Education has been a rising hot topic in the last few years in the UK. And it’s not surprising why: increasing attainment gap between students of higher and low socio economic background, rising teacher recruitment crisis, academisation of schools, increasing levels of accountability on schools, new national curriculum, and slashes in school and welfare budgets are just some of the issues the education sector is dealing with.
I’m not going to write yet another post of why we need to do to fix this: everyone wants the best for our young people and everyone wants to help solve these problems. So why then, after two years of teaching, have I decided to not fix this in the classroom? Well, certainly the 80 hour weeks in my first year took a toll on me; overtime in the profession comes on the tin that you don’t read until you’re sleep walking into your second half term and realised you haven’t slept in six weeks. My decision might also be impacted by the increasing amounts of paperwork and tick boxing teachers have to complete, on top of planning lessons that ‘adapt to the needs of ALL 30 learners’ in the classroom, whilst juggling 4 hours of marking per class every other week.
Many teachers are heroic for doing this all and so much more. But we shouldn’t have to do the job of heroes. And so I am leaving the classroom because I don’t want to resent the children who are victims of a systemic problem in how education is treated in this country. Whenever I tell the people I am a secondary school teacher, the general response I get is ‘Oh poor you, the kids must be horrible!’ or ‘Children here don’t appreciate their education, how do you deal with the poor behaviour?’ And my response is always it’s not their fault.
It’s not their fault their families did not have the childcare provisions from the welfare state when they were young. It’s not their fault their parents had to work 2-3 jobs because the Living Wage is still not nation wide. It’s not their fault the increasing paperwork means the teachers don’t have time to talk to that child every morning and ask how they are. It’s not their fault that the increasing pressures on exam results means their creativity, humanity, and inquisitiveness is often forgotten at the wayside.
It is not their fault the system has failed them. And I am sorry to say I failed many of them while trying prepare students for their ‘ever important’ GCSE exams.
The majority of my students achieved their English grades, thanks to the collaborative nature and hard working ethic of my team. But inside my classroom, I failed them in not having enough conversations. We were always short on time when discussing the events of Brexit or the humanitarian crisis of refugees in Europe or the everyday sexism faced by women of colour within our liberal city.
I won’t be returning to the classroom because I cannot change the life chances the way I want within the boundaries of the school system. Classrooms should open up worlds for these young people and I do not want to close that world when I enter it with the burden of training them to achieve exam results. Education is a tool so powerful, it has the capacity to recreate societies of hate to peace, turn the ignorant to informed and create dialogue over arguments. I want to empower students by firstly tackling the structures which prevent this from happening.
So instead, I will be exploring schools around the world on how they have created environments of passion, creativity, open-mindedness and space for children to flourish. When I know I can do the same, I will return to the young people who first made me laugh about how Donald Trump, ‘can’t be serious Ms, he is definitely high on medication’. If only that were true.