How I came back from the brink of quitting teaching

After deciding to quit, this teacher discovered the profession wasn't the problem after all

Dave Nicholls

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On 14 May 2018, I quit teaching.

The workload, expectations and continual pressure had finally pushed me to breaking point and I was done with the profession.

I told the deputy head, who told the headteacher, and by 11am that Monday morning I was sat in a meeting being asked if I was sure.

Quick read: So what makes a teacher reflective?

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I confirmed I was, but the head told me to go away, reflect on everything, and come back to her in a day or two with a decision.

I did and I am glad I did. I realised that it wasn’t the profession that had taken its toll on me, it was my own practice.

Reflective practice is a phrase we use a lot in training, but it is all too often something we forget to do within a few weeks of our second year of teaching. We assume that having qualified and been in the industry for a while, we know what we’re doing.


But in doing so we fail to recognise the benefits that continuing to reflect can have on our practice and our students’ outcomes.

When we do reflect, we often look at the “what” of each lesson, reliving moments that perhaps didn’t go to plan, considering our own weaknesses and focusing on the negative, rather than the potential for development.

When I spent those two days on the brink of leaving the profession, it was not “what” that I considered, but “why”.

Why was 10B poorly behaved? Why were 7N so off-task during their lesson? Why didn’t that behaviour strategy de-escalate that situation? Why did I want to be a teacher?

By asking questions like this, we focus on the opportunities to learn and develop.

Reflect and refocus

Through switching the focus of our reflection from the threat of failure to the opportunities it presents, we can improve our mental wellbeing, and rekindle the love we once felt for the profession.

I went back to work with this in mind.

My reflection was simple. Every day I took five to 10 minutes over a coffee at the end of the day and noted down my thoughts about the day. I made a note of the initials of students who were off topic or distracted, but also of ones who worked well.

I thought about how simple changes in seating plans, assignment briefs, and the way in which I organised a lesson could have an impact on the next one, and then I tried it. I focused on those students who were distracted, asking myself why, and how the work could be made more engaging and better suited to their needs.

Gradually I noticed behaviour improving, and that I was enjoying lessons once again.

I fully understand that time is precious in our field of work. But we all have five or 10 minutes that we could spend simply thinking, reflecting, and then trialling ideas.

Reflect, learn, repeat

We must allow ourselves those moments to ask why everything is the way it is. It doesn’t necessarily need to be noted down, but it’s imperative that we make changes as a result of our reflections; this brings about the outcomes we want to see.

From what we experience we reflect, we learn, we try new things, and we repeat.

My reflective practice has renewed in me a faith in my own abilities, and brought about a calmer outlook on teaching, realising that no matter what goes wrong there is a reason behind it – and it’s solvable.

Through reflection we can discover that reason, help our students, and help ourselves be the teachers that we all entered the profession to become. The teacher I thankfully still am, as a result.

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