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.