Why I quit my job. And then changed my mind

25th July 2014 at 01:00
A career in adult education was a dream that quickly turned into a nightmare, but this teacher has decided to stick it out - for now

I was six months into being a newly qualified teacher when I decided to resign. It was my first teaching job; the job I'd spent eight months training for at considerable expense and for which I had quit a successful decade-long career in a quite different world.

Those six months hadn't been the worst, most stressful or unhappiest of my career - nothing could top the sheer hell of my PGCE. However, the experience wasn't quite what I had anticipated when I embarked on my long-held ambition of becoming an English teacher.

I woke up in a sweat thinking I had planned my lessons so badly that there would be empty minutes in which nothing could be heard but the sound of tumbleweed. I was panic-stricken if a photocopier jammed, a memory stick was mislaid or we ran out of laminating sheets. I waited in dread for the 48-hour warning email informing me of an observation. A friend remarked that I was like a tightly coiled spring.

I work in adult education, which is very different from schools. I teach mainly in the evenings, when my boss and other managers (we have curriculum coordinators, not department heads) have gone home. We don't have a staffroom, so the job can be isolating; there is no desk, so I lug everything around with me. On the flip side, I am fairly autonomous and, unlike schools, there is no law governing whether our students should be there and, thankfully, no parents to placate.

But there is paperwork. Every course has a mountain of admin and every student a forest's worth of records. I have filled out more forms in the past 10 months than in 10 years during my previous life. Some of the paperwork is relevant but a large amount is a box-ticking exercise ensuring that if anyone (and by "anyone" I mean Ofsted) swooped in, every single cough and spit could be accounted for.

I teach GCSE English and level 1 English functional skills, and as every teacher knows, the NQT year means planning from scratch. At the start of the academic year, eight hours of teaching was taking me 30 hours of planning. This is not economically viable when you get paid hourly and combine your job with a second career.

Merry-go-round of change

Although I still type out every lesson plan in meticulous detail (stop laughing at the back, you old-timers), the amount of time I spend on planning has fallen slightly as my NQT year has progressed. I have developed more strategies and back-up plans for when exercises don't work or when only one student turns up (yes, that did happen, but it was a small class anyway and the other learners had jobs, job interviews or childcare issues: problems unique to adult education).

But new reforms keep taking effect. GCSE English is changing beyond recognition. It was frustrating to realise that the hours I spent planning lessons on To Kill a Mockingbird hadn't been the investment I'd hoped, because the novel will no longer be on the curriculum.

That is thanks to former education secretary Michael Gove, a man I found myself talking about (in not entirely complimentary ways) more times than I care to mention. "You've come into the profession at the wrong time," said a friend and primary school teacher of 18 years. "He's changing everything. It wasn't always like this."

This particular friend will start September in an office, not a classroom, having walked away from the job she once adored. The stress of constant observations, stupid amounts of marking and increased paperwork made it unbearable. Her husband and children were worried for her health, so she quit.

Over the past 12 months, at times I have become so worked up about teaching that I lost touch with the reasons why I went into the job in the first place: I like people and I want to make a difference. Yet I do like my students (on the whole) and I've seen how adult education can change lives.

I've written references for learners who have gone on to land their first paid job. I've seen quiet, shy people grow in confidence. I've witnessed students improve their English to the extent that they no longer look back on their less-than-sparkling school career and class themselves as "thick", but instead look ahead and contemplate their dreams of becoming care-home workers or teaching assistants or nurses. Now they can help their children with their homework or write competitive job applications.

Yet back in March, when I resigned verbally with the intention of staying on until the end of the year, the highs were outweighed by the lows, and the stress and panic were seeping into my private life and making me an utter pain to be around. I was asked to reconsider, which I agreed to do. Yet the very act of resigning lifted a weight off my mind and I relaxed a little. I tried to think less about me (and Ofsted and observations and whether I was ticking every box) and focus more on my students and their achievements.

It worked. I began to enjoy the job more and take on board positive comments. I praised myself instead of walking out of classrooms feeling that I had delivered a poor lesson.

So I'm staying. I'm going to give it another year, although I can't say for certain that I won't be one of the 40 per cent of new teachers who leave the profession within five years. Ask me again in 2018.

Kate Bohdanowicz teaches adults in East London

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