The story of one design teacher: 'I didn’t leave teaching, teaching left me'

This anonymous ex-teacher never wanted to leave teaching, but shortages in his subject and dwindling budgets have left him jobless

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Almost a quarter of a century ago, I graduated with a degree in design and wandered wide-eyed into the world of employment with little more than a huge overdraft. At the time, the furniture design industry in the North of England was practically non-existent, so in an effort to get rid of that overdraft, I took a job teaching craft, design and technology in a private school.

I won't bore you with the following 23 years but, suffice to say, I took to teaching. I extended my qualifications and experience and, by the time I left the profession, I was head of department and faculty leader of creative arts in a successful boarding school with many years of prolific output and excellent results.

At a point in my career where I led one of the most successful departments in the school, the downturn in the economy led to plummeting pupil numbers and, with no improvement in sight, I took voluntary redundancy, convinced that I would have no trouble securing another position.

How wrong I was. You may have read several articles that talk about how excessive workload, stress and poor management have led teachers to leave the profession. But it was never my intention to leave at all.

Up until this point I had never failed to get a teaching job that I had interviewed for, and I was completely unprepared for the onslaught of rejection I was about to encounter. I had worked for 18 years as an examiner and moderator in my subject, led initiatives in curriculum development and assessment and was considered an expert in my field.

'I never wanted to leave teaching'

Yet I lost out on the first job I was shortlisted for to someone able to support one of the school's extra-curricular activities. Numerous applications and interviews followed, with roles often going to NQTs or less experienced people who were willing to work for lower pay. The number of leadership roles within a commutable distance dwindled to almost none and one job that I was 'assured' was mine by an over-zealous head ultimately went to someone I was later informed was more “mouldable to the school’s vision”.

The constant rejection after so many years of successful teaching was unbearable and ultimately led to a period of depression caused not just by the lack of job opportunities, but from watching my once highly-respected subject slowly diminish to the point where there was talk of removing it from several schools altogether.

The dearth of opportunities was such that my last job in education was teaching art and media studies. When the contract came to an end, disillusioned and disheartened, I finally gave up on teaching and applied for a job in industry, convinced that so many years in education would go against me. But I was wrong. The skills and experience a teacher gains are just what this particular industry needed and I was offered a job on the spot. Within a few months I was once again head of design, but this time in industry.

It's an ironic twist that there is now a wealth of opportunities in the design industry, while there are so few in education. I should be happy and simply move on but there isn't a single day goes by where I don't think about the classroom. I still consider returning to education when the occasional teaching opportunity drops into my inbox, but they are sadly still few and far between and I doubt anything will have changed in my subject area.

The next time you read an article about all the issues driving yet another teacher to leave the profession, bear in mind that I was someone who tried hard to remain in education and despite the talk of teacher shortages, my subject is one in decline regardless of its importance to the modern world.  

Perhaps I will return if things change in the future. It wasn't workload, stress, the constant drive for data or poor behaviour that caused me to leave teaching; in my heart I never did. I was driven out by the continuous disregard for experience and skills in favour of saving money in a subject that is sadly no longer respected as it once was.

Education might seem like a train packed with people desperate to get off at the next station. But for me, the train doors were firmly closed as it rolled away, leaving me standing on the platform.

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