Did you know approximately one in three teachers leave the profession within the first five years? Well, I fell into this statistic. Twice!
You see, the day I graduated the first time, was the day I realised that I didn’t want to be a teacher. In fact, both graduations have been pivotal moments, such is their nature. But not in the way you might expect. In fact, not in any way, I could have ever imagined.
Due to the pandemic, so many students are currently being robbed of their university experience. My heart goes out to them. Although I was a mature student and didn’t live on campus, it was still an incredible life experience, culminating with a graduation.
There’s something so special about graduations and all they symbolise.
That moment where you and your loved ones acknowledge your hard work, celebrate and then prepare to head in a new direction. Often, the path is pre-planned. A destination awaits. Sometimes, there’ll be pit-stops along the way, gap-years and-the-like. And, sometimes, there’s a realisation that the destination is the wrong one.
This was the case for me.
After graduating, I didn’t immediately secure a teaching post. Competition was rife, and somehow I always seemed to just miss out on an offer. In the few weeks before graduating, I had ten interviews, the tenth late on the afternoon of graduation day itself.
On several occasions, I came down to the final two, but never crossed the threshold and into the classroom. A classroom of my own.
After the tenth rejection, I was completely demoralised when I should have spent graduation day elated. Practically all of my closest pals were graduating with jobs. I felt like a failure. Don’t get me wrong, I was happy to be graduating. I felt like I’d really—for the first time in my life—achieved something. But the day itself was tinged with real sadness. My theme tune? Bittersweet Symphony by The Verve. I only wish I had half the swagger Richard Ashcroft had when I left those interviews, pretending I didn’t care if I got the job or not. But was I pretending I didn’t care? Wasn’t being an author the ultimate goal I craved?
Little did I know then, that the sadness and upset of graduation day would end up being a case of history repeating itself…
At this point, it wasn’t just me who was heartbroken, frustrated and angry, but my whole family. When that tenth rejection came through, I sat on the stairs feeling utterly deflated. Clearly, I wasn’t good enough. I shook my head as I walked back into the living room to meet Mum’s gaze, and she swore. I’d heard her use very mild language before, but this time she gave both a physical and verbal two-fingers to the teaching profession. If teaching didn’t want me, if I wasn’t deemed good enough, then they could all *sod* off. I was speechless, but I realised how deeply it had affected her and my Dad.
My family and friends had seen what five years of studying and constant working had done. I had juggled four part-time jobs, each being one or two shifts a week and a full-time degree. I was exhausted, stressed and ultra-sensitive. They wanted their daughter-sister-aunt-friend back.
But I was lost. Tired and disillusioned. Rudderless.
After a summer of office work, I dusted myself off and did what I had to. Supply work. I knew I had to secure a long-term supply teaching role; one that could support me through my NQT year, or, at least part of it. At the very least, I needed to get that under my belt.
Opportunity Knocks. Twice.
Twice, supply teaching has presented me with career opportunities. Both would lead me to quit teaching.
For the first of these opportunities, I spent almost three years in a challenging primary school in central Leeds. Initially, I expected to stay at the school for a long time. I had lovely colleagues who were real team players, but the urge to write and become an author nagged away at me. I even began a Masters in Creative Writing at Manchester Met via distance learning, but couldn’t keep up with the demands and a full-time teaching career so I left the course, utterly heartbroken.
Then, in 2012 everything changed. My Mum became ill with two bouts in hospital. The second time, tipped me over the edge. You see, teaching is exhausting. Not only mentally, but physically. Let’s be real. Children are hard work. Those parents now home-schooling as a result of the pandemic, can surely now appreciate just how challenging classroom life really is. There’s a reason you train for years to become a qualified teacher. My heart goes out to all those home-schooling. But, importantly, it’s not just what teachers do on a daily basis, it’s how well they do it.
Equally, my heart goes out to my former colleagues. Knowing full-well the immense pressures of school-life, I can only begin to imagine what it must be like during a pandemic.
So there I was. December 2012, exhausted and unrecognisable to myself. In tears, I spoke to my brother, who told me in no uncertain terms that if I didn’t hand my notice in the following Monday morning, he was going to drive down to the school and do it for me.
That Monday, I resigned.
All I knew was that I needed to be there for Mum and Dad. I couldn’t be the teacher the Head demanded and look after Mum and Dad as well as I wanted. At the time, I hated the Head. In my opinion and experience, he was a bully. Results, at any cost, seemed to be his guiding principle.
So, I chose my family. I chose freedom. I chose me.
No Going Back
I left the teaching profession in April 2013 with no intention of looking back.
Although, I do have many wonderful memories which have imprinted on me; adorable students (and some not-so-adorable), supportive parents (and some not-so-supportive ones), and a brilliant rapport with fellow teachers whom I cared deeply about and for which I will always be thankful for), I still felt like a failure and scarred by my teaching experiences.
Soon, I had a realisation. Saddled with student debt and a mortgage to pay and having given everything I had and more to my teaching career, I was back in an office environment; one that I had years earlier been desperate to escape, now feeling unsure of what the future had in store. Once again, rudderless.
Questions plagued me. Would I ever make it as an author? Was my teaching degree all for nothing? Have I wasted my life?
I was 36 and lost.
But, what happened next, would drag me back into the classroom…