Teaching was a mistake, a failed experiment, an idealistic brush with fantasy and I was not suited to the profession

23rd May 2003 at 01:00
I decided the other day that I was definitely, definitely giving up teaching. No matter that we have a mortgage to pay. No matter that I am unqualified to do anything else. The scales had fallen from my eyes. I was leaving.

I have this conversation with myself with increasing regularity. Should I go, should I stay? Sometimes it seems as if the disadvantages of teaching might just outweigh the advantages. I don't know if I'll actually take myself up on the chance of freedom from the classroom. Having no idea as to where to find gainful employment outside The TES, I think I'd find it quite difficult. But I do listen wistfully when colleagues reminisce about the jobs they had before teaching.

I didn't have a life before teaching. It's the only thing I've ever known.

I'm a one-job woman. So, after a particularly stressful day last week, culminating in the coffee machine taking my last bit of change without delivering my tea-time cappuccino, and arriving back at my car to find that the wing mirror had been knocked off, I decided that, without a doubt, I was leaving. Absolutely. Definitely. Like the residents of Albert Square, I was going to "ask around" and find myself some nice easy job waiting on tables and chatting over a teapot. Lovely. Teaching was a mistake, a failed experiment, an idealistic brush with fantasy and I was not suited to the profession after all. My mum was right all along: I should have been a brain surgeon, and it wasn't too late to start.

I announced my decision when we went out to dinner with friends that night.

Ignoring the eye-rolling of my husband, who hears this declaration at least once a week, my friends reacted with interest. As I'm the token public sector worker among them, they must have been secretly pleased that I was finally going to bite the corporate bullet. It meant they could stop buying me drinks out of guilt and looking at the latest pictures of the school play. One went further. He was proud of my decision, he said. As far as he was concerned, teachers were the biggest load of whingers, forever off sick or on strike, never happy with their lot, paid through the nose for taking long summer holidays and Inset days, incompetent, failing the nation's children and, of course, responsible for the crime wave that was sweeping his area resulting in him losing three wing mirrors in the past month.

I was gobsmacked. As a newly qualified non-teacher, how should I respond? Finally, I found the appropriate riposte. "Teacher hater!" I screamed, lunging across the table, dousing him with water, and letting rip about the many iniquities of the education system, and the brilliant achievements of every one of my colleagues. I was blinded by rage and indignation. Did people really think that about the job and the colleagues I loved? I was escorted from the restaurant, much to the relief of the assembled diners, and sat in a hot bath for the rest of the evening, sniffling to my husband about the injustice of the world, who pretended not to be listening.

"So you're still a teacher, then?" I am definitely not leaving, I decided.

The new career had lasted all of about four hours. It's stupid to think I could do anything else. However tired and pissed off I get, you can take the girl out of teaching, but you can't take teaching out of the girl.

Gemma Warren is an assistant special needs co-ordinator at a London secondary school. Email: gemmablaker@hotmail.com

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