This time last year, I had everything all sorted out. I was studying for my MA, which I loved; I had a great job, working in recruitment, for a company I really believed in, which I like to believe I was good at; and I had just been confirmed on a PGCE English course, which had been for the past few years my main goal and the focus of all my energies. I just had to survive the summer, which when you have eight summer schools and two hundred staff, most of whom are at opposite ends of the country, was going to be no mean feat.
This might be a bit of a whingy post, for which I apologise… I also had a massive technological issue last night, and my laptop almost got thrown out of the window. But the gods of the internet were looking nicely upon me, so yay!
I left work in mid-August, leaving me two weeks to write a 20,000 word dissertation for my MA, and I started my PGCE on September 1st. This was the big plan! Everything kicked into high gear, I was dead excited to be studying, even though absolutely everyone else had more experience than me in schools, knew more about curriculum changes, and seemed to be enjoying themselves that little bit more.
I was placed in a decent school, though it lacked a couple of my main stipulations, and was about an hour’s drive away. I didn’t think that was too big a problem: I did use to drive an hour and a half to Hull every day, after all. I had taught EFL in one of our summer schools, and was trained as an English as a Foreign Language teacher. I thought I should be a dead cert with all this – as did everybody else in apparently the whole world (or my little world, anyway). I just had to get through the mountain of assignments and wade through all the politics, and above all, try to keep my head afloat of all the negativity and pessimism that seems to underpin everything in education.
I knew things weren’t right before Christmas: I was ill, and I was tired all the time, and I just didn’t seem to be enjoying it as much as I had thought. Everyone was stressed, but for me, the stress and the pressure was massively outweighing the pros: there seemed to be no pros for me, in fact. The evenings seemed to zoom by and were spent up to my elbows in paperwork, making lesson plans I couldn’t really make much sense of, preparing work that in the end the kids would find any excuse to not do, marking books that the kids wouldn’t even look at. I would wake up in the morning as if I’d not slept a wink. Christmas couldn’t come fast enough.
A general mindset that seems to (disappointingly) cling to every single rung of the education system is this idea of ‘the holidays can’t come fast enough’. It shouldn’t be the case, yet I’m sorry to say that it’s clear that many teachers either come to the profession in the first place or else continue in their work because of these holidays. When I graduated from the University of York, way back when in 2011, the Vice-Chancellor told us that we (as graduates) should go after something we truly believe in, and that if we don’t enjoy it, we shouldn’t do it. I could look around a staff room and see the faces of people who didn’t believe in what they were doing, and unfortunately, I was one of them.
After Christmas I went back to school, and I had no confidence, and no self-belief, but also I had lost the motivation and the passion for the job. And at the end of the day, it is a job: it is something you do for the majority of your waking hours, to earn a wage, in order to live, and to enjoy life. None of this ‘it’s a calling’: for those to whom it is a calling, well good on you, you can enjoy that nice warm fuzzy feeling inside, every time a child stares at you with blank or disinterested eyes, and be glad it’s just the one child, and not a whole classroom. I had left a job I loved, that I was good at, in a lovely environment, and with truly wonderful people, to come and do something that was taking up all my time, fighting against an impossible mountain of not just assignments and paperwork and admin, but also a sickening paralysis that seemed to wash over me the second I turned and faced a classroom of faces. And instead of rousing choruses of “it’ll get better”, instead every teacher I spoke to, either at school or one of my university tutors, would say that it took until their third, fourth, fifth year or more to be comfortable and good at teaching. For me, that just wasn’t good enough.
The second I decided that it wasn’t for me, and it wasn’t just a matter of time before it changed, I felt like a great weight had been lifted. I was never a particularly brave person before, and have always found it easier to avoid problems, as if they might go away. But I also believe very strongly that feeling something is ‘right’ for you is the most important thing in the world.
I left my course in mid-January. I had various meetings and talked at length with everyone around me – my parents, my coursemates, my friends and my tutors – but I had already made my mind up. It was like my dad said: I had to draw a line under it, and I think I had done that, when I was driving to school one morning and could barely see for the tears in my eyes.
It’s been a long time since I’ve not had a period of study to throw myself into. I graduated from York and worked in lots of temporary jobs before finding something that I was good at, by which point I had decided to pursue teaching – for what reason? I can’t even remember why I decided it – I just woke up one morning and thought, you know what? I’ll be a teacher. I don’t think that was really the best mindset to go into such a demanding career.
Now I have time to do the things I really want to do. I can spend a whole Saturday in my greenhouse, without feeling guilty or rushed; I can, as I did this weekend, spend the whole weekend sorting out my blogs, and going through all my photos, without the dread of Monday hanging over me; I can go to the Nurburgring in term time! I feel so much freer for making this decision, and am much happier.
There is a big trend on Facebook and Instagram for these inspirational phrases, and cheesy as they are, I do think they are true. You never know until you try. I don’t regret attempting a PGCE at all: if I hadn’t done it now, I would probably spend the rest of my adult life thinking, “what if?” At least now I know it’s not for me. I don’t think it is ever a bad or cowardly thing to say, “you know what: I don’t like this, and I’m going to get out of this.” I never really imagined myself as a brave person, but this is one decision I am proud I had the courage to take.
I have the utmost respect and awe for my now-ex-coursemates and for those training or already in the profession. Teaching is important, but it is a big, demanding career that you have to be 100% dedicated to. For those of you still in it, I salute you!
I was trying to find a cheesy Pinspirational quote to end this really long post with, but there is cheese, and there’s big stinky Stilton! Never mind, eh.
Go for what you want!
If that’s stepping off one ladder, don’t worry:
You can take the next step on the right one!
There, that was cheesy!