Huzzah! The Easter holidays are nearly here! Surely, the holidays are the reason why teachers join the profession.
Well, the reality is that for many of us, they are simply a brief period where we can do the following: let our exhausted bodies catch up on some sleep after working 12/14-hour days for 6 weeks; allow ourselves to surrender to whatever plagues we have been fighting off for the last few weeks of term; catch up on planning, marking, assessments and various other piles of paper; and maybe, just maybe, allowing ourselves some time to catch up with some friends and family we have neglected throughout the term. Essentially, we will always have school in our heads and be doing school-related activities, just without the only enjoyable element of the job there – the children.
There are some exceptions to this rule – many management folk, for instance, who have kindly donated several tasks to the minions. They say delegation is the key to good management. I mean, why bark yourself when you’ve got a dog to do it for you?
When I was but a fresh-faced young trainee, my mentor told me that the time spent working with the kids was actually less than half of the hours you’ll put in. In the decade or so since then, the pendulum has now swung further away. The government’s army of educationists will never realise what to me is an obvious truth: if teachers are run into the ground, forever staying up late doing soul-destroying, joyless paperwork, they will surely be lacking in the energy to be dynamic, enthusiastic and appear cheerful and approachable to the children. Most of the tasks we teachers perform outside the classroom are of absolutely no benefit to the kids. They are simply the result of the latest box-ticking exercise, what management wincingly term as “playing the game”. As Hugh Laurie artfully put it in House when reflecting on his own record-keeping: Writing down what we already know to be read by no-one. That is the lot of a teacher nowadays.
The strain this extra pointless, valueless workload puts on every teacher is close to unbearable. On their families and friends, on their mental health, and also on the chance to do their jobs to the best of their ability. For most of us, teaching really is more than just a job. It is a vocation, just like so many other professions. You live and breathe it. For many of us, the fact we know we are not at our best hurts even more, as we believe the kids deserve our best.
So many teachers are leaving the profession not because they don’t like the kids – those that are fed up of the kids become educationists or train teachers – but because the system is steadily removing all the joy from the job, and the strain it puts on their health (physical, mental and the health of their relationships) outweighs their desire to stay as part of the thin line of good teachers. So, having given the best of themselves for years to help children – in many cases, a teacher can be the only positive adult role model a kid has – they pack up their board markers and, for the first time in years, put themselves first. The system doesn’t just fail the kids, it fails every good teacher out there as well.