Needless rules drew a line under my career

31st January 2003 at 00:00
I left teaching last Christmas after almost five years. I worked in a difficult school, but I would have left even if the pupils had been angels and the buildings a palace. I think I did a reasonable job, given the pressure on all of us to raise the equivalent of the Titanic from the depths of an ocean of apathy, but I saw no end to the demands I would have to meet to reach standards I no longer had any faith in. They became a straitjacket to my creativity and hindered the learning of my pupils. The final straw was being told I would have to teach another lengthy and dull selection of poetry from an anthology the pupils already looked upon with the dread I reserve for arachnids.

But, more than anything, it was the exam board's definition of what was essential for the future of education. It ran counter to common sense. It was like chasing chickens: every topic seemed to go in a different direction. Each seemed to have its own set of criteria. It was the work of a committee, and you could almost feel the sense of individual members defending their particular academic corner.

A simpler and streamlined syllabus might have encouraged me to stay; the din of conflicting principles and new initiatives had me screaming for freedom.

All this was obvious to me five years ago when I did my training. I knew I was being asked to perform miracles with an instruction book that kept changing. Too much time was devoted to conflicting theories on how children are supposed to learn; I should have known then that this was the shape of things to come.

The constant inspection and monitoring, the implication that I was not dedicated enough because I got things wrong, and being watched for any deviation from party lines, was worse than being shut in Room 101 with 30 teens trying to shred your lesson plan.

I was bombarded with statistics and demands for information that led nowhere. I began to get the impression I was being asked to justify my existence and that failure to perform was tantamount to divorce.

It would be easy to blame lack of preparation time or the poor behaviour of the pupils for my decision. As I saw my free time become eroded and the stress alter my personality each day, the number of reasons to stay began to diminish compared to my list of inducements to go. But more than this, I had no enthusiasm left for the job. It was wrong for me to carry on, and I have no regrets about leaving.

Philip Hamm taught English in Lowestoft, Suffolk

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