has reached record levels as “crushing” workload levels emerge as their top concern, according to new research.
Almost three-quarters of teachers, 74 per cent, said that they had seriously thought about quitting the classroom in the past 12 months, according to a new NASUWT survey of 13,000 teachers independently verified by the polling firm ComRes.
'Profession is in crisis'
Chris Keates, the union’s general secretary, told TES that many teachers wanted to leave because the profession was in “crisis”.
A Department for Education spokesman said unions had been asked to do more "to build up teachers, promote the profession and tell the story about how rewarding a career in teaching is". "Teaching offers the chance to change lives on a daily basis and it is this that attracts many people to the profession,” he added.
But TES has obtained a letter from one teacher who to had to leave the profession that tells the other side of the story; she said the job was “soul destroying”.
The 33-year-old science teacher had written to her parents – both teachers themselves – to explain why teaching while trying to bring up a 19-month-old son had left her feeling frustrated, guilty and angry.
Her father told TES that his daughter – whose identity he wishes to protect – was a first-class honours graduate with a PGCE from Cambridge, whose lessons had been graded “outstanding”.
“The profession can’t afford to lose people like that,” he said.
Read the full letter here:
"Thanks for the messages, mum and dad.
To be honest I’m exhausted with teaching. You know what it is like – I still absolutely love my 8.45 to 3.30 contact with the students but there’s no way I can find a work life balance and I’ve reached the conclusion that I never ever will.
My commitment to my students prevents me from allowing myself to do anything but the best I can, and my commitment to my family means I’m trying to keep my weekends free from work.
I am too shattered in the evenings to work efficiently so I am setting an alarm at 5am on my teaching days to try to find an extra hour to do marking.
I’m perpetually tired and/or ill and never feel like I’m doing as good a job as I want to be doing.
I’m trying desperately to keep my head above water, which is a ridiculous and soul-destroying way to live.
On my last two Mondays off, which are meant to be devoted to my gorgeous boy, I marked for a couple of hours. This week I had to leave [my son] to play while I uploaded my reports, as I refused to do them on Mother's Day and I had been too snowed under marking mock exams to get the data to put into the reports (and because during half term when I was meant to get ahead I was ill, again).
When I’m at home, if I’m not working I feel guilty for the pile of work that’s sitting in the hall that needs to be done and if I’m working I feel frustrated and angry that I’m not with [my partner] and [my son].
That is on top of working three days at school from 7.45 to 4.45/5.15, on two of which I don’t take my morning break as I have five full sessions of teaching. I take a 15 minute lunch break as there’s always just too much to do, and I want to minimise the amount I take home (ha ha, as if that ever happens – I’m laden like a packhorse daily just in case I magically find five or six hours overnight to clear the perpetual backlog).
My other issue is the emotional investment. I haven’t got sufficient inner calm or emotional strength to cope with looking after my tutor group (most of whom are in a similarly exhausted state to me from their own self drive and pressure from themselves, their peers, parents' ambitions, the ridiculous aspirational targets that mean if they don’t get an A* the data system codes them as red for underperforming).
I need those emotional reserves for myself, for [my son, my partner] and for the rest of my family and friends.
Quite simply, the system is broken, which we all know, yet senior leaders continue to put pressure on middle leaders who perhaps inadvertently maintain pressure on the departmental staff to continue to work in the way I have just described. And because everyone is working in this way I’ve just described, at all levels within a school, then no one has the head space to address any of those issues so we all just collapse at the next holiday, regain some composure and do it all again the next term.
Whilst it upsets me to acknowledge that I’m no longer strong enough to continue in such a crazy system, and it upsets me that good teachers have to leave the profession, my stubborn streak is not quite resilient enough to sacrifice myself any more.
At least, that is, until [my son] is older, when no doubt I will give a career in teaching another shot and will most likely feel the system unchanged and still in the mess it is now.
I’m not sure whether the tears whilst writing this are of exhaustion, frustration or relief, but I think my emotional response confirms that it is absolutely the right decision to accept the other job and hand my notice in.
Thanks to you and mum for your support. [My partner] is in total agreement that I should leave education for the time being at least. Yes, I will drop in salary and lose potential maternity benefits, but I’m sure I will be healthier, happier and a better person to be around for it, which (in my mind at least) is worth any financial consequences.
I will undoubtedly miss my students, colleagues and the profession and will experience frustrations with this new role, but I have a better chance of a work life balance, which is key to being the best mum I can."
This is an edited version of an article in the 1 April edition of TES. Subscribers can read the full article here. This week's TES magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here