“I’ve handed in my notice”, my friend told me. “I’m leaving teaching”.
“You’re not serious?” I said. Although I read daily reports of teachers leaving the profession in droves, this was the first time I had experienced it first-hand.
I listened while she explained it all to me. She still loved being in the classroom, she didn’t mind busting a gut to help the children, but teaching had reached a new level of crazy that was just too much to put up with. Having started out teaching English in secondary schools, she’d recently moved down to primary. She’d spent years dealing with GCSE pressure, disaffected resit groups and antagonistic teenagers but it was taking Year 6 through this year’s key stage 2 Sats that was the final straw.
“Even the experienced Year 6 teachers have said they’ve never known anything like it,” she told me. “I didn’t need that level of grammar to teach up to a GCSE A* so why am I forcing 10 and 11-year-olds to master it now? Grammar teaching should exist to help to develop writing and understand authorial intent, not just cramming for a test.”
This, combined with the facts that her family life was suffering, she averaged less than six hours of sleep, and she felt constantly stressed and under pressure, made her realise it simply wasn’t worth it.
It is a dreadful waste. She’s a terrific teacher: talented and dedicated. She gets results, the kids love her, yet no one is begging her to stay. I imagine this is a familiar story up and down the country. They just don’t all post open letters of resignation to Nicky Morgan on social media.
Of course, the sweeping (and often borderline insane) curriculum and assessment reforms have played a huge part, but school leadership is also to blame. Those teachers who feel happy in their job are probably working for a head who actively protects them from government policies by applying these through a heavy filter of common sense.
But in a recruitment crisis it stands to reason that such leaders can be thin on the ground, which leaves many teachers working in an atmosphere of blame and fear as those above them struggle to deal with the pressures of the job.
Even though I’m lucky enough to teach in a common-sense school, I do wonder how we ever made teaching a group of children how to read, write and add up quite so complicated.
Why is it that we can no longer get a nine-year-old to understand that it’s “‘i’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c’” without data sheets, learning objectives and meaningless buzz words?
More experienced teachers tell me that such madness is cyclical but I can’t see the tide turning just yet.
We all seem to be trapped in a version of The Emperor’s New Clothes. Maybe that will all change. Maybe common sense will return. Sadly it will probably be too late for the great teachers leaving right now.
Jo Brighouse is a primary school teacher in the Midlands