6 September 2009


Tomorrow morning - Monday - England's roads will be doubly busy as children return to school after the long summer break but for the first time in thirty two years, I won't be there. I have hardly thought about my job all summer.

Clearing out our study ready for redecoration, I came across an old hold-all type schoolbag - still filled with various papers from five years back. I carried that particular bag to and from the school for at least ten years - it always seemed bottomless - containing never-ending evening jobs. Cursorily, I flicked through the papers, letters, lists, brochures, reports, minutes, agendas etc. before flinging them all into our blue recycling bin while the tormenting bag itself was jettisoned gleefully into the general waste wheelie bin.

There are lots of things I won't miss about my job which had two main strands - being a classroom teacher of English and leading and managing the progress of the English department. I won't miss:-
  1. Children who habitually arrive at school without pens to write with - the same children who - after being lent pens - conveniently "forget" to give them back and then appear at the very next lesson penless again.
  2. Parasitical "experts" who don't teach, probably never liked teaching and yet shake or nod their heads like sages as they pass judgement over other people's best efforts - OFSTED inspectors, National Challenge advisers, "critical friends" from "partner" schools, deputy headteachers in sharp suits spouting hollow words.
  3. Being expected to display lesson objectives for each and every lesson and having children write them in their books - even though some lessons may have been for the continuation of essays in progress or reading for pleasure.
  4. Being told - without justification or explanation - that the entire staff had to start marking in green pen.
  5. The lack of meaningful sanctions to combat unwelcome pupil behaviour. I mean... how ridiculous that in order to give a child a ten minute after school detention, we had to give them a detention slip, put the duplicate in our detention box, fill in the detention book and then write home, explaining the reasons for the detention. Then copies of this letter had to be lodged with the Head of Year and in school files. Very often the culprit wouldn't turn up so there'd be a whole lot of further rigmarole before the child might possibly be put in the headteacher's special detention. What a joke!
  6. Never ending marking demands - exercise books, assignments, exam papers, Assessing Pupil Progress tests. English teachers are expected to mark more than any other subject teachers and yet none of the parasites who pass judgement from the wings seem to recognise or applaud the fact that this marking mainly happens in teachers' homes late at night or at weekends. The "free" time you are given for marking and preparation in school is absolutely paltry.
  7. Lost holidays. This is the first summer vacation when I have not been into school. Some summer holidays I would have been in for two or three weeks of the six - making intricate action plans, building new schemes of work, making new classlists, ordering books, planning and generally playing catch-up.
  8. Eating my sandwiches at my desk while using lunchtime to keep on top of my work.
  9. Regular ten hour days and then coming home with more stuff to do.
  10. The self-obsessed headmistress who seemed high on amphetamines most of the time such was the staccato speed of her one-sided innovatory thinking aloud. In several ways, she seemed barmy to me - not least her crazy obsession with tidiness. One summer she ripped down an English colleague's personal corner display containing family photographs and other cherished items and I expect she was the one who trashed the old Swiss cheese plant that I had donated to the school library when it outgrew our home.
  11. Parents who didn't give a toss about their children or their parental responsibilities - even though many students were very well-supported.
  12. Change. Never ending change. No sooner had you got one initiative half-embedded than another would rear its head. New theories. New dictats. Why couldn't they just leave us alone to get on with the job?
  13. Targets. It got to a point where it was clear that the people who cared most about numerical targets cared least about the children that those figures represented. Bizarrely, some of the loudest commentators would have been totally unable to put faces to the pupils' names. They really didn't care. It was intellectual gameplay.
Obviously, there are things about it all that I will certainly miss - notably relationships with my immediate work colleagues, outlets for my creativity, the monthly salary cheque and of course the children who could surprise you with their good efforts, good humour and goodwill. I taught thousands of the little blighters and do you know every one was different from the next. Perhaps regretting will come but on the eve of a new academic year, I am just so relieved to be out of it.


  1. I think you were right to call time on your career YP. Did you feel better after that? Catharsis rocks!!

  2. You know, YP I could echo practically all of that, albeit from a primary school perspective. The green pen! I fought long and hard against that, just because it was such a meaningless, politically-correct diktat. And your headteacher sounds so much like my last one! Megalomaniacs, they are! You are well out of it. :)

  3. I feel exhausted just having read all that. But also rather sad that because of all that nonsense another great teacher has decided he had to get out.

  4. 9 - 4pm, endless holidays, hours lounging about the staff room drinking weak coffee, getting fat and bemoaning your lot.....Get back to work you scrounger.

  5. I had three periods off today for assessment and planning.

    Pretty soon there won't be any teachers left in Britain.

    The best ones have been early retiring since the 90s- decades of experience lost.

    All the best new teachers (myself included of course!) leaving within 5 years of qualifying.

    The next generation, the ones that will look after us in our old age, left with poorer quality teaching and learning year on year or worse still, career teachers more interested in the next promotion rather than the children and/or the subject they teach.

    Third world education system, third world everything pretty soon.

  6. What was that green pen malarkey all about then? And anyway, don't ya feel GOOD!!!

  7. Get it out, YP. Get it all out. I am going to recommend this post to my daughter, who teaches schoolchildren in the part of the world where your daughter is studying. I'm sure she will identify.

  8. I've learnt [or should that be learned?] more from this than from reading a year's worth of the TES. I almost became a teacher once upon a time. Kind of glad I didn't, now!

  9. I imagine the relief will be immense when you wake in the morning knowing you haven't got to go to school.

  10. Enjoy your rest mate...you've earned it, loved the after school detention routine by the way.

  11. STEVE - Yes I did feel better. The articulation of feelings adds clarity to one's journey
    JENNY - I know you have been there and seen what I have seen. Thanks for your support.
    JJ - Yes I was sometimes a "great teacher" but equally I could have bad days, bad lessons. "They" seem to think that it is possible to be "outstanding" or "excellent" all the time. It isn't.
    DAVID You got me!
    BOOTH of BANGKOK I wouldn't quite go that far. I remain very proud of England and recognise its many strengths and virtues but as you suggest - education has become like an etching by Escher. Is the man walking up or down? Is the water flowing forwards or backwards?
    MOPSA The green pen? God knows! I think there's a belief abroad that red is too negative, too condemnatory but I hated the green pen because the markings and comments I left in children's work were much harder to see that's why I ignored the ruling and reverted to red.
    RHYMES Surely in America, the land of milk and honey with liberty and justice for all, the experience of schoolteachers is very different. We have seen it in the movies.
    MICHAEL Thanks for dropping by. Judging by your photographs you made a better choice.
    VALERIE Thanks. Will I be able to join the Women's Institute to pass my time? Don't worry I would always wear my leopard-skin thong!
    DAVID You loved the detention routine? Well I didn't my friend and for making that remark, you boy are now on detention!


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