Finding a way back
I’m a teacher without pupils at the moment and I’m trying to find a way back. I left the classroom in 2013 feeling completely disillusioned and crushed by what I felt my profession had become. I used to love being a classroom teacher; I would happily spend hours researching new topics, planning creative and meaningful activities, designing and building attractive displays to celebrate and support learning, but most of all, I used to love the relationships with the children. I cared about them and I wanted their time in my care to matter; for them to feel safe, to be happy and to feel good about what they could achieve. Things changed. After the birth of my second child, I returned to a school that needed to focus on standards. I was part time in Year 6 and was launched straight into SATs preparation. I hated it. Actually I loathed it. I tried to think of ways to make it more playful, more interesting but there were limits, not least because, in my opinion, SATs tests themselves have no value to the children and Maths and English so dominated the time I had with them that I no longer felt that I could engage meaningfully with the whole class. One child was routinely absent on a Monday. We did a Reading paper every Monday. He struggled with reading. It was pretty clear what was happening but the whole class had to do the papers, week in, week out. It hurt me to see some of the children being repeatedly knocked by preparation for tests and I felt powerless to do anything about it. Another child asked me why we were covering a particular theme in Maths; I can’t remember what it was now but I remember the feeling. I remember pausing and thinking, and sighing before answering, “I’m really sorry that I haven’t got a better answer for you, but basically, there’s a good chance that this will come up in the test so we need to cover it.” “Oh,” he replied, “That seems a bit dumb.” I couldn’t disagree.
I didn’t have the full week with these children, I didn’t get to see how they got on in Science, or PE or in much of anything else. I got Maths, English, more Maths and English and a choice of PSHE or RE. Balance matters when you’re doing SATs prep, for those children who find learning tricky it’s important that you have shared in the subjects or times where they’ve had success, otherwise you’re just the person who makes them do the things they find miserable and that makes you miserable too.
When I first left it didn’t feel like an abandonment of the profession; I had been seconded to the local healthy schools team and I it felt meaningful. My role allowed me to work with schools in shaping their PSHE provision. I could offer practical help in identifying areas for development and was confident in highlighting the areas worth celebrating. I wrote lots. I wrote a number of resources to support practitioners with teaching about health and wellbeing and delivered training on how to implement the resources. Best of all, I still went into schools from time to time to teach wellbeing themes and strategies to children, sometimes over a period of time allowing me to get to know the children; to see them grow in confidence and understanding. Then things changed again. Personnel changed significantly as did the focus of the work so I changed too and started to work independently. I had other irons in the fire that were keeping me busy and I have no shortage of ideas on teaching health and wellbeing themes. But as things stand, I’m not teaching children. I get lovely feedback of how my work impacts the children that others are teaching, how my materials are helping both pupil and practitioner to feel a greater sense of wellbeing. That’s great, but not really enough. It hit me hard when I was recently visiting a special school. A child took hold of my hand on her way in with her carer. Her language was limited but she looked at me and smiled as I told her what I was visiting for. Another child befriended me as I was waiting for my meeting. We chatted about what we did for fun and what her favourite dolls were. I really miss the relationships with children; those connections when you catch them doing something well or when you support them in doing something significant, or just when you can have a little chat or share a smile.
I knew I wanted to be a teacher when I was eleven years old. Things have changed. The curriculum has changed, expectations have changed, standards have changed, I have changed but here I am, still wanting to teach. I just need to find a way of doing it that doesn’t crush me. I need to find a way to teach children about the things that I feel are important, the things that will allow children to be ready to learn, to access the curriculum in whatever form their school favours but in a way that doesn’t make them miserable, any of them. I need to figure out if that job even exists and if it does, if I can do it part time because I really enjoy the resource writing and training that I do too. Quite simply, I want to have my cake and eat it too. Is that too much to ask? I guess I’ll find out.