It's the job I really love - but teaching has destroyed me

18th May 2012 at 01:00
I felt I was born to work in this profession, but the workload wore me out and I had to quit

When I started teaching, I heard that half of teachers leave the profession within their first five years. It sounded ridiculous and I knew that wouldn't be me. But after three years and one term, I am one of them.

Will I go back? I haven't ruled it out. It should be the best job in the world. What could be more extraordinary than gaining the trust of a troubled young man, who one Monday morning, grinning, rushes in to tell you about the brilliant weekend he had with his new foster family? Or the pupil who has been giving you hell for three months finally engaging with you?

So what's the problem? Perhaps I'm just not cut out to teach; some aspects of my personality aren't a natural fit. But couldn't it be that the job is just too hard?

I don't know how I worked so many hours and still cared. What I do know is that I very nearly lost my passion and every other aspect of my life went downhill: my boyfriend and I argued an awful lot; I developed one heck of a temper; I barely saw friends or relatives; I had panic attacks. Desperate, I sought counselling to find a way to keep doing the job I loved but also hated for taking everything away from me.

Terrified by the statutory rise in teaching hours in the second year, I cut mine slightly. I began enjoying work more, but school still ruled my whole life. In my third year, I found a much better rhythm. I arrived at 8am and worked until 6pm, with a 20-minute break for lunch. I was pleased until a friend pointed out that working 10 hours without sitting down isn't normal.

Even then, I couldn't do everything I was supposed to. I prioritised planning and teaching good lessons. Some were excellent. But I didn't set weekly homework. I didn't mark books as often as I was told to. I didn't set all the assessments I should have, because I couldn't mark them. There was not enough time in the day. I was left with an overbearing disappointment with the impossible expectations of the job; a disappointment that breaks my heart.

I was exhausted, with nothing left to give. I needed a break. Leaving was the hardest decision I have ever made. Leaving my favourite classes and tutor group was even harder. I cried, they cried, we had a big 30-person hug. I will always think of them and wonder how they are getting on in life.

Three months later, I'm still recovering. I'm calm and full of energy. I sleep well every night. My relationship has vastly improved. I'm keeping up with friends and family. Best of all, I wake up feeling like me. But every day I mourn my loss and wrestle with my conscience. I feel I was made to teach. It is a job I love, yet it destroys me.

Lily Morton (not her real name) was a secondary teacher in the south west of England.

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