Life after teaching (thus far…)

By far and away, the most popular post I ever wrote was “When you know it’s time to go” – and now it’s a case of ‘Life After Teaching’. I thought I’d write a very little update on what it’s like…

Firstly, it’s probably worth mentioning that I’ve left at a pretty exciting time. My book is out. And I left knowing that I’d be able to work with the brilliant staff at Independent Thinking and do more with one of the loves of my life, the International Schools Theatre Association. So all in all, there were lots of things to look forward to. But like any break up, there is pain too.

On the first day of term, I drove past my school like a heartbroken lover, staring up the driveway and wondering if I should pop in. I even sent a message to my ex Head of Department, offering to come in and clean the fridge. I’ve had little moments of heartache as I’ve realised I won’t be going to the Year 11 prom (which is particularly devastating as I now fit into THAT dress) and I nearly wept when I bumped into some members of my form group at the supermarket and saw their faces light up when they saw me. You forget sometimes how much you love them when you’re knee deep in marking their punctuation free sentences.

But my goodness, I don’t miss the marking. I know it’s necessary. I know it is an act of love. But it can be soul destroying and the twitter conversation last night in which it became clear that across both primary and secondary, the increased expectations that staff will be marking for around 3/4 hours every single night reminded me that we’ve moved beyond the boundaries of what can be considered to be humane expectations of our teachers. Even without marking, the habit of working well into the evening is really hard to break – especially after 21 years. I find myself sitting at my computer doing tasks I don’t even need to do because I can’t think of anything else to do simply out of force of habit. Evenings remain firmly programmed in my brain as “work time”.

But mornings are another matter. I swim. I do yoga. I used to try to do both, but to do so meant getting up at 5. Now, some days I can do it after dropping the littlest one off at school. I feel better – healthier, more rested and more alive. And my own children have noticed a difference – they seem more relaxed. I don’t bark at them to leave me alone. We laugh together.

I miss the classroom; the camaraderie, the challenge. I miss my colleagues – their generosity and spirit. But I don’t miss the bureaucracy. I don’t miss chasing data. I don’t miss doing things because Ofsted might want it. I don’t miss that at all.

And as for money. Well I’m poorer. I donated all my royalties to charity (so some child in Africa might well now get a pen) and I keep saying yes to things that don’t pay. I need to stop relying on my savings to get by. But the things I am doing are so interesting. I get to go to different places, meet different people, think in different ways. There are many ways of being rich. And I feel lucky to be richly stimulated.

I wish this fulfilment could come in school. Why is it that people have to leave teaching to feel trusted and respected; to feel that they have professional autonomy and the ability to take risks and try new things? What a crying shame.

I’ll keep updating the Life After Teaching posts. And maybe one day, I’ll be writing a ‘When You Know it’s Time to Go Home” blog. But until then….if you are thinking of leaving, make sure you know what you’ll miss and consider whether it’s worth it. Accept that you may earn less, but feel richer in other ways. Put some savings aside. Then leap and trust…

7 thoughts on “Life after teaching (thus far…)

  1. I’m so gald you have written this. I was wondering how you were feeling about leaving teaching. Life sounds fantastic. So true these feelings should be there with us all the time in education. To be able to take risks,try new things,feel trusted, respected….we can hope that one day it might happen again!
    I have been reading some very upsetting comments from teachers in a recent workload survey. It is just not right that teaching has got people feeling that desperate and upset. Not everybody can afford to make the move but neither can they continue working under this type of pressure. A sad situation ,for both teachers AND the children we teach, which I truly hope will change sometime soon.

  2. The workload drove me from teaching 15 years ago – I was burnt out. I felt no nostalgia – just relief that I no longer had to work evenings, weekends and ‘holidays’ to get the work done. I vowed to have nothing to do with the education system but continue my own – I studied for an OU degree (I’d been a Cert Ed teacher – no degree). I greeted every announcement about education ‘reform’ (academies with business sponsorship, league tables, mandatory ‘benchmarks’) with a roll of the eyes and then moved on.

    But that all changed on 7 December 2010 when the PISA 2009 results were published and I discovered the Gov’t had deliberately ignored a warning from the OECD not to make comparisons between the 2009 results and those for the year 2000 because the latter had been found faulty.

    I was incensed – but what to do? Fortunately FullFact followed up my complaint and published an article. And I discovered the Local Schools Network which let me post articles of my own.

    I’ve not looked back. My latest post is on teacher workload and how to reduce it. Comments please.

    Do I miss teaching? I miss being in front of a class – I miss the exasperating, funny, infuriating pupils many of whom greet me like an old friend me when I meet them. ‘Hello, Miss,’ always lifts my spirits. But I don’t miss the marking, the bureaucracy (which is worse now than when I left), the constant carping by politicians and the media.

  3. I was pushed out five years ago…been doing supply since….now almost nothing. Got any advice on how to rebuild self esteem and to survive?

  4. Good to read this, Debra, and I’m really pleased you are feeling refreshed and happy with your life now.

    As I think you know, I too decided to move to different challenges after a career in teaching/school leadership. It wasn’t that I felt ground down, exactly, but I was starting to feel tired, and after 30 years’ full-time work I was ready to do something different and to achieve a healthier balance in my life.

    Like you, I now have time to fit in exercise, I sleep more, I see friends and family more (including my 91 year old mum, who is great company!), I actually spend time with my husband! I read more (have joined a new Book Club), sing more (have joined a new choral society) and have more time for films and plays. I’m very good at convincing myself that I deserve all this after working so hard for so long!

    I’m finding plenty of fulfilment through the bits of educational consultancy work I’m doing, plus the doctorate, where I’m researching the transition from deputy head to head. Twitter, and reading and responding to blogs, (and the opportunities and new friendships that has brought) have also been hugely pleasurable and satisfying.

    People ask me whether I miss teaching/headship all the time, and I have to say I don’t. I enjoy meeting up with former staff and pupils (I don’t now live in the area where I was a head so I don’t bump into people all the time) but, much as I loved my career, especially headship (which was the best job of all) I’ve moved on and I am happier now, I have to say.

    I think I just want to advise people who do work hard and make sacrifices along the way that it may be possible to plan so that you can finish full-time work early (I was 52) and have a different experience in your 50s/60s. Like you, I have less money now, but more time, more choices, more freedom. And I absolutely agree that “There are many ways of being rich”.

    Thanks again for the post, and I look forward to future instalments!

  5. Debra, your honesty is as always refreshing. I have gone into advising post baby because I couldn’t rationalise having a child with doing what was regularly a 70 hour week. Any less than that and I felt I was letting someone down; my kids, my department, SLT….
    On the plus side my job now is a privilege. I hope that I make teachers’ lives easier, and am able to bring people together to share and research. I don’t see that daily impact of little lights switching on and fresh young faces, and I miss it. Not going back in September was a wrench.
    But, I’ve started a doctorate, see my little girl, have a weekend (!) and I too get to swim in the mornings. Still feel guilty though!

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