I’m leaving my job. Not right away – I’d never leave children half way through an academic year – but I’ll be off in July. I think back to the post I wrote on teaching forever and I blush with the charge of hypocrisy, though, to be fair, after 21 years I think I’ve probably earned the right to say I did my bit. And hopefully I will continue to do more bits, but not again, I don’t think as a full time teacher in a school. So why? Well, it’s complicated.
It’s not because of the kids…
But they’re not easy. Last week one pushed me pretty hard and told me to fuck off. He’s vulnerable and floundering. We used restorative justice to talk through the situation and I got one of the most heartfelt apologies I’ve ever had. He beams at me in the corridor now. I’m not leaving because of him. In fact, thinking of leaving him makes my heart hurt a little. But I won’t miss all that constant low level disrespect from children whose parents have instilled in them a feeling that teachers are not worthy of their attention. Is that a child’s fault? No – I don’t think so. We see a downward push from the top – where the image of a lazy blob of failing, scruffy teachers is pushed onto parents’ breakfast plates by those hoping to win votes and sell papers. If we want to look for blame for the attitudes of some of the young people in our classrooms, look no further than the words of those in charge of education. They need to run round a field and write some lines themselves. “I must not undermine the authority of the profession I am expecting to educate our children – no matter how popular it makes me”. So no, I’m not leaving because of the kids. And certainly not because of the hundreds who make my days full of surprise and joy.
I’m not leaving because of my SMT
They are lovely people, working hard under difficult circumstances and I’m fond of them and will miss them. But they are under such pressure to maintain targets that I constantly feel I have to compromise my integrity to do my job. I know that learning is not linear, that our data is a farce, but to show willing, I spend hours putting the meaningless drivel into computers so that all looks well. I know that the way to improve teaching and learning is not through Mocksteds, but through close collaboration between colleagues, networking and sharing good practice in a supportive, formative and developmental process. But I smile wearily as yet another HMI consultant is wheeled into my classroom and wish I could have spent his fee on something that might have an impact.
I’m not leaving because of Ofsted
If we all refused to play the ‘prep for Ofsted’ game, there would be no threat from Ofsted would there? They’d see us as we are and if the way we were was focused on the very best provision for children, then it would not matter what any external visitor thought. I think we only have ourselves to blame for the madness that results in building an entire school culture around a two day visit every four years.
I’m not leaving because I’ve had a better offer
I’ve had no offers, though I know they will come. But better than what? Being with children? There is no better offer than that. And here’s the rub. Sometimes, I get to work with children in situations where there are no targets, no inspectors, no data – I work in a primary school on Fridays where we are simply focusing on making the learning deep and meaningful and every second is a joy. The head has given me carte blanche to be creative and we’re having so much fun as a little team of teachers, it seems wrong to call it work. And then a few times a year, I get to go to work with children from all around the world with the International Schools Theatre Association and for three days at a time, we unite and create some of the most extraordinarily moving work I’ve ever had the pleasure to be involved with. I always return with a fire in my belly and my teaching flies.
When my Head teacher (rightly) pointed out that perhaps I had taken on too much and needed to choose what to focus on, I thought long and hard. When I take out the data monitoring, admin, emailing, meeting, monitoring of my work, what’s left is teaching. I know what works for my children, based on my authentic teacher self and realise that every day I compromise that self to meet someone else’s agenda. Ten years ago, I could produce some of the best results in the country and how I taught was entirely up to me. That is no longer the case. I see colleagues destroyed by judgements that I know to be false based on an unreliable process. I see children channelled into becoming automatons, devoid of life and hope, sitting listlessly asking ‘just tell me what I need for the exam’ and I want to weep. I stand in the biome at the Eden Project with 140 children singing their hearts out for a better world and I almost cry at the thought of the world they return to on Monday morning. It’s not good enough. We are failing them. I am failing them. And if I have to step outside of the system for a little while in order to shout for change, I will. That’s why I am leaving.