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My teaching epitaph

Updated: Aug 30

My teaching career lasted me all of 10 years. I don't regret it, I want to make that really clear from the outset. When I became a teacher for the first time I was at a real low point in my life. I had just ended a long term relationship, moving away from my sons was heartbreaking. Everything that I owned fit fit into my little 1.2 litre Corsa that sometimes cut out when I was driving - usually as I was leaving a busy junction. I had very little, fortunate to have the family support. Teaching got me through this financially as well as giving me a much needed purpose. I met my best friend in that time and married her. I have a lovely gelled family, my sons, daughter and step-daughters mean the world to me. But I'm not regretting leaving right now either.

Somehow I managed to secure my first job shortly after I had to start my life again - a relatively new school that I had visited once as a student, two form entry in a decent catchment. It was about 3 days after my confirmed offer that the chaos that would be my career began. I was out for a run (probably the last time I went for a run) and I received a phone call from the deputy head. The headteacher had been suspended over a safeguarding issue - it was going to court. Cue 18 months of absolute turmoil. The case dragged out and he was found not guilty, it made the national papers. Suffolk County stepped in however, and conducted their own investigation which resulted in the desired outcome - he was out of teaching for good.

In the time it took to reach that conclusion, staff left in droves, we had headteacher after headteacher on interim basis. Most were crap, one sadly died shortly after stepping away from the stressful role and one can only be described as the living embodiment of Miss Trunchball. I lost count of how many came and went.

During that time period I was an NQT (old money ECT). I lost my mentor at Christmas, I pretty much ended up running lower Key Stage 2 in my first year and then in my second I was given responsibility for Key Stage 2 English and year 6 in the first year of 'new SATS'. It was difficult, I had support in fairness, but it was difficult. We survived OFSTED and had a new headteacher by my 3rd year, but then academisation shortly followed and new staff - I didn't gel with it.

The following year I left half way through the year. Something I would never do again. I was tempted by a new role as Key Stage 2 Lead. A number of the staff who had left during the troubles had landed in Bury and were keen to present a nice carrot to poach me across - first big mistake of my career.

Within 3 weeks, the head teacher was suspended, never to return. I don't actually know any of the ins and outs of that one, but this new turmoil was shortly followed by my second round of academisation. Meanwhile, I was struggling in my leadership role, managing more experienced teachers who had no intention of taking on any leadership position until their protected contracts terms expired. They were however, quite keen to make things difficult for anyone in a leadership role. I stepped down, and took on English Leadership on an interim basis.

Our new overlords went about restructuring. No more MDSA's and reduced support staff meant extra break and lunch duties for teaching staff and then the dreaded 'MOCKSTED'. My butt was handed to me, first by the expensive 'constultant' who talked over my every response and then later in the staff meeting. I remember a member of SLT making a specific point that the MOCKSTED had found failings of leadership at middle leader level. My interim position came up a while later and it doens't take a genius to figure that I didn't get it. I later found out that our new overlords did not like have staff on main pay scale in leadership roles whilst upper pay scale staff were without responsibility. I never stood a chance.

In my final year there I had no support in my class, I had double break duties, no time to pee, no time to drink. I remember distinctly the day I woke up with a pain in my back. My wife told me to stay home, I didn't obviously. I didn't come home, I ended up in hospital with a kidney stone (the most painful experience of my life, and I've sat through Mamma Mia twice). The doctors said I was severely dehydrated and kept me in for a week. But I rested easy, safe in the knowledge that with the money the academy had saved, they were able to employ a second primary executive head on around 90,000 per year.

I left that year and took up a position at the only school that I ever felt like I belonged to: Westgate Community Primary. It was tough, but the staff were above and beyond, amazing people. I instantly felt at home. Sadly, Covid was leering it's ugly head and again I was in for a turbulent 3 years. In my time at Westgate I was English Lead and Key Stage 1 lead. I was trusted and supported. Then I got Covid for the first time.

I was vaccinated, my actual week or two with Covid was relatively mild, but then things got worse. Blam - chest infection. Whack - laryngitis. Kaboom - second bout of Covid. Whack - laryngitis again. I was exhausted. I had a little one and the stress of travelling and child care was too much. I took a job at a local school - 10 minutes away, little one could go to the nursery. Thinking that maybe this would help and my problems may have been solved.

Bam - more laryngitis. Double blam - flu bug from hell. I was shattered. Then my mental health started to dip. I had a tree picked out on my way to work. On the days when I didn't have to take little one in, I thought well maybe if I just kind bumped into it, maybe I could get a bit of a rest?Thankfully, it was at that point that I decided it was time to get some help.

Lots of blood tests later, a difficult conversation with a mental healt support worker, several dark days and a horrendous blood test result, convinced me it was time to leave. I have long Covid, I have mental health challenges and I am utterly convinced that I can't recover in a teaching role.

Over the course of my career I have been 'future headship material', on a 'support plan', described as a 'wonderful maverick', told my lessons were 'only good because of how engaging they were'.

At one point in my career I referred to myself as 'Schrödinger's teacher' I was there in my little box and nobody ever knew if I was good or bad.

I do fear for the future of teaching. The number of people I know that have died or become seriously ill as a direct result of stress on the job should not be more than zero. I hope it is going to get better, I hope that the bizarre expectations thrust upon both staff and students in the education system is reconsidered. That the work-life balance promises are more than just that. However, in ten years I haven't seen an any sign of evolution. I appreciate my experience may not have been the norm, I wondered if I didn't have long Covid if I may have been able to get through this latest challenge. Or if a different set of choices at various stages could have prolonged my career at bit. But as I said, I don't look back with any real regret, I still would have entered the profession and I'm pleased with my contributions, however small.

I'm about to step out into the unknown for the first time in ten years to forge ahead with a new career and hopefully allow the stresses of the past where they belong. It's scary, but the thought of that is way less scary than carrying on teaching...

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