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Teaching is relentless in a way that is different from other jobs

Two-fifths of teachers want to leave the classroom for good – but they’re not the only profession unhappy with their lot, writes David Hall

Tired teachers, teacher retention, leaving teaching, quitting teaching

Two-fifths of teachers want to leave the profession within five years, according to headline grabbing figures from the NEU teaching union. Morale is at an all time low. Traditional teaching is overwhelmed by target setting, data sets, interference from SLTs, general monitoring and observations.

I have witnessed this one term (yes, just the one) into my current role at a primary. In addition to regular observations, the teacher I work with has a weekly visit from a group psychologist with detailed feedback given at lunchtime. Books and marking are inspected externally, as well as by the school, and we have Sats coming up. I have no reason to believe that the school is out of the ordinary.

But here’s a bit of perspective from this career changer. Many people are unhappy at work nowadays. A quick google tells you that at least a quarter of people are planning to change jobs at any given time. Brits are thought to be among the hardest workers for the littlest reward anywhere. It is stoking rebellion in the millennial generation, who see parents stressed in a system they can’t control. It’s the same system that will not enable them to get on the property ladder. It is feeding into populist anger everywhere.

At some interviews, I have been treated as if I’ve arrived from the cosseted world of the private sector with a silver spoon in my mouth needing re-educating in the urgent needs of the public sector. 

Over the years I have watched roles disappear and newly vacant desks testify to the fact that the same amount of work is expected from fewer people. Job descriptions are "reconfigured" (ie made longer), budgets slashed, lunchtime disappears as sandwiches and wraps are hurriedly consumed over keyboards, people get to the office earlier and leave later. Reporting procedures start to overwhelm the core creative bits of the job. Exhaustion and loss of morale set in.

Having said that, in marketing there were periods when every client seemed to be demanding huge amounts of work. Those times would come to an end. Likewise a product launch would be a time of intense activity, but it was clearly flagged months ahead and a quieter period would ensue.   

Teaching is relentless. I leave at the end of the day exhausted by the intensity of it – and I’m only doing "teaching lite". You are in front of the class – or with children – for at least seven hours, not including after school. In an office job, there are water cooler moments (or cigarette breaks for the few). And who hasn’t spent desk time researching travel and shopping on the internet? It’s also true that, in an open plan office, there can be a lot of banter and laughter that can help to lift the day. Teachers are quite an earnest bunch and generally don’t let their hair down even in the staff room. If they can get there from the classroom, that is.

The other thing about teaching is that leaving means leaving the profession. Those surveys (generally on behalf of recruitment consultants) show the extent of itchy feet. In marketing, "leaving" meant finding a different agency: one that promised a better work-life balance for example, or novel perks. It was possible to do the same job with a different employer and feel that you had started afresh. Teaching doesn’t offer this. State school teachers could go into the private sector, but I’m not sure it would make quite the same difference. Certainly my experience of visiting one such school last year revealed a better resourced classroom, but the most stressed staff I have seen.

There are the holidays, of course. In an office job there are often people in an extended team who can’t be away at the same time. I have seen endless angst over the years caused by an inability to book time off because the holiday calendar has been blocked out by others (hence the aforementioned travel research). The holidays are a big recharging plus.

I know I am not helping teacher morale by saying you are not the only ones, but there we are. Nothing that I have seen so far has put me off my career change. I have a different problem: far from wanting to leave, I can’t get on a course to join the profession. Which may mean I have plenty more time to ponder my choice yet.

David Hall is applying to become a teacher. For 25 years, he worked in communications for a range of clients. He tweets @campdavid

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