A reader's view on the teaching profession

//A reader's view on the teaching profession

This post was sent to me in response to yesterday’s post by an NQT considering leaving teaching and wishing to remain anonymous.
Why do so many teachers leave the profession?
About me: I am 26 next week. I finished my PGCE in July 2012, after spending 5 years working as Teaching Assistant whilst I did a degree with the Open University. I have worked both professionally and voluntarily as a football coach with children aged 5-16 years for over a decade now; I began coaching at 14 after a back injury stopped me from playing.
I cannot speak for anyone but myself. I read your blog post with interest because it popped up as I sat in front of the laptop to look at what options I have outside of teaching. I’ve begun acting upon the perception that perhaps teaching is not for me, despite my passion for teaching and learning. Before I carry on, please know that I am not a bad teacher – I’ve been told this by several Head teachers. I’ve just finished a supply contract, which was brilliant. I can honestly say I loved it, even with the challenges it gave me. I started a project, started tweeting and my interest in learning and ways of teaching is in healthy shape, although, I would attribute the last to the educational hub that is active on twitter. The experience made me ‘step up’ yet I am still sat here feeling a block about committing to the teaching profession.
For me, the teaching profession makes me feel ‘dragged down’ in a way that coaching never has. I have thought about this and wondered if I’m looking at coaching through a rose tinted viewpoint, but I don’t think I am. There is a fundamental difference between teaching and coaching attitudes, which affect the atmosphere of the professions. This for me, is what is ‘driving’ me away from a profession, not from my love of teaching and learning.
I feel the crucial difference is community. My experience of coaching is that nearly all conversations are related to sport, coaching philosophy, drills/practices and current sporting events.When I have worked with other coaches or been on CPD courses, it has always felt like a complete immersion into sport. Now that I am reflecting, I feel that when in these situations I often feel enthused and positively energised because I am learning from all the professional conversations taking place – the same way I feel when reading a lot of the teaching discussions on Twitter. For me, this positive energy translates into confidence as a coach. That feeling of being energised is one which teachers often cite as missing – how many times do you hear teachers say they “when’s the next holiday?” or “I’m so tired already”. In coaching the body is tired but motivation, in my opinion, is generally higher.
A possibility, or contributing factor to this energised feeling could also be that progress in coaching is visual – players develop before my eyes and that is incredibly motivating. Most coaches will record this progress on paper only after it has been demonstrated practically. Teachers are required to provide evidence, mainly for mental capabilities – we gain this evidence on paper through tests or some way of showing it, then we go on to record it for other adults using SIMS, APP or some other paper based activity. I find this mentally draining.There is always that feeling of knowing there is something more to do once you have completed a task – nothing is ever going to be good enough. There’s also this big expectation that we have to be ‘good enough’ that looms over teaching in a way that it doesn’t in coaching.
I am sharing my thoughts and feelings because coaching and teaching are both focused on learning and progression. Coaching also involves assessing mental capabilities. We look for players who can find space, be creative, stay calm under pressure, innovate, make decisions, problem solve… but our initial assessment for this is always going to be through a physical demonstration or a verbal discussion before recording on paper because the nature of sport is practical. Actually, there is no reason teaching couldn’t initially assess this way… it just means there would be no paper records to back up why the teacher has made a certain judgement. It could be that coaches are trusted and teachers aren’t.
Coaching is seen as a specialism; it is not something that everyone can do, but teaching is open to anyone and everyone. On my PGCE course there were certain people who were talked about as, “How can they possibly pass?”followed by, “But they’ve paid their fees, so they’ll pass. Nobody will fail them”.
In coaching, people fail. You will be given some support, but not the kind of relying on your tutor to pass support. Quite frankly, you get told that you’re not ready, go and build up experience or whatever is needed to work on, then come back and do the course. Teaching is not a profession anymore in my opinion. You mentioned the Teach First initiative – on the one hand it’s great because they are attracting the top graduates, but do those graduates really love and care about teaching, or are they doing it because it’s a stepping stone to a better job?
A few reasons why I feel teaching is not a profession: 

  • Academies can set pay according to how well they think a teacher is performing
  • Almost everyday there are negative news items about teachers and schools
  • Accountability is an issue – a person in their first year of teaching is expected to behave and work in the same way as someone with 30yrs experience. In some schools, I have not felt that I am allowed to make a mistake (and that was as a trainee!) Yet we tell children that mistakes are learning opportunities etc…but not teachers.
  • People who have previously been in the army can be fast tracked to teach, as can bankers…

These things all have a knock on effect on the teaching community and atmosphere. This is important because, generally, teachers will be in school from 8-6 on weekdays. My experience of the teaching community is that conversations can be about a variety of things. This is has both positive and negative effects. A positive is that conversation can provide respite from the working day – it is relaxing/coping mechanism to think about something else during break times. The diversity of people and breadth of experience makes things interesting too. I have noticed that there is not much talk of learning, children and current events. There is always talk of certain children or each others’ lessons – this is not a bad thing.
But what I mean is, there is not the same kind of immersion as there is in coaching. In my opinion, the only place this ‘teaching talk’ is taking place is on twitter. By teaching talk, I don’t mean the kind where SMT talks about teaching, learning and the school in staff meetings – this carries pressure with it. I am talking about the general, ‘talk because I like learning and teaching’ talk that we see so much of on Twitter; the sort of talk you get in a community of like minded people who, generally, interact about education.
These kinds of interactions don’t take place in schools.  When was the last time you stopped someone in a corridor to discuss a great article you both happened to have read? Some teachers have said that they’d love to be able to do these things – that is what they enjoy doing, and I think some of them almost feel guilty for not doing it – but there just isn’t time. If you are lucky/organised/superhuman enough to have everything that needs doing done as far as school goes, you spend the time with family or friends who you’d also, love to see more of but there just isn’t time.
In fact, those last paragraph on its own is pretty depressing really, isn’t it? That is the average teacher’s life at the moment.
Coaching and teaching are very similar. When I coach, I am almost always working alone. When I teach, I am alone in front of the class. When coaching, sometimes I work with colleagues but generally we work in certain areas in much the same way that teachers and teaching assistants can be working in the same room or within a proximity. A major, possibly important difference is that coaching is dominated by men and teaching by women. This may or may not have an influence on the differences in the community. Personally, I don’t think it does. I think the community is more affected by the external expectations and pressure than anything else.

2013-02-28T20:22:45+00:00February 28th, 2013|Featured|

6 Comments

  1. Fellow NQT February 28, 2013 at 11:53 pm - Reply

    I don’t disagree with what is being said here, but I believe my happiness (and sanity) rests on my ability to see past this, and all the red tape to, to what the students really need from me. All of the above is worth it (or at least less important) when you finally see a change in a student for the better.
    Making the decision to step back, let something slide so that I can have more time for myself and be a calmer, and hopefully better, human being will hopefully make me a better teacher as well. I feel like a very different person since Christmas when I started working on trying to find a balance, or rather a breather, in each week.
    I wish your anonymous poster all the best with their decision. This life is hard, but then the important things often are.

  2. Annie March 1, 2013 at 8:48 am - Reply

    I feel for you anonymous poster, this life is draining and if you are not in an environment where your professional pedagogy is engaged and enlivened then I agree, it can be a drag from one holiday to the next. As a supply teacher your are lacking community in a way that many teachers in a permanent school get. It shouldn’t be the case I know, but you are not always obliged to stay for staff meetings etc. Do you think perhaps that a commitment to a school that makes you feel that you love your work again would be worthwhile? If a school can enthuse you that much then maybe there is a possibility that supplying until you find the one that’s right for you and ensuring at interview that there is a strong, robust and dedicated pedagogical arena, will allow you to see the real joy of teaching that a huge number of us appreciate. Do you attend teachmeets? CPD is expensive, many of us on Twitter take to the space because of its immediacy, all you need is two or three tweeters in one school and it can explode, it is at our school and we are in the back of beyond, far from the madding crowds. Don’t give up just yet; you sound so brilliantly reflective and capable, you just need a school that matches your outlook and they do exist, I promise you, even in deepest, darkest rural England!! Good Luck, keep Tweeting!

  3. Anonymous writer March 1, 2013 at 12:49 pm - Reply

    Thank you, I understand both of your comments.
    Fellow NQT: “I feel like a very different person since Christmas when I started working on trying to find a balance, or rather a breather, in each week.” <—- should this be happening? How do you feel when you let things slide? I am genuinely interested because you are managing to keep your morale up. Someone mentioned on twitter that they have a rota for what they mark and when, which sounds like a great piece of advice. Maybe I am just not organised enough so I end up taking it home!
    Annie: I have not been to a Teach Meet yet, have you? It is something I hope to do if I take on a permanent position. I have not been in a school where other staff are tweeters so perhaps twitter is the way forward for the teaching profession. Do you feel morale about the profession as a whole is high at your school? I say profession as a whole because some schools have high morale for the school but not the profession.
    I've made lasting contacts in the 6 schools I've encountered over the last 6yrs (as a TA, on placement and on supply) and always been involved in the school community, even on supply. My post is based on conversations, thoughts and opinions of teachers working in the profession, many of whom are good teachers that are frustrated at the constant pressure being piled on. I feel the lifestyle of teachers and never ending workload is having an affect on the motivation of many good teachers. The original post by David was asking why so many teachers leave and I believe this is why. I feel the teaching profession generally is going through a depression.

  4. Fellow NQT March 1, 2013 at 2:31 pm - Reply

    I have tried to work smarter and be less hard on myself.
    I focus on why I am getting the students to write things down and so my mark load is less, I also do a lot more peer and self assessment. The things that slide tend to be: the difference between a powerpoint and just writing on the board; I might just get a text book out once in a while and let the students work through the exercises; I build in more time for students to edit their work (and so I have to come up with less lesson ideas as those lessons plan themselves).
    I also take one night off a week. I leave school by 4 on that day and don’t let myself do anything in the evening (except maybe have a bubble bath!). I also plan something fun and social for a Saturday. I might need to do a couple of hours in the morning if it is a particulary heavy week but generally I save all my planning for Sunday.
    I’m not saying I have it cracked, far from it, but I love what I do and I don’t feel like I am struggling. The kids are progressing and so am I. It’s all good 🙂
    Best of luck to you!

  5. Annie March 3, 2013 at 12:57 pm - Reply

    Go to a teach meet- they are awesome! Forget the policies and the denegrading of the profession for now; we are not alone (The NHS get it a lot!) and we have a job to do, let SLT sort out what is good for the schools they get paid more to do it! (The best reason for being choosy if you look for a perm post!) Support you’re own CPD through social media – you are in control of that and there is so much out there to support you – Use the holidays to catch up – I leave a lot of marking until the hols, we are lucky to have that time, who else does?! Find a place where you can grow and develop if you really want to teach; be honest with yourself first and foremost, if its not for you (But it sounds like it might be) then do the kids a favour and do what your’re best at, if it is then commit 100% and find that great school, challenge them to see what and how they will support your growth and development – you have that right! Take control of your CPD and enjoy the ride. It isn’t easy but its worth it, you know that already. We can’t change the world all the time but together we are strong! We are Trojan Mice! To quote the awesome @kevbartle from @PedagooLondon yesterday. Good Luck

  6. […] Kelsie Strohmaier – 5:32 pm I found this great post about teaching and coaching from The Learning Spy and he makes a great point, coaching also involves mental capabilities. Coaches have to be creative, […]

Constructive feedback is always appreciated

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: