I did it. I finally did that thing I've been fantasising about and planning for what seems like years - I left school. I’m no longer a teacher. Now that it's September and everyone's going back, I am not. And it's strange.
After eighteen years of teaching, I feel like I've just got a divorce. Granted, there aren’t any messy arguments over who gets the kids; it’s kind of a given they’ll stay in the system. I'm the one walking out after all.
It was a long, slow realisation that my relationship with school wasn't working anymore. Goodness knows I hoped that my other half, the DfE, would change - it didn’t, but I tried to adapt.
For six long years I did my best. I put my needs to the bottom of the pile, for the sake of the children.
Making the change
It wasn't an easy decision, or a sudden one. The ever-present questions hung over me like a curse. Am I doing the right thing? What would they do without me?
Oh, the adults would be fine. Fresh, young teachers where I live are ten-a-penny. No, the grown ups would be fine. For me, it was always about the kids.
I’d tried it all - talking; a temporary break; counselling, even. For a long time, my mind was full of questions, doubts and anxieties. What about money? The kids? The security? (a good wage; the family friendly hours; the pension, the pension!) I was caught in a state of indecision for years.
But finally, I saw my chance and I jumped at it. It was almost as if I'd found myself a new lover, a secret affair.
I hid it, and watched my colleagues, as if from a distance, preparing for the distant mists of September and the new school year. I felt this incredible lightness and relief that theirs was a burden I no longer carried.
On that day in July, when I finally handed back my pass and keys, and I felt numb. I didn't fully understand the consequences of my actions - I smiled and said my goodbyes as if it was just another term ending.
After all there was still the distance of a summer holiday stretching out before me, just as there has been for the last eighteen years. Reality doesn't hit straight away in the long-to-medium-term plans of the teacher.
Reflecting on what I've learned
And then there was the letter; the letter ending my contract plopped through the letter box.
“Your final salary will be paid into your account as usual.” Final Salary - I'm only in my early forties, I'm in the prime of my working life. As I read the words "If you are leaving the Teacher’s Pension scheme (other than through retirement) …”, I feel as though I've given away half the house I've spent years paying for. The investment I've made seems as if it is teetering on the brink, taking my future security with it.
But then I take a deep breath and I remind myself of all the things I've learned over the years as a teacher. My resilience; my imagination; my creativity and ability to think on my feet. The future is now, not when I'm 68. I have 18 years of experience behind me to bring forth better outcomes for myself, my family and the children I so loved teaching.
Despite my grief, despite the sense that I have lost something so terribly precious, being a teacher won't ever leave me. I may not be at school, but I’ll always be teaching; I'll just be doing it in a different way.
Joanne Blaikie is a former teacher from the West Midlands.