“Miss, you won’t be here next year. You’ll quit”.
I am in my classroom with thirty pairs of eyes on me. My most challenging class. I have learned more about teaching, relationships and myself through them than most other people I have spent time with in my life. Not that they realize this, or intended it, of course.
Today they have something more to teach me. They are not playing the game, not doing what I ask, not listening. And at the back a handful of girls are trying to push all the wrong buttons. Finally the dark-haired one, Janey, shouts something that takes me aback: “Miss, you won’t be here next year. You’ll quit”. I am not expecting this. I pause for a moment then reply, as calmly as I can, “I have no intention of leaving. I will be here next year.”
She pauses and her friend Alyssa counters, “Well you won’t be here by the time we leave. I bet you leave before we do”. As it happens my husband and I have a plan for the next few years which involves staying at least the number of years at my current job that it would take for me to outlast the pupils in this particular class, so I say, confidently, “I fully intend to be here for you right up until you leave”.
The pupils fall silent and the lesson continues*. It’s not one of the best lessons I’ve ever taught but for once I am not too bothered because, as trite as it might seem, I have had a revelation. And I’m feeling pretty good.
I have been teaching in this school for the past eight months. It has been hard. I have lost count of the number of times I have considered bringing my career in teaching to a very premature end and handing out CVs on the High Street with the intention of accepting any job that doesn’t require teaching French to a bunch of teenagers. I have lost count of the number of times I have cried over challenging pupils, exhausting observations and never-ending To Do lists. And I have also lost count of the number of times I have moaned to and vented on my lovely, long-suffering husband, colleagues and friends.
Despite all this, I am still here. I am still a teacher. Things have been slowly, incrementally improving since the New Year but I have still, on bad days, found myself entertaining the same old doubts and daydreams. In that apparently innocuous moment Janey and Alyssa’s statements seemed to me like an ultimatum, a challenge. And it felt really good to finally say out loud what I had been struggling to accept for the past eight months: I won’t quit. Whatever happens and however difficult it can be or might become, I am going to see this through.
This doesn’t mean I am going to work in the same school forever or even that I plan on teaching for the rest of my working life. What it does mean is that, when I eventually do move on, it will be because this time in my life has reached its natural, happy end and it is time for me to step into the next exciting thing. But it will not be because I have quit. Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with stopping something that is having a negative impact on your life when you have the option to do so.
Forty percent of new teachers in Britain leave the profession within a year and this is not because they are lazy or lacking talent or commitment but because, more than anything, teaching is a really difficult job. Combine the pressure to get good results and performance-related pay scales with the issue of challenging behaviour and long working hours and it’s not hard to understand why so many people are sadly deciding that teaching is no longer for them. I as much as anyone understand where they are coming from since I have contemplated the same thing so much myself. And yes, sometimes things happen that are beyond your control and which force you to rethink the direction your life is taking. But I have decided that, in whatever form it takes, I am in this for the long haul. Here’s why:
- It’s the right thing
I became a teacher not because of the bursaries or the holidays or because I was in my final year of university and was starting to panic about what to do with the rest of my life – alright, maybe a bit of the last one – but because I felt a very clear sense that it was right thing to do. I had always shied away from the profession because I have family members who had negative experiences as teachers and also, if I’m honest, because I imagined doing something more glamorous with my life. World-renowned archeologist, Hollywood actress and super-important diplomat were all ideas I toyed with growing up. But as I approached the end of my time at university I still didn’t really have a clue what I wanted to do. I’m a Christian so after a while I felt like it was probably the sort of thing I should ask God about. About a week later I had a sudden realization that teaching was the thing I was meant to do and that it had everything I was looking for in a career: the chance to help people, work with children, use my knowledge and make – however small – a difference. Now that I am a teacher, whenever I am tempted to moan about my job my husband reminds me that, for me at least, it is the right thing. I’m right where I’m meant to be right now.
- I’m making a difference
I actually am. And if you are reading this and you are a teacher, you are too. It might not seem like it sometimes, or maybe ever, but we really are. Because every day, whatever head knowledge they retain from our lessons, children are coming into our classrooms and being changed for the better. I may never be able to get my GCSE classes to finally understand how to use three tenses in French or talk fluently about global warming in Spanish but I can show them that somebody cares about them. I can be a constant, reliable, patient, fair and forgiving presence in their lives. I can show them how to relate to others, how to express their feelings appropriately and how to get the most out of school. I can have fun with them and make them feel special. There aren’t many jobs that allow you to do that five days a week.
- It’s making me different.
I am a different person to the one I was a year ago. I still get cranky, I eat too much chocolate and I am not the world’s most patient person. I still make a lot of mistakes every day. But I know that teaching has had more impact on my character and personal capacity than any other experience I have had in my life so far. I am learning how to let things go even when they hurt. I am learning to say sorry and make efforts to rebuild relationships. And I am learning how to celebrate the small things. I am a bigger person because of teaching and I’m grateful for that. As much as I might be making a little difference through teaching, it is making a big difference in me.
*I don’t mean that they remained silent for the rest of the hour, of course, but they definitely quietened down a bit!
**I am also now really good at peeling dried glue off the ceiling, cutting chewing gum out of hair, using a staple gun, breaking up fights, eating breakfast at lunchtime and lunch at dinnertime, lasting hours without going to the bathroom, applying CSI-style investigation skills to find out who has defaced the new textbooks etc. etc.
So what do you think? Are you a teacher who has thought about quitting? Or maybe you are in a different profession but can relate to some of the thoughts I’ve shared. I’d love to hear what you think so please leave a comment below!
I also share free Spanish & French teaching resources here.