Why did I leave an excellent, established school in Oxford for the uncertainty of a start-up school in Europe? Quite simply, I had lost trust in the government to manage the profession, appreciate or fairly remunerate us.
I had been a successful state-school physics teacher for five years, and avoided any form for promotion for sound reasons.
In 2001, just after completing my NQT year I had been offered a head of department (HoD) role in a soon-to-be-opened academy in a challenging area, which I promptly turned down as I felt inexperienced and unwilling to take such a big jump early on.
I had a clear and established career path: gain knowledge and experience, move to better schools and hone my classroom skills before slowly advancing to an senior management team role when I had sufficient competence to handle the role.
Ultimately, I wanted to manage a state-boarding school, for children with additional emotional needs, and in order to have sufficient residential experience I made the transition into the private sector at an entry-level position of classroom teacher and houseparent.
This was not exactly lucrative compared to my peers from my PGCE who were already racing ahead into head of department and even senior management team positions after only five years, but, I was quietly confident that it was important to have more experience before chasing promotion.
I also felt that a work-life balance was important. With a newborn at home, and wife who is also a teacher, I felt it better to maintain a sense of wellness rather than taking on the added stress of a HoD role.
At this stage in my career I’d already seen a peer have a nervous breakdown (which he attributed to unrealistic targets, workload and lack of SMT support for a first-time HoD) and covered for my own HOD who had suffered a heart attack at the age of 42. Promotion? Not yet.
Thus I was able to manage my workload and enjoy all of the non-fiscal benefits of being a classroom teacher in a private school. I continued dutifully paying into my Teacher’s Pension, secure in the knowledge that my contributions to a final salary scheme would be an adequate buffer against the financial burden here. This all came to a crashing halt in 2010 with The Hutton report and the recommendations to change the terms of the Pension scheme that I had already paid into. It seems that the previous government had neglected to balance the books and take into account numerous factors available to them when I started my career, such as the clear trend in increased life expectancy, therefore we now had to suffer. Furthermore, having altered the terms once, what would stop them doing it again?
Having witnessed -and already feeling - the lack of support and ever-increasing demands and pressure, the opportunity to develop and gain sufficient knowledge and experience to progress in my career looked deeply uncertain. I had also lost all trust in the government’s ability to manage my money, so I took the only remaining option that would allow me to continue working in a job I love: I quit.
Well, almost. I left the country of my birth, where I had grown up, and had intended to spend my whole life and took an international teaching job and I have never looked back.
Here I am trusted to manage my workload and no-one checks whether you are marking in Ofsted-approved green ink. You are treated like a professional at every level and education is truly valued and respected. When people say: “Was sind sie von Beruf?”(What do you do for a living?), my reply: “Ich bin Physiklehrer" (I am a physics teacher) is met with much approval.
I would encourage anyone disillusioned with life as a teacher in the UK (and who wouldn’t be, the exams factory culture, high marking loads, low pay, long hours, limited resources and decrees from people who think they know about teaching because they went to school, once) to consider heading to foreign fields.
Being away from my extended family is a wrench, my parents watch their grandchildren grow up via a video screen and skype is no match for being physically present. You do miss out on significant life events of your friends but compared to the woes of my peers still labouring under an increasingly clueless government (new grammar schools - really? Is that based upon advice at the cutting edge of educational research, or, is it based on an appeal to nostalgic, populist voting?) I’m content. I don’t know whether I’ll ever live in Britain again, but I know I would never become the teacher I want to be if I stayed.
The writer wishes to remain anonymous.
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