It’s been more than a decade since I began teaching, and although the education system has seen radical changes, there’s one thing that has stayed the same, and I suspect it always will: being a teacher is like being on a rollercoaster.
When September comes around, the academic year starts and you’re at the bottom climbing up, gathering momentum slowly but surely. The exam season comes into view, as we climb closer to the top. And then, all at once, we hurtle head-first into Sats, GCSEs, and A levels, with many twists, turns and sudden drops along the way. Exam results day in August is the final loop the loop, before you’re back to September, about the start the whole ride again.
The sleepless nights and teacher nightmares increase throughout the rollercoaster ride, as you get closer to final loop the loop in anticipation of:
- What the results of my classes and the department will be;
- Working with target grades that stretch me as teacher and push students, some of whom don't care enough to put the hard work in;
- The performance-related pay that accompanies these targets;
- Scrutiny by the senior leadership team through observations and learning walks;
- Keeping up with different fads in education (which change as often the weather);
- Having my workload increased by having to have schemes of work updated and new lesson plans as specifications are changed;
- Getting students to sit more mock papers, increasing the amount of marking, the inputting of data and the analysing, which, actually, has little impact on outcomes;
- Being dragged into the office, screamed at and made to feel totally insignificant when a small mistake is made;
- And, last but by no means least, having the dreaded meeting at the start of the academic year in which I am treated like a naughty child, and shouted at as one student for my subject didn't get their target grade.
All of these things combined mean that we drop fast into results day, I'm always screaming. It could be a scream of joy because my classes have achieved great results, or it could be one of terror as my nightmare of having poor results becomes a reality.
'Climate of fear'
Most years I have experienced the former, screaming with joy at my outstanding results. Last year, however, went in a completely different direction.
The external exam results were great, but the controlled assessment grades were downgraded by two grades. This meant that a significant percentage of my students didn't meet their target grades or make exceptional progress. It was disastrous for an experienced teacher who works in an outstanding school which prides itself on churning out great outcomes year after year.
My world fell apart and I knew there was only one outcome. Rather than being pushed, I jumped and handed in my resignation.
We have a profession in which fear grips teachers and drives us out of teaching in mass numbers. The current climate is having a detrimental effect on the wellbeing of all involved, from teachers having to meet these unexpected demands of the job to pupils who have this pressure passed on to them.
And people wonder why is there a recruitment and retention crisis in teaching.
The writer is a former teacher in the UK