September is my favourite month. It is a month that marks change. Those that were toddling about in nappies only a year or so ago suddenly transform into young infants starting their school journey. Children make the leap from primary to secondary school. Teenagers become young adults and young adults begin their life beyond the realm of school.
September. It’s new. It’s exciting. I love it.
Perhaps naively, I believed everyone loved it too, then I read the Secret Teacher: I really don’t know if I can face another school year.
At first I was surprised, swiftly followed by sad, then ultimately, understanding. I was a TEFL teacher. I lived and worked in Ghana for six months teaching primary and secondary school children, then nurses and doctors. Somewhere right now on the Gold Coast are nurses and doctors speaking English with a South London accent. I’m dead proud.
I adored teaching. Watching a student have an “Aha” moment is the ultimate buzz. I even liked the planning and the marking. I returned from Ghana set on doing my PGCE.
Then I received a frantic phone call from a friend 6 months into her PGCE. Her school placement was a nightmare. A kid had hit her line manager with chair with such force it broke his arm. Staff were overworked and overtired with little time to support a trainee. The university was disorganised, unhelpful, in disarray. That morning her microwave had caught fire because she forgot to put the milk in the porridge.
The purpose of the call wasn’t just to let off steam but to ask if she was crazy (probably) and if I would judge her if she quit. No, I said, I wouldn’t judge. I would do more than that, I would understand.
I had been working at a school the past few months with the view to getting my teaching qualification. The constant pressure and the relentless drive to hit targets meant I was burnt out. Worst of all, my love for teaching was slowing being drained out of my soul.
When I was headhunted to work with the government I leapt at the opportunity and I didn’t look back. It was only some 5 years later did the education world lure me back into its voracious embrace, not as a teacher but as a consultant.
This was over 8 years ago so I had forgotten just how difficult it was. My friend and I were not unique. 4 out of 10 teachers quit the profession in their first year. The Teacher Support Network health survey found 88% of teachers have suffered stress, 72% anxiety and 45% depression in the past two years.
Retention is one problem, but so is recruitment. UCAS figures for April 2015 show there were 5,260 fewer people applying for teacher training positions than there was in the same month last year. 73% of English LEAs said their schools were struggling to find suitably qualified staff, half said the shortage was either moderate or severe, while the rest stressed it was slight.
Professor John Howson, from TeachVac, warned London and surrounding areas such as the southeast and the east of England is facing a crisis, with almost four teaching vacancies per school in the capital.
A spokesman for the Department for Education and Employment said the Government had taken ‘decisive steps’ to make teaching more attractive.
It had introduced performance-related pay, giving good teachers an immediate £2,000 increase. All postgraduate trainees got a salary of £150 a week, while those training to teach shortage subjects got another £4,000.
All are positive steps but it doesn’t feel enough. What about valuing the profession? What about well – being? What about the love of teaching and learning?
My message to the NQT Secret Teacher is – I quit. You didn’t. You deserve a street, nay, a DAY named after you. You have done the hard part. The next year is about developing as a person, an educator and a role model for future generations. Roll on September. You got this.