Is teaching a long-term career option any more? I ask this question because it seems that class teaching, at this moment in time, isn’t a job that you could do forever. I have recently found myself wondering if there is a point at which the marking, planning and everything else just becomes unbearable. The almost 35,000 teachers who left the profession for reasons other than retirement in 2016 probably had something similar in mind.
The fact is that the majority of teachers just aren't "lazy" enough to survive in this profession. In my experience in primary, they care far too much about planning amazing lessons, giving detailed feedback and meeting all the requirements of being a brilliant primary school teacher, to just go through the motions. This is a good thing, I know, but surely there aren't many other professions where employees are taking home bags and suitcases of books to work on over the weekend? How many staff in other jobs are checking their emails all through the weekend? The problem is that there is no "off" switch.
And this all means that there is a tipping point. It’s just a matter of when it comes. Will it be 10 years into a career? Earlier? Later? We need to stop this point from coming at all, or teaching will soon become a dying trade and a lost art.
Do teachers need 'duvet days'?
How can we fix things? Well, recent changes to marking practices may help. Some schools are starting to favour giving quick, effective feedback as opposed to writing detailed essays after every piece of work in the hope that students will read them. This is a good start, and should cut down on the suitcases going home every evening.
Greater awareness around supporting wellbeing and mindfulness techniques will also help, but only if it cuts stress and workload, instead of giving teachers more work to do or more training to complete. I'm sure that every teacher in the land would also appreciate a "duvet day" once a term or a Christmas shopping day in December, but at a time when budgets are being cut, this suggestion may not be too warmly welcomed by headteachers.
We can't just start handing out silent teaching and learning responsibilities and retention payments to make people feel that if they are going to be working 60-plus hours a week, then at least they are well compensated for it (although this would greatly improve morale). However, little touches may be greatly appreciated. For example, initiatives like ensuring that teachers come in "on time:, as opposed to two hours before school starts, or encouraging them to leave "with the children" at least once a week would be easy policies to adopt, school-wide.
'Feelings of burnout'
Alternatively, maybe we just need to get the message out that people are doing a brilliant job and that if there is anything that teachers feel they haven't been able to do that day/that weekend/that month, then the chances are it can be left for another day. This doesn't mean letting things slide, but it does mean that not everything has to be done straight away. And while we’re at it, surely we don't have to fill out quite as many forms as we do. They can't all be necessary.
Perhaps what is worst, though, is that teachers have been required to quickly become even more expert in maths, English and everything else covered in the enhanced new curriculum, without so much as a moment to reflect. That can really create a frantic feel and may be one of the factors contributing to feelings of burnout. So, take heed: if the powers that be don't reassure teachers that their teaching world isn't going to cave in on top of them, there may soon not be many of us left to actually teach the children.
The writer is a primary school senior leader