It was 2016, I was 22 years old and looking for stability. After I graduated at 21, I worked in the Civil Service for a year, and then took 10 months off to travel more and work part-time. As I was about to turn 23, I decided I needed to make strides towards building a career for myself again, thus I found myself filling out an application online for a popular fast-track teacher training programme.
I have always been good with children by virtue of becoming both an aunt and big sister aged 6. I loved to help young people excel, and particularly wanted to do something meaningful on a day-to-day basis. ‘You’d be such a great teacher’ was a common compliment for me since I was very young. This, combined with the scepticism of office jobs I’d developed after working in the Civil Service, filled me with the buzz and depth of career that I was looking for.
The teacher training programme I was on places participants in schools in some of the most economically challenging areas of the country. It is notorious for its intense and unforgiving nature. Students largely come from very low-income backgrounds, have learning difficulties, mental health issues and have been failed by the state in so many ways. As someone who could relate, I wanted to give this everything – I didn’t see it as a job, but a mission to make change. After a gruelling 6 weeks of training in the summer, I started in September, fresh-faced, positive and not naïve in any way to the challenges ahead of me. I had heard the stories. People dropped out, people left teaching and never returned, people developed mental health issues. I just didn’t think it would ever be someone with my determination or drive. I just didn’t think that could be me.
After my first term, I was mentally and physically drained. I’d been working until ridiculous hours of the morning to prepare resources and lessons. I’d been waking up a few hours later to face the hour and a half commute on Southern Rail. When I got to work, the disorganisation, lack of staffing and lack of money directly affected me every day. I was being made to do things that I had no idea I shouldn’t have been doing until I called my Union. My mentors were unsupportive, and I was often met with ‘we all had to do this once’. Any attempts to relieve my unjust workload were half-hearted and unfulfilled. I kept telling myself every morning why I was doing this. I kept imagining all the times my younger brother had told me that his teacher just didn’t come back one day. I kept thinking about all the times in their lives the kids I taught had people who had given up on them, and I was determined to keep going. ‘It gets better, it gets better’ was my daily mantra.
As the next term passed by, I was becoming further and further removed from the person I was in September. I developed severe sleeping problems and anxiety, which soon took over my life. I would just ignore my phone/friends/family constantly and cancel on plans because I was so exhausted. I couldn’t face the question ‘how are you?’. I have had my fair share of instances in life which developed me into a resilient woman, but the extreme scrutiny I faced as a teacher, and the demands on my time had turned me into a shadow of myself. Though I had made efforts to separate myself from work, the damage was done.
I don’t know how, but I finished the year and qualified. I had done extremely well; 96% of my GCSE students got A*-C grades, my other classes had made good progress and the vision that kept me going all those mornings had come to fruition. I had every intention of going again in September, to complete my NQT. But something wasn’t right.
All summer, I couldn’t sleep. Even though I felt a bit more rested, and the techniques I had learnt in therapy to manage my anxiety did help, when I went back in September, I was a shadow of myself. I had no energy, and with an Ofsted inspection imminent, there was no time to rest. We were worked to the ground. My new line manager, for all her efforts, was heavily pregnant and couldn’t support me in all the ways I needed. By half-term, I was crying myself to sleep, and waking up and crying myself to work. In the last week before Christmas holidays, I was sat down, and told that despite the figures showing that I was making outstanding progress with my classes, my ‘absence’ was not sufficient. I had no energy to argue. There were so many ways the school had failed me, through incompetency, through bullying and through exploitation, and I had nothing left of my soul to give to them. The kids at this point couldn’t be my priority anymore. I had to be my own priority.
In January 2018, I went to my doctor, and was signed off for a total of 3 ½ months, by a very irate doctor who said he’d seen this time and time again. In February 2018 I resigned.
I was too young to go into teaching, and the current environment for young teachers allows you to be exploited. I have read one-too many blogs about trainee teachers in their first 3 years of teaching and the onslaught of mental health issues. Its ok to do a well-meaning job but remember your worth. You shouldn’t frequently do things that should be another job-role. You should think that being a teacher is the same as being a charity. Yes children need you, but not the shadow of you. I know it’s dangerous to tell people not to teach, and of course I don’t mean that for everyone, but maybe a bigger teacher shortage is what is needed for our government to make a change.
Do something for yourself in your twenties
This post was written by Rose Winter