you're reading...
Education, Secret Teacher NZ, Stress & Depression, Teacher Health & Wellbeing, Teachers' Own Words

Secret Teacher NZ: Why I left teaching?

I sat down to write this and had to start over many times. I’m not sure how to go about explaining why I left teaching in a way that doesn’t come off as judgy, or blamey or a woe-is-me tale. I suppose many educators feel like this.

Teaching seems to be the one profession everyone feels qualified to have an opinion on, seeing as we all went through a school at some point. When I first started teaching, I had creative license and freedom to plan my days with my class. If a kid turned up with a story about how the cat had had kittens that weekend, we could embrace that teachable moment and spend 20 minutes talking about mammals and pets. If I had a few chapters left of the shared novel, we could shift something else and finish it off if we liked. As time went on, this freedom of professional judgement was eroded.

Classrooms now are full of swaps for different subjects, children leaving for extra curricular activities during the day, or specific times to access valuable resources (like computers, libraries or sports equipment.) I don’t want to seem ungrateful, because I love that children have new ways to learn and new environments to do it in; I just wish it hadn’t come at a cost to teacher’s time and our ability to use our judgement on what works for our children.

I worked in a school where we had a large space for co-operative teaching, where the syndicate swapped children around based on their levels. I can imagine some people’s eyes glazing over, so I will try to paint a picture instead.

Imagine a large hall-like space with three teachers in different areas, each reading with a small group of children. Scattered around are more groups of children, some on laptops, some on tablets, some with board and card games, some sitting in corners together working in their exercise books. You might imagine its harmonious, a buzz of children learning, both independently and supported by teachers. Unfortunately, for the majority, this is not the case.

The teachers with those groups have about 15 minutes to get through their reading, before swapping to another group in order to meet and assess them, meeting them all over a week period. Questioning, checking, hearing children read, explaining and clarifying, and all that intense learning that happens in a guided reading situation. But one of those kids forgot their book in the other class, so they have to run and get it. That’s 2 minutes gone. You can’t really start without them, or you’ll be repeating yourself. You look over and see the group that have an ipad activity to do are actually on maths games – you get up to intercept and move them back on task. Over in the library corner a group of children who are meant to be reading and working in their exercise books are clearly off task, but that first child has returned with their book- and now you’ve only got about 10 minutes left before you need to change the rotation, so you call out to one of the other teachers (also trying to get through the guided reading) to check on those off task students, well aware that you are cutting into their time too. You sit back down and go over the learning intentions and begin to get into it, when a group playing with the games has a disagreement and an incident breaks out – so again you are forced to stop, to sort that out.

Rinse and repeat.

I could go on, but the point I’m trying to make is that this is JUST reading. You have maths interchange next, and then topic interchange. And you are on duty at lunch, and then there’s a staff meeting after school… Some days I would arrive at school before 7am and not get home till after 6:30pm, and that’s with a box of marking to do.

Now add into this those children with high learning and/or behavioural needs that can’t organise themselves, can’t cope with having a different teacher, or can’t manage being a “self directed learner”.  And those who had a bad morning (or weekend) at home and are wound so tight that they might explode at any time. And the child who isn’t coping with social things and is isolated, and the mean kid who’s been hassling the outsider. All that social stuff is still happening… But somehow you have to set up the classroom for the next lesson AND find a minute or two to cram something vaguely nutritious into your gob.

As an educator 10 years ago you had the time to actually teach. Eventually I felt more like a person whose job it was to keep things running – even if that running wasn’t beneficial to the learning of the majority of the children.

Before I left teaching I was stressed, anxious and feeling like a failure every day. I had been assaulted by a special needs child multiple times, and was managing two volatile children with aggressive and violent behaviours, all while maintaining this modern idea of what learning should “look like” and spending so much of my time making sure I was collecting all the data for the children and planning their next learning steps, too.

There was no fun or fulfillment anymore. It was like failing every day.

I saw children who just wanted to be with the teacher, who wanted to learn, but who were being swept along in this seemingly never ending rotation of ‘new ideas’ and ‘innovative learning strategies’. Everything was measured and monitored because we also had data to be collecting for assessment and reporting.

I’m not for teachers becoming the facilitators of busy work to serve some ideal that is the current flavour of the month.  I spent three years studying education, children, reading, writing, maths and everything else only to find my days as a teacher filled with behaviour management and making sure children are in the right place at the right time. And that’s not to mention teachers who are struggling with learning new technology and navigating these spaces themselves, all while still doing their regular job!

My personal experience was one that made me physically and mentally sick.

I continued to give 100% of myself because, like most teachers in New Zealand, I am passionate about children getting the best education and reaching their potential.  But the system as it is, that actually destroyed me. I burnt out. I would wake up crying in the night for no particular reason. I would dread going to work again as soon as I left. Thinking about the unending cycle of planning, implementing, and hoping I got through what needed to get through – and that the children held up their end and did the work, and that there were no breakdowns in behaviour that would derail the sessions and cause me to have to cut out something else to ‘catch up’.

I burnt out. I damaged myself to the point where I will live with that for the rest of my life.

Our teachers are a resource. You can’t replace our care, knowledge and ability to teach with fancy spaces and new technology. Piling these expectations on teachers and children isn’t improving our system- it’s creating another rod for our backs.

When I studied post grad with a group of young people in their 20s, I was amazed at how poorly they managed themselves, and I wonder why we expect school-aged children to be able to do it?

There are so many complexities to the things eroding our teachers’ spirits and well-being- this is just a tiny glimpse, and not even the full picture. I could talk about disenchanted staff, apathetic senior management, poor resourcing, the social issues in school communities, negative and punitive assessments, and an obese curriculum. And, of course, under-funding of our schools and support staff. But I won’t, because we all have other things to do today.

Teachers want to teach. That’s why we became teachers! We want to have meaningful relationships with your child to help them achieve their potential. The education system in this country has moved away from allowing us to do that and morphed into something very different. 

~ end~

For more on a teacher’s daily work life, read this great post by Melulater.

About Save Our Schools NZ

"One needs to be slow to form convictions, but once formed they must be defended against the heaviest odds." Gandhi


10 thoughts on “Secret Teacher NZ: Why I left teaching?

  1. I read this with grest sadness. Following the introduction of Tomorrow’s Schools teaching has changed from an emphasis on creating an environment to learn involving a range learning experiences to one of testing and assessing with no time to take advantage of teaching moments. The artistry and creativity of teachers has been replaced with endless planning and paperwork. Instead of valuing student voice and creativity standardisation is now the name of the game. Ironic that for all this obsession about literacy and numeracy NZ has slipped from being in the top of international reading tables to well down.
    I wouldn’t blame teachers leaving such a hyper assessment culture with no time to teach


    Posted by Bruce Hammonds | August 6, 2018, 9:11 pm
    • Couldn’t agree more. Going into a school as a reliever 6 years after retirement, I worry about the expectations placed on teachers where assessment seems more important than the teaching and face to face learning time.


      Posted by Barbara | August 7, 2018, 10:53 am
  2. Exactly why I left teaching after only 3 years. This is not what I signed on for!!!!!


    Posted by Bridget | August 6, 2018, 9:12 pm
  3. So very sad. So much more I could say…


    Posted by Alison | August 6, 2018, 9:53 pm
  4. This is heart-breaking. All that movement and change, if our teachers (as adults) can’t process it, then how can children learn in it? I’m sorry that you were burnt out just trying to do your job with love.


    Posted by Trish. | August 7, 2018, 8:52 am
  5. Could be my story, but swap the primary classroom for secondary school. When I first started teaching I remember thinking ‘and they pay me’, then 16 years later I started thinking, ‘they don’t pay me enough’. I miss the students but my mental health and wellbeing is so much better now. How sad is that? It was my dream job and it was killed by a system that just sucked the life out of me and kept asking more from my ghost.


    Posted by Kristina Walton | August 10, 2018, 10:31 pm
  6. Yes, the education system has become a filter through which only a small number of people will be selected by a big corporation for their own purposes at the cost of our tax money. Children should have the freedom to learn things they are interested in. The education system is now a factory where children are parts on conveyor belts and teachers are workers to arrange the parts on the conveyor belts so the education system produce the products that can be used for the corporations.


    Posted by James Jung | August 11, 2018, 10:15 am
  7. I am a teacher in South Africa. I feel like this everyday. My health and mental strength is hanging by a thread. I feel so sad because it used to be such a passion of mine and now i regret getting into teaching at all. I feel like i struggle to keep up with everything the system throws at us. How can we expect our kids to thrive when we ourselves are drowning. And then we havent even started discussing the abuse teachers have to endure these days.


    Posted by Kihola | August 13, 2018, 7:00 am
  8. I know it’s hard for teachers nowadays so much have changed. Good teachers are like angels sent to help us make something out of our lives but now government policies interfere. Threaten too by parents eager to sue for whatever reasons according to their judgement. it’s a juggle couple with too precious over protected children.


    Posted by Jessica Hon | August 18, 2018, 2:26 pm
  9. This doesn’t sound at all. I wonder how representative this is of the primary sector in nz generally. Have any surveys been run on job satisfaction? As a qualified teacher considering a return this type of post is sobering.


    Posted by jeremyjameshongkong | October 9, 2018, 1:12 am

Share your thoughts:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow Save Our Schools NZ on

Category list:


%d bloggers like this: