I still remember my very first day as a teacher, sitting there on a sunny September morning bouncing in excited anticipation for my very first INSET day. I remember vividly looking around the room at twenty or so not-quite-so-excited-as-me teachers, wondering why and knowing that that would never be me.
And it isn’t.
I am still so full of passion for teaching and learning, making myself a better teacher and trying to do the best for the kids in my classes. I am still constantly on the look out for great ideas to magpie, reading teaching books, always looking for ways to improve. That’s why I struggled with my decision. Having to walk away from something you love is hard. Really hard.
The problem is the whole regime. The constant threat of Ofsted, the moving of the boundaries and the constant weighing of pigs (I’m sure if you’re a teacher you’ve heard the phrase) and how this is translated in schools.
I spent my first few years doing pretty well. I improved with each successive observation until I was consistently good, sometimes with outstanding features and once achieving that elusive ‘outstanding’. And then I moved schools.
Actually, for the first couple of years I carried on doing well, getting good gradings and taking on more responsibility. And then things started to go wrong. I had a difficult class who didn’t get on with each other at all and I didn’t know how to get them to like each other. However, instead of the head providing support, my requests for help and guidance got ignored as I was told I was ‘experienced’. I struggled and my observations slipped. Still no support was forthcoming so I decided to leave, my confidence heavily shaken.
I was lucky, or so I thought, that I managed to get another job. I wanted to keep my head down and get on with being the best I could be for the children I was teaching. And for a while things seemed to be going well. Unfortunately I then managed to get struck down with every illness under the sun and ended up having to be signed off. This was not taken sympathetically by the Head and I was told that I was not performing to my best ability (I’m not sure anyone would be with what I had, I was very lucky not to end up in hospital) but this was enough to knock my confidence just that bit more.
I made sure I worked even harder, all evening and most of the weekend, to try and improve. But then the comments started coming thick and fast – data not good enough, lessons not good enough, marking not good enough, planning not good enough – basically anything that could get picked to pieces was. I ended up in pieces. I was spending two to three hours planning and resourcing a 1 hour lesson, burning myself into the ground, still to be told it wasn’t good enough but never given any specific guidance on how to improve.
I had to have more observations. Two or three a week. Something I struggle with already so by now I was at breaking point although I tried not to let it show. My Head did not seem to understand that constant observation without positive, specific feedback was not going to help and I was threatened with formal capability if I didn’t stop getting ‘Requires Improvement’. The thing was, the more I was observed the more I panicked and couldn’t do my best as nerves got the better of me. I just wanted to cry constantly. And my union couldn’t do a bloody thing.
And so I ended up handing in my notice and being signed off with severe anxiety which was causing several panic attacks a day. I don’t think I’ll ever teach again while the system is as stifling and constraining as it is currently and there’s no real way for teachers to challenge the behaviour of a headteacher. Both headteachers were readily willing to use the threat of Ofsted and accountability as a whip to beat their teachers with yet both were unable to show me how to do it themselves when challenged – one wouldn’t and one couldn’t.
I keep wondering if its me, but I know deep down it’s not. I was a good teacher in my first school, I’ve just had my confidence shattered. And I was not the first or only one in either of these schools that was treated this way; I watched both these heads go through other staff members before me one by one, trying to break them and forcing them out.
For me the pressure and lack of trust has become too much. I miss teaching like crazy but I’ve lost too much of myself and my relationships in the process and I now need to put myself first before I lose anything else.