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Think twice before you desert the teacher ranks

A serial quitter explains why leaving the profession may not be your best option

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It is tempting amid the reports of teachers fleeing the profession to think: if so many other teachers have found opportunities elsewhere, then why couldn’t I? As a serial classroom deserter myself – I have left the teaching profession three times in all – I can tell you that it is far from straightforward.

Let’s start with finding a job in the first place. While we know that as teachers we have many transferable skills – creativity, time management, project management, training skills and so on – in reality, employers often struggle to see past your previous job title to the granular details underneath. While my teaching qualification and classroom experience helped me tremendously in carrying out my roles outside teaching, it was my other experiences and qualifications that got me those jobs initially.

Employers can also be very suspicious of teachers “leaving the profession”. I was once asked outright how I could convince a future employer that I wouldn’t return to the classroom within the year (they had been stung before…twice). Also, be prepared to explain exactly why you are leaving the profession – suggesting that the workload is too great or that you are disillusioned doesn’t give a great first impression.

Once those obstacles have been negotiated and overcome, there will, of course, be the issue of remuneration. Teaching may not be considered a particularly lucrative career, but if you are an established classroom teacher starting on a new career path, you are likely to be hit financially, at least in the short term. In my case, leaving teaching the first time cost me £10K a year in salary, the second time, a mere £6K. On both occasions, the jobs that I moved into were relatively well paid within their own sectors. I was extremely fortunate to be in a position to make the sacrifice.

I say this not to deter you but to show you the reality and to suggest that, actually, leaving is not all it is cracked up to be. Moreover, dare I suggest that staying may be your best option. You got into teaching because you loved teaching – and you can love it again. Let’s look at some of the most common causes for teacher dissatisfaction, and (beyond a complete rethink by Westminster), some potential remedies.

‘The workload is too much’

Go on a good-quality time-management course. I was enlightened when I understood properly how to manage my time. Being able to identify what is unnecessary – or sheer frippery – in your practice and how to understand and negotiate workloads can have an instant impact on your workload (or at least the way that you process it).

Go part-time. Not ideal, and yes, you will take a financial hit, but probably not as great a hit as you may take on leaving the profession.

Talk to your manager about relinquishing some responsibilities. I guarantee that they would rather still have you on the team than lose you over a workload issue.

‘I hate taking work home’

Try to enforce a “longer hours worked in school” approach. At busy times, I used to be in school from 6.30am to 7pm. It made for a really long day, but it allowed me to separate work from home, which was something that I found incredibly cathartic.

Create a personal weekly timetable. You’ll be amazed by the time that you waste doing absolutely nothing – or just procrastinating. I worked out once that I was wasting five hours a week in school doing very little. When “timetabled”, those hours focused my mind (and yes, I used to factor in coffee breaks and colleague catch-ups).

‘I feel pressured to take on more responsibility’

Delay such a step by talking to your line manager about consolidating your current practice before taking on more responsibility.

Rationalise the impact that taking on more responsibility might have on you. If it is not for you, be honest about that. You can still develop as a practitioner without having to move up through the ranks. But make sure to think before you leap: often, once you take on more responsibility, it can be difficult to give it back.

‘I am getting bored’

Challenge yourself. A revamp of your planning, taking on a different year group or diversifying your subject specialisms can help to keep you fresh.

Change school or role. Many teachers have a day a week working with other schools in a consultation capacity, or working with the local authority developing services or supporting other schools.

Go back to university. Take a day out every week to study for a master’s in something that you are passionate about (you might fancy something education focused, you might not) – this can challenge you in a very different way from teaching.

Fe Luton is an education writer and CPD trainer, with almost 20 years of education experience. Her various “life after teaching” roles have included: museum education officer; education researcher and writer, and inset/CPD trainer. For more information, go to bluepebbleeducation.co.uk

This is an article from the 1 April edition of TES. This week's TES magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here

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