Monday, 9 July 2012

Thoughts on leaving teaching

Since I was last active on this blog, I have mostly been teaching English in secondary schools, in Edinburgh and Stevenage. There have been many wonderful things associated with this, mainly with the kids and the constant variety and energy many of them bring. My current year 7 class have become so involved in A Midsummer Night's Dream, a play I have always hated, that I have begun to be converted. One of my year 8 students is astonishing in her level of insight about how language and structure are used in texts: she was making points about symbolism in 'Stone Cold' that hadn't even occurred to me. A whole year 8 class, who were ragged, lazy and stagnant when I inherited them, are now hardworking, calm, and really keen to do well - which they are, increasingly. My low-ability year 9 class are sunk deep in the drama of Romeo and Juliet, including a boy who was reluctant to raise his hand four weeks ago, let alone write anything down. That same class are starting to turn on the one boy who has made about sixty percent of lessons difficult in some way by talking and commenting and irritating other people: they're regularly telling him to shut up so we can get on with the lesson - and, frankly, I'm happy to let them!

But despite some of these triumphs - I won't even say minor triumphs, because for many of these kids these are major triumphs which they will be able to look back on with pride - I am leaving teaching in four weeks. And I can't wait. I cannot believe how endlessly draining teaching has turned out to be, like plugging yourself into a black hole that sucks your energy until you wrench yourself out of it for a couple of days (i.e. the weekend), which you inevitably spend lounging around and wasting time until those days are over and you realise you've achieved nothing at all. At my school we are currently on a huge improvement drive - which sounds great, until you spend a year in this environment and realise it essentially means being told you have to work harder and harder, in time you haven't got, with energy you can't summon. One of my colleagues said the other day that she feels like Boxer from Animal Farm, repeating the mantra "I will work harder" when confronted with any deficiency in the department. There was simply nothing comforting to be said in return.

At the start of the year, I decided I was going to try to learn jazz piano, and to take philosophy AS Level. Both projects completely crumbled after less than a term of teaching. The prospect of expending even more mental energy is repellent. And there comes a point, after nearly three years in this career, when you realise it isn't going to get any better.

So I handed in my notice in early May. The plan is to spend a great deal less time working (and thinking about work, which is almost the same amount of time again), and to get a straightforward job, less well-paid but less of a burden. Coupled with some private tutoring work, I can afford to give myself three days a week to get a draft of a novel done, to write some short stories, to read a lot more, to keep a regular blog, and to become a Writer, with a capital W. It's an idyllic intention, granted. But it's the first time I've really had a period in my life which I'm desperately looking forward to that isn't some form of 'I can't wait until this is over'. The realisation that you genuinely DON'T have to stick with something if you don't enjoy it, whilst slightly against the grain of how I was brought up, is wonderful. And I'm going to leave now, to go and look forward to it some more!