Why I left teaching after just 2 years

It’s been one whole year since I hung up my teaching boots and left for a new career. I’ve sat down to write this post 100 times but somehow I can never finish. Finally, I’ve been able to get off my chest why I chose to leave teaching and it’s all too sad that my story is not unique.

It’s rather fitting that I should share my story in September, the start of a very busy school year, when all teachers and students return to the school grounds with fresh enthusiasm and motivation for the year ahead. Except last year I didn’t return.

After 14 years of education, higher education and then 2 years working as a teacher I had a strange feeling of excitement in the pit of my stomach that for the first time in my 23 years I wouldn’t be walking through the school gates.

To start from the beginning, I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do after graduating. Having always been an extraverted and caring person, I was constantly told by family and friends that I should consider a career in teaching. I remember doing a quiz in sixth form where you answered questions about your personality type and it would tell you what career you were most suited to and for me teaching came top of the list. I’d taught drama and dance in voluntary positions almost all my life and always been told I was a natural leader. I, myself, wasn’t totally convinced teaching was what I wanted to do and tried to resist it for much of university. I put off thinking about graduting but when the panic struck I began to start listening to those around me. ‘Teaching is a good skill to have’, ‘It’s a steady income’, ‘Do it for the holidays’, ‘You can work your way up quickly’ were all phrases I was told time and time again. Everyone couldn’t be wrong, surely? I began to look into my options for teaching training.

Sure enough, in a couple of months I’d managed to secure a teacher training position in the North West that offered the School Direct route. It was basically on-the-job training, you had a mentor, and a few days in university for the first year before you were let lose in the classroom on your own. Sounds perfect? Sadly, I’d later find out that it wasn’t. That first year of teacher training was the one of the lowest places I have ever been in my life.

We were thrown in at the deep end from day 1 of training. To my dismay my mentor, a young woman in her late twenties seemed to quickly take a disliking to me. She made a habit of telling me how much she missed her last trainee and how I could never fill her shoes. There was a toxic atmosphere in the department I worked in, derogatory terms were used to talk about the head of department and I wanted to remove myself from the staff room every time she walked out and they all started talking behind her back.

The atmosphere around school wasn’t much better. Students were given a 15 minute morning break and 30-minute lunch in year groups, where they were contained in the dining room and a small yard. I was told lunches were kept short and contained to minimise behaviour problems, I just wanted to let the kids run free, kick a ball around and get some fresh air.

The staff would ignore you in the corridor and I rarely heard a conversation between a teacher and student without a mention of hitting their MEGs (minimum expected grade). In truth, it felt more like a grade factory, obsessed with Ofsted outcomes, and sadly the wellbeing of the students and the staff were not a priority.

In my first week of training we had an Open Evening to advertise the school. I had only been living in the North West for a month. I had no idea about the area, the local schools and how my school compared to them. I was thrust into a room with prospective students and their parents whilst my mentor giggled in the other room with another colleague for the evening, leaving me to completely fend for myself. A parent started to quiz me on the school and I had no-one to turn to to ask for help. I blagged my way through and managed to escape to the bathroom. That was the first of many tears that year.

The pressure and humiliation continued. As trainee teachers we were observed every lesson and graded once a week. In my school we were either told we were ‘Beginning’, ‘Developing’, ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’. It’s a pointless system, no matter what experience you start with you’re given ‘Beginning’ in the first few months. You then work your way up until you’re graded ‘Outstanding’ and the scale acts as more of a rite of passage. If you stay at ‘Beginning’ too long you’re sent on your way but regardless, myself and my fellow trainees found it a really discouraging exercise designed to pick faults in everything we did from how we allowed the students to enter the classroom to how we marked homework. What little that was left in terms of positive compliments was washed away by the amount of hills we were told we’d have to climb to be considered ‘Developing’. For a bunch of teachers, they really didn’t know how far a bit of positive reinforcement and a compliment can go.

And the paperwork, oh the paperwork. For every single lesson we had to keep a copy of a lesson plan, a print out of the power point and a reflection sheet. At the time we were told we’d get quicker at writing these but in truth, as soon as we all got the hang of it, the amount of lessons we were given increased. On top of each lesson we had to complete a weekly timetable, a weekly review and we also had to observe other teachers and write about their lessons. We had to keep evidence folders to show that we were meeting all of the teaching standards, these were in the form of students work, our mentors observation notes and our lesson plans. I’d spend all day in school and then all evening planning my lessons only to be told that I didn’t spot that Jimmy was chewing gum and I should probably have found a more challenging task for Alice as she finished the task quickly and was helping her partner.

For a whole year I cried every evening on my drive home from work. I wanted to quit everyday. The only thing keeping me going was my bursary for training and the shame I thought I would feel if I quit. I wasn’t the only one, everyone who was training was also feeling the same way. If I could speak to that broken Gaby right now I’d tell her to not even think about the money and leave. Instead, I chose to go to my Head of Training to let her know I was struggling with depression and anxiety. I was turned away and told they couldn’t reduce my timetable or I’d fail the year and if I really had a problem I should speak to someone at the university I was affiliated to. I had no relationship with my university mentors as I was only there for a couple of days in the year, I didn’t feel like I could talk to them, so I tried to power through. I became a hollow shell of myself, the Gabs everyone once knew wasn’t there anymore, I’d lost my love for life, put on a bunch of weight and stopped seeing my friends.

Easter came around and I got some rest-bite from my alternative 6-week placement school. The staff were kind, supportive and encouraging. They boosted my confidence, so-much-so I was offered a position to teach there the following year and I accepted. I wanted to prove to myself that I wasn’t going to be defeated.

I returned to my original school for the end of the summer term and the anxiety followed. I quickly realised that it was this environment that had made my teacher training so negative. I was excited to finish and left the UK for some travelling in my summer break.

When I returned to the more supportive school the next September I had all of my own classes and was ready to hit the ground running. My form group I had been assigned were sixth form and despite the tiny 4 year age gap I managed to develop a special bond with them and enjoyed helping them apply for university and preparing them for adult life. In this school the teachers were kind, caring and easier to work with. The behaviour was harder to deal with but the kids were real. They shared their problems and would tell you about their lives. Some were from really difficult backgrounds but I enjoyed teaching them and seeing them grow the most.

Before long the marking was taking over. Assessment week seemed to come around quicker each time and I end up spending the majority of my weekends marking and preparing for school. If I didn’t spend the weekend working, the guilt was an even more horrible feeling. I started to realise that at 23 my quality of life was poor. I’d begrudge getting up for work everyday and the repetitiveness of it all was hard to keep momentum. I, like many other teachers I knew, spent my days in work praying for the next holiday, when I’d have time to catch up on all the marking I needed to do.

When I was asked to renew my contract that summer I politely declined. I had no idea what I was going to do instead, but I knew teaching wasn’t right for me.

If you’ve got this far, you probably think my experience is unique, that I just couldn’t hack it and that my heart wasn’t in it. But the sad thing about my story is that I know I am not alone.

I now work in events, still a very stressful profession, yet my mental health is back to normality and guess what, I actually enjoy my weekends!

What I wanted to achieve from writing this post is a call for more mental health support for newly trained teachers (and ones who trained a long time ago for that matter!). If I had got the support I needed early on in my training I might actually still be teaching now. But sadly, like many others, I didn’t and so I now represent a large statistic of newly trained teachers who have left the profession in less than 5 years.

If you’d like to reach out to talk about anything discussed in this post you can email: hello@gs20s.com

Published by Gaby Mendes

Your 20s wing woman!

11 thoughts on “Why I left teaching after just 2 years

  1. It’s really devastating for the likes of my son who will be going to school in a few years, that passionate and talented teachers are leaving because of bureaucracy and bad atmosphere. For a professional that is supposed to be caring, passionate and full of positivity to inspire little brains, it really is a cause for concern. I must admit, in my past job in outreach to the local community, I did see some ‘cliquey’ behaviour within school staff rooms…

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  2. Aw Gabs it’s so sad to read that teaching made you feel so low. I completely agree that we need better provision for school staff in terms of mental health. The school I’m in has a life coach and counsellor which I think is really good and unfortunately I bet it’s rare! So glad you’ve found something you enjoy that doesn’t make you feel that way. Lotsa love xxx

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    1. Grabs
      Let me tell you it doesn’t get any better I couldn’t hack the stress of teaching anymore after 15years
      Paper work and behaviour took the toll on my mental health…You did the right thing! Look after you..
      Bobbyinnes

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  3. thank you for sharing. year 2. we all know a call to the principal’s office isn’t good. But i can’t care. too much family loss, too much stress , chaos and confusion in this place of toxic positivity called a school.

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  4. I’ve left teaching this year after 15 years as a teacher. But my story sadly reflex this young teacher story. As a trainee teacher 15 yrs ago I was made to feel that my 20yr plus in my previous career counted for nothing. I was making mistakes that a few mins of professional conversation could have prevented if my supervisor had not felt it beneath her to explain. But I took it as a nessesary price to pay, and felt sympathy for 2 of my fellow student teachers who suffered burnout trying to please their mentors. After completing my 1st year I embarked on a career that I have mostly enjoyed dispite seeing some really atrocious examples of people management from SLT’s who have carried their teaching styles for the pupils they briefly taught into the sphere of Leadership. Why have I left?because of a growing awareness that this generation of SLT think that teaching is a young person’s job and that teachers are replaceable if they burn out. This burnout is due to the increasing demands made of them by the SLT who seem oblivious to their effect on teachers moral. All in the cause of doing the best for the pupils who do not know if the teacher in front of them will be there next year.

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  5. Teaching IS hard! I’ve been teaching for 20 yrs. I have no idea how I’ve made it this far. I agree that the paperwork is too much- too many details we are asked to put into the lesson plan even when it’s not necessary. I stay late st work everyday. We are not done at 3! And the lesson plans don’t write themselves. We never stop thinking about our students or ideas. My boyfriend asked me one evening as I sat at the kitchen table after dinner with my computer and papers, “So is this every night?” Yes, unfortunately it is. It’s rare when it’s not- and weekends too

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  6. I have been in the education field for 25 years. I have 20 years of professional teaching experience. I am going on my 26 year in my teacher pension, which is a big motivation for me to keep on trucking! My teaching career began as an assistant teacher…. that was the smartest move I’ve made in my career and the reason why I have had a long successful journey in the field. As an assistant teacher I was able to learn from a teacher and see what works and what doesn’t without taking on direct responsibility of a teacher. I think all teachers should be required to spend at least a year working everyday as an assistant to a successful experienced teacher first! I have been a mentor to new teachers and 100% of my teachers are happy successful teachers who are thriving in their careers! My training was strategies based and even included how to deal with tough administrators and problematic parents….. it included how to spend just 30 minutes on an effective impressive lesson plan to how to spend very little time grading papers!! The teachers I have trained have successful careers are tickled by tough administrators instead of fear them and have their lives to themselves on the weekends!!

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  7. I do understand your experience. All BT experience it unless there is a support system, but most important, the understanding that teaching is not a fly by the seat of your pants routine. Each day is like a builder who must construct that building to sustain all things. You are doing that with children, so you must prepare. I spent 31 years, love every year. But as the song says, ” I worked hard each day, weekends holidays. And was never paid for it. But Oh. the feeling that I got when eyes shined. Faces lit up. And children went forth to achieve. Now. Know. I was never in rooms where gossip ensued, or putting down me or students. I stayed focused and PRAzyEd Up. So. you left too early, or ended up with a school without true love for their job. When I ended up there. I had to leave, so I marketed my self by the fact that I could teach, and children learned. Or I did not rest until they did. So. I pray if it is in you. Give it another chance. I know I am an educator. God made me this way. Janice Coaxum

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  8. Teacher training is tough and rigorous. My training and NQT years were incredibly hard as a career changer in my 30s but I knuckled down and got on with it. It did get easier and now 12 years in I absolutely love it. Granted, it’s not for everyone. You need a certain toughness and high level of resilience to do it.

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  9. This was such an interesting read, I’m currently in my second year of university studying primary education. I had my first 4 week block placement in February which of course went a bit sideways with the lockdown. The experience was great I loved the school and the staff were lovely, but I feel like for the next 6 months I didn’t know what to do with that experience. Now nearly 8 months one we have to write an essay about it and I don’t even know where to start. Of course I have notes from it but it’s not the same. We were supposed to do the assignment following placement but so many people struggled and people situations were changed that it was pushed back. We aren’t due back for a placement until April 2021 and that is 8 weeks, i don’t know where I’m going and I feel like I don’t know what to expect. The last school was small and rural and the majority of children were from an affluent background what if I get a school where the staff aren’t as nice or a similar school to the one you described in the article where it was all grades, grades, grades.

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