Wise after the event;Career development

14th May 1999 at 01:00
Career development can mean a move away from teaching. But, as Stephanie Cooper found, some parts of the job are irreplacable.

At the end of my final day as a deputy head I felt an enormous sense of relief. I was overworked, tired, undervalued and ready to do something else. I'd been teaching for six years, and deputy head for two. I'd had responsibility for in-service training, science, students, and a Year 1 class. I was genuinely relieved when I didn't have to do it anymore. I'd resigned, made the break, got out, escaped. I was free to pursue a career that I'd always had an ambition to do - journalism.

Most teaching friends told me they wished they could make the break from teaching too, and how brave I was to leave so I could start something new and exciting. I went on a magazine journalism course then worked as a freelance writer and sub-editor at BBC children's magazines. I am thrilled that I've done it. I love my new job. It's exciting and busy - but I'm not tired. There's time to go to the loo, I can make phone calls to family and friends during the day, have a cup of coffee whenever I want. I can even go to the gym.

Then, a few months ago, I was observing a Year 3 class at a first school and saw a talented teacher in action. Everything about this class was wonderful. The organisation, management, expectations of behaviour and work, the children's involvement: everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Even though I loved my new job, at that moment I was more jealous of that teacher than anyone else in the world, and I longed for a classroom to call my own. To my surprise, I started to miss teaching.

I miss getting on with a job that I'm experienced and good at. Especially those times, and there were plenty of them, when inspectors weren't there, and I could get on with the business of teaching my Year 1 class. Even when I was being observed I loved showing off what 26 five-year-olds were capable of doing.

I particularly miss the humour which was part of the day-to-day routine. Children telling me I looked beautiful, just because I'd had a hair cut, or telling me I looked like a princess because I wore glittery earrings. Children's writing: "At the weekend my Dad walked into a tree because he'd been to the pub." Their enthusiasm about life: "Miss, I'm drawing a happy picture 'cos my mum's getting married to her boyfriend next Saturday!" I miss working with support teachers and the regular parent helpers. there was a lovely, almost family atmosphere to the class. I even miss Victoria who vomited into the sink in our art corner - that just doesn't happen in any other profession.

I miss receiving Christmas presents, the smelly, edible and alcoholic ones, as well as the tacky ornaments, which I'm sure were sold at car boot sales by unscrupulous teachers to my class to wrap up and give me. I miss the class Christmas party.

I loved taking assemblies, and playing the piano while 300 children sang their collective hearts out, with the recorder players trying to keep up but always sounding like they were three bars behind the rest of us.

I miss the successes which happened every day. Suddenly Roxanne could spell because, Nicholas wanted to write four-page long stories, Tyiesha could add up. It was a thrill, too, when parents came to thank me because their child could now read, or had become a much more confident child.

I miss working with student teachers, witnessing their well thought out plans go wrong, but mostly seeing them improve, and improve beyond belief over a short time. My cousin is a student teacher and my creative juices flow, with a hint of jealousy, when she asks how to teach the concept of number to a group of four-year-olds. I never thought I would say that.

So many people judge and criticise teachers, everyone has an opinion, and there's so much pressure, that there's no time to enjoy being a teacher. It's only because I've left the profession that I can see that most teachers are talented and good at what they do. I can also see that being a teacher can be a great laugh. It's a shame I had to leave teaching to find that out.

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