I wrote a book last year that describes the routes into teaching and a few chapters on how to survive your first few years in the job. I’ve always refused to be negative about teaching, teachers and education.
But I also refuse to deny the reality of what a very difficult and challenging job it can be. I always start my talks to trainee teachers by congratulating them on their choice of a career. I tell them how much I admire their courage, indeed their bravery in taking on such a demanding and complex role.
Sometimes they look rather confused by this and I can tell they don’t really know what I’m talking about… yet.
Last year a new teacher, about to start her NQT year, sat in one of these talks. She wrote to me recently and I asked her how her first year in teaching was going. This was her reply…
Alan, you may be sorry you asked…
Three weeks ago I had Pupil Progress Meetings. 48% of my children in Maths, Reading and Writing had only made 1-2 points progress. This is due to inflated levels by their previous teacher (now on long-term ‘sick’ leave). I now have interventions coming out of my ears and double the workload I already had.
Then it was parents evening. All went ok till I got a parent who is ‘an educator’ (her words). She sat opposite, literally looking down her nose at me as her husband asked the questions. Then she dived in. Her son came to me with inflated levels and would only write 3 sentences (badly) for me in September. He is now writing pages and sending me notes on how much he is enjoying his learning. I think he is doing brilliantly, but she had other ideas.
“Why wasn’t he in the ‘gifted and talented’ programme? What was I going to do about it? Why hasn’t he progressed? What was I proposing to do next? Why did I not give her son feedback?”
One hostile question after another… Then she made the comment;
“I am an educator, I know the importance of feedback!”
Actually, she had missed her appointment to see her own son’s books. Had she come in, she would have seen the endless comments of praise and encouragement I always write.
We went around like this for 20 mins making me late for other parents waiting. She then moaned about not having enough time. I hadn’t had a break, a drink or enough time trying to accommodate other parents. Still she wouldn’t stop and continued to complain.
I still had four sets of parents still to see. I felt under such attack and the adrenalin was pumping so much I have no idea what I said to other parents when finally I saw them.
When it ended, I left the room a wreck. I am ashamed to say that tears just flowed out of me. One of the governors saw me and gave me a massive hug, which made me cry even more.
Next day my head was very supportive. But the thing is Alan, I am working 6 days a week, 12 hours a day and nothing is easy. Everything is hard. I know I will come across parents like this again and I really shouldn’t have to. No teacher should have to put up with this.
It went really well and I got ‘goods’ for both of my observed lessons. She told me my relationship with the children was outstanding and she would happily have her own children in my class.
But I am sorry to say that this positive feedback, much as it was needed, has not helped. I am so overworked and stressed that I am not sleeping. Next year I will be expected to do clubs and coordinate a subject. I cannot find the time to do what I have to do now. The marking alone is killing me. How on earth will I manage two extra responsibilities?!
My head is delighted with me but I have no life. My kids will be putting themselves up for adoption soon and I think my husband is on the verge of divorcing me. I just feel that all the stress and work involved is just not worth it for £1300 a month. Not at the expense of my family.
I didn’t go into teaching for the money, but I didn’t think it would ever be as hard as this. I cringe when I think of how happy and excited I was that day when we had that final lecture from you.
I had no idea what I was letting myself in for…
I am going to tell her as I have done many others, that the darkest hour always comes just before the dawn.
But when the dawn finally does come, so does self-knowledge. And that self-knowledge may include an understanding that teaching, for no fault of one’s own, is sometimes just too demanding and too complex – even for the most courageous and determined.
Teaching is not for everyone and if you are seriously re-thinking your career choice, that is not a failure on your part but the display of essential characteristics of every professional person – which is to reflect and evaluate.
Alan Newland worked as a teacher and headteacher in London for over 20 years and then for the DfE and the GTC. He now lectures on teaching and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk. You can follow him on Twitter at @newteacherstalk. His new book “Working in Teaching” (Crimson Publishing) is published in February 2014.