I see the Independent is reporting “staggeringly high” numbers of teachers wanting to quit.
As ever, the blame is put on workload. Personally, I don’t think it’s as simple as that (though obviously having no time to see your friends and family, or to relax and have some “me-time”, is obviously not the best way to keep staff). Pay is also mentioned – and sure, everyone would always like a pay rise, but teaching is not horrendously badly paid these days.
Personally, I reckon the tendency towards micro-management, the lack of autonomy and the lack of respect are likely to be bigger issues. There’s a big difference between working every hour God sends because you choose to, you enjoy it and are passionate about what you are doing, and putting those hours in because you are pressurised from above, or perpetually terrified about not being up to scratch.
Then there’s the relentless assessment focus. Certainly in secondary schools, we know preparing kids for public exams comes into it, inevitably – but when there is a culture within our society that education is just about qualifications and getting a job, then there can be a feeling that we are just feeding the sausage factory, not sharing the joys of our subject or developing young people’s minds.
What is worse, to my mind, is that the cumulative effect of this attitude has produced some teachers who really only think about delivering lessons according to a set recipe, focusing only on attaining whatever targets have been set, and who actually feel lost without a didactic framework for what and how they should teach.
Take one of the classes I have. It’s an extension class – that means it is not for an exam or other assessment, it has no set curriculum, and the students are volunteers. To me, that is absolute heaven. Why wouldn’t anyone want to teach that? But you won’t find that many who welcome that sort of opportunity.
Something else that sometimes comes in – there can be a culture of “presentee-ism” among teachers – peer-pressure to work longer and longer hours to show you care enough. A teacher having a life is sometimes seen as a bit suspect, and symptomatic of lack of dedication. If you have been around a long time like me, then you can get away with it – you are allowed to be a bit of a maverick, particularly if you have a decent record behind you. But I think a lot of teachers are guilt-tripped into working ridiculous hours – the fact that a slight improvement in the plan of a lesson is not worth it if it takes an additional 2 hours of your time and leaves you exhausted is probably obvious from outside, but often isn’t to the teacher concerned.
The politicians aren’t going to manage any sort of quick fix – though at least some of them admit there’s a problem, I guess.