When ExitTeaching approached me about doing a blog post about leaving teaching I wasn’t sure whether I should. Despite the fact I had considered leaving a few times over the past 12 years I never took it seriously, it was a reactionary response to something that had happened at school that was hard or had annoyed or upset me and I’d joke about winning the lottery or moving abroad or becoming a hermit….the normal stuff! I have left though, well sort of.
I am what they call a career teacher….went to school, went to uni, went back to school. I’ve never done anything else since I graduated. Evenings and weekends were for planning and catching up with the things you couldn’t do in the week. I was used to it, it was me and it was what I did. I have had 5 jobs in that time across the country and in differing schools. I’ve worked in mainstream schools, I’ve worked in Inner London and I’ve worked in the special needs sector (the most rewarding bit I might add and I would recommend anyone trying it.) In that time there has been a serious decline in my opinion in many conditions in schools and I found myself working harder and harder, giving up more and more of my own time and (heaven forbid) hobbies to get everything done, all the data input, reports, marking and re-marking, it was all important and it all had to be done yesterday if you get my drift! Also there has been a vast change in the attitudes of children and their perception of you as a teacher. They know that they are in the powerful position now, they know their parents are, in the vast majority of cases, on their side and that the teacher is there to give…and give and give. Heaven forbid you should expect students to actually work hard! (Maybe that is for a different blog though) It was ok though…I coped and managed to maintain the swan like appearance (serene on top, furious paddling below the surface.) Sure things were sacrificed…. especially if they were on Sunday but it was for a good cause, it was for the kids.
Then I moved jobs. I took on a different middle management role. It was ok to start with, I adapted well. I was learning the ropes and progressing. At least I thought I was. I got ill….no one’s fault, normal ‘new school’ ill, picking up all the bugs and getting them out of my system. Thing is I never got better. I was still working but I was so poorly I was sinking. My fiancé would come home and find me asleep over a pile of books at 6pm, I could barely lift my arms above my head as my glands hurt so much yet I kept going to work. I kept trying my best yet it wasn’t enough. It was put to me I would be observed again (for the 3rd time in a short space) and have ‘SLT support sessions’ which took up more of my non-contact, which I desperately needed. I burnt out trying to jump the hurdles and hoops so I could be left alone to get better.
Then I collapsed at home.
From that point on I have not taught in a classroom. I was extremely ill for the first 8 months going from bed to sofa and back to bed again. I hardly left the house, as I was scared I would be seen and scared I would get stuck, I was so tired I could hardly walk. Any time school was mentioned or I had to think about it or I got a letter I panicked. Full on panic. Tears and hyperventilating was common. My school bags remained unpacked for this whole time, just the idea of looking at my planner made me sick – all I could think about was the children I was letting down, I couldn’t bear it. I had some Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to try and untangle some of the mess in my mind. It made me see that it wasn’t my fault I was ill and that there really wasn’t anything I could do. I was also being tested for anything and everything you could think of, the medical profession was at a loss, which was another frustration to bear, as I just wanted to know what was wrong with me.
Once I was a bit stronger I started to pick up little hobbies, mostly round the house. Sketching, pottering in the garden, nothing exciting. But I realised I ENJOYED it, all these things I’d been missing out on. It was around then I decided I couldn’t face going back to that school and all the people psychologically ‘pointing and staring’.
So I didn’t, I resigned. Utter relief and sheer panic at the same time. To start with it was ok, we had a bit of savings to tide us over whilst I figured out how much I needed to earn and what I could do. I had interviews for various roles but no success (I am still pursuing a few things) and I went to sign on as you do…not a pleasant experience, who knew they had security guards at job centres that looked at you oddly when you were polite and cheery and said good morning?! No I didn’t! They were also no help at finding me alternatives to teaching and just kept suggesting I ‘give it another go’ because there were loads of teaching jobs….do you think they might have missed the point.
I remember one day laying it on the line to my advisor, telling her what my average week was like as a teacher and what was expected. I will remember her open mouthed wide-eyed look for a long time to come believe me. They are only doing their jobs of course but teachers are more overskilled that the job centres are used to…
And then I got a phone call. It was the special school I used to work for…”You’re unemployed” said the assistant head I got on with well. No s**t Sherlock was essentially the reply, they had been getting a lot of reference requests from all the applications I had been filling out. I was suspicious…we parted on pretty ok terms but I knew they never filled my role…. “Would you be up for some one to one tutoring?” Came the question….interesting. I took some time to think about the terms they were offering and it seemed like a good idea, flexible working so I could fit my various medical appointments around it, hourly rate, mileage. It could work, so I said yes.
That was nearly 6 months ago. I am still tutoring for the school, going to the kid’s homes and tutoring a mix of English Maths and Science to kids that for a variety of reasons cannot be in school full time or at all. It’s interesting to see them in their home environments and the parents are grateful. Alongside that I am tutoring for an agency and, as it is coming up to exam frenzy time I have a lot of tutees from them, ranging from Triple Science Ace all the way through to Anxious and Scared. It’s great variety. On top of that as a banker for the summer (remember it’s hourly rate so I only get paid for what I work and who wants tutoring in August?!) I’ve just been accepted as an exam marker for one exam board and am waiting on another.
I’m busy and it takes it out of me. I also now know what is wrong with me. I finally have been given a formal diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I won’t get all medical on you but it is different for everyone. For me I struggle to recover, I wake up tired, my hands, wrists, shoulders, back, knees and feet hurt from fibromyalgia pain all the time, I get ‘brain fog’ which when you have a memory like mine is frustrating, my eyes get tired at my worst and go in and out of focus. Writing this blog will resort in a good hour’s rest. I can’t rush around and I have to respect what my body tells me. I can’t exercise, even a decent walk will see me knocked out for the rest of the day and the day after. This means I am a lot fatter than I want to be and psychologically that’s tough. I have depression and anxiety and need a lot of support just to be OK. All that said it is OK though. My outlook has changed completely. I can put myself and my health first. I don’t miss being in a classroom AT ALL. I thought I would but I don’t. I have time to have little hobbies like gardening and even to give something back and do some volunteering. I would have never been able to do these things if I hadn’t hit rock bottom and come out of the other side. Financially it is really hard I won’t lie, adjusting to being on less than half my teaching salary and being reliant on my fiancé is hard as a strongly independent person but we’re ok, we’re coping, we aren’t going to lose the roof over our heads. It’s just hard to ask for money that’s all. Part of my new therapies now I have been diagnosed will address things like this. I’ve found time to be mindful. Mindfulness is something worth exploring, it gives you the time and space to just be. We all need that in our lives.
I’ve also had some support from the Richmond Fellowship to help me write a new CV directed away from teaching and help me to understand what I am looking for in a new role. My life is definitely richer now, I can do so much more which is the most apparent at about 6pm on a Sunday night when you are still at your friends BBQ with no Sunday planning fear….and all teachers know the fear. I don’t know where I will be in 6 months or a year or even 5, but that’s ok. I know my first priority is to get physically better. Then the world is my oyster, or even my seafood platter.