Do I have to be a statistic?

20th December 2002 at 00:00
Improve conditions and you will have a teacher forever, says Angela McOwan

I feel like I'm about to become a statistic: 52 per cent of teachers leave the profession within three years and, although I never thought I'd be one of them, I'm beginning to have doubts that I can do this for much longer.

These thoughts have surprised me. I didn't expect to be feeling like this, certainly not just one term into my third year. I don't want to be feeling like this; I had imagined teaching to be my long-term career. In fact, I've been feeling very positive about being a more established member of staff. Staff and students alike know me and know what to expect from me. I'm now teaching siblings of students I've taught for the past three years and know that my reputation goes before me. Not being labelled an NQT has made a huge difference and having an area of responsibility within my department has given me a focus and an additional layer to my working day.

But all this doesn't seem to be enough. Or, looking at it another way, it's too much. Teaching is taking over my life. It's not just that I work long days and have a huge workload, it's the fact that even when I'm not working I am too tired to do much else, or at least to really enjoy it.

I love my job. When I'm in the classroom teaching and getting through to a class of 30 about the subject I love most, I get a buzz which reminds me why I joined the profession. I don't want a nine to five job: I've always enjoyed studying and can't imagine a life in which I don't have work to do at home.

But there's no let-up. It's rare for me to take an evening off, and by the time Friday night comes I'm exhausted and good for nothing except an early night. On Saturdays, I do other things - largely necessities, such as cleaning and food shopping, which I don't have time to do in the week - and then I spend all Sunday working again. And so it goes on.

Mags Long, who, incidentally, was one of my primary school teachers, wrote in Talkback (Friday magazine, November 8) that "if you really want to do it, teaching is the best job in the world". She talks about a "fervent desire and dedication" which gives us "an inner reserve that helps us cope and balance the job with other aspects of our lives". I "really want to do it" and I have a "fervent desire and dedication", but still I cannot find that balance.

She says she would do the whole thing all over again. So would I. I will never regret my years in teaching as they have been extremely fulfilling and I have learnt a huge amount, but this doesn't mean I can do it forever. The Government needs to address this; token financial hand-outs for PGCE students and those in their first year are all well and good, but money is not the main issue in most fed-up teachers' minds, it's the conditions. Retention has to be Charles Clarke's number one priority.

Angela McOwan teaches modern languages at a comprehensive in the south-east

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