In the UK, USA and New Zealand, good teachers are leaving the profession. Talent that our children need is walking away and saying no more. Why? The post below, from UK teacher Paul Jenkins, sums it up for many.
Why would I turn my back on a profession that can fill you with such simple, no holds barred nice-ness?
Well, it’s simple.
I am too tired.
I have been doing this now for eleven years. That’s 55 parents evenings, 11 open nights, 161 sets of monitoring data, 22 observations, countless referrals/phone calls home/detentions and most importantly – 2 breakdowns.
And number three was on its way when I finally threw in the towel and said last month that enough’s enough.
Read the rest of Paul’s words here. The specifics may differ from teacher to teacher, but in the end it amounts to the same – teachers are being run ragged and blamed for all society’s ills, with little to no respect from those in power.
Thank you to Dita De Boni for reminding Kiwis that teachers are working for the children. Almost all teachers are doing a good job. They work hard. They care.
Teachers work within a system that is broken in many ways, especially when it comes to children with special educational, medical or emotional needs, and yet they battle on, doing what they can.
Paul puts it best when he says:
My real reason for going can almost be boiled down to my experience of one child.
The pupil in question comes from an extremely difficult personal situation and has suffered from severe bouts of ill health during her primary years. She has missed cumulatively around four years of her early education and as a consequence is as close to illiteracy as you can get. The cat as they say in learning support is barely sitting on the mat.
Her target level, which is as low as can be for my subject of drama is still too high for her to attain as she will need to demonstrate a basic competency with a provided script.
We have been prompting, learning by rote and generally getting round things in best way that we possibly can. I have seen her develop in twelve weeks from a physically inward and mute young girl, into a nervous but committed young girl, who always gets on stage with her group, smiles her way through the lesson and has begun answering carefully structured questions that allow her to achieve without worrying about something as pesky as being able to read.
And her report from me? A letter and a number. She is a 2c. She is red. She is underachieving.
Her work, effort and progress have been encapsulated into a figure in a column. And I’m ashamed of that.
Her parents didn’t attend parents evening so I was unable to explain their daughters apparent ‘failure’ to them in person. I phoned them to explain but to be honest it felt hollow. That was when I knew I was in the wrong job and I went to see our head to tender my resignation.
I understand that you need standards, I understand that pupil progress needs to be measured and I know that in order to build a society that is founded on a strong sense of achievement you need to be rigorous in your approach. But I honestly believe that we’ve forgotten the the very essentials of what it is to be a teacher. It’s not to create hollow vessels that can hold a mountain of information ready for an examination. It’s much, much bigger than that.
Any system that reduces all children to mere data, ignoring all else that they are, is a broken system.
Parents, surely this is not what you want? Please speak up, because only your voices count with politicians, and it is they that push these broken systems and failed ideologies. Teachers, we have learned the hard way, count for nothing.
Finally, Paul, if you read this, you sound like a wonderful teacher and a very caring person. I wish you well. Kia kaha – stay strong.
Read also: https://saveourschoolsnz.com/2014/04/15/teacher-stress-depression-and-suicide/
I left the classroom after deciding I simply couldn’t be the teacher I wanted to be.
In front of 32 Year 2 students (5 and 6 year olds) in a school in South Auckland I became more and more frustrated at the lack of time I had to connect with my students on an individual basis. Despite the enormous hours I was putting in, I was not satisfied in any way with the quality of my instruction I was able to deliver.
Hekia and her gang will argue that it is quality of teacher instruction not quantity of students in the room that lifts student achievement. As a quality teacher (or so I’ve been told) I am incredibly offended by this moot.
My last classroom consisted of 32 Year 2 students from some of the most challenging socio-economic backgrounds. Over 3/4 of my class arrived in front of me operating at a pre-emergent literacy and numeracy level (operating below 5 years of age).
As a quality teacher, my programme adapted swiftly and often to meet the needs of my students. I taught to their level and at the time (fortunately) I did not have today’s pressure of meeting a national standard of achievement. I used my data gathered to address learning gaps and to respond to student interest all the while meeting the national curriculum objectives.
I worked on weekends, holidays and late nights in order to be very prepared, thus freeing me up to spend time building relationships with my students.
I had children with significant learning and behaviour needs, supported by RTLB.
I had children regularly involved with counselling services. I had children reintegrating from withdrawn programmes and residential schools.
I made sandwiches for my kids who regularly didn’t have lunch. (This became more covert when the Principal banned staff from doing this).
I also worked as an associate teacher, guiding a provisionally registered teacher in her first year of service.
I ran before-school alphabet groups and basic word revision.
In summary, I worked my butt off.
And yet I felt a sense of dissatisfaction at my ability to reach those children in my class that needed even just a little more of my time. I found there were days in my classroom where it felt like I was directing traffic. I had to work hard consciously to connect with every child every day. If I didn’t, I could easily have passed over an ‘invisible’ child in the day.
There could have been children in my class, who, apart from roll call, could have not had a single individual conversation with their teacher that day.
And yet Hekia says the amount of students in a classroom has no bearing on lifting achievement.
Clearly I was misguided and misinformed. I was obviously not of the quality Hekia wants in her classrooms, as I couldn’t ‘fix’ all the issues before me.
While I chipped away at learning levels, lifting my students from pre-emergent through to 6 months below, I settled for providing my students with a fun and safe environment from 9am to 3pm. For many of these students that took precedent.
My level of dissatisfaction grew to the point where I decided I couldn’t work in these classrooms any longer. For me to work in a smaller classroom setting, I would need to look up the decile rankings and even into the private providers to achieve this.
But this was not attractive in the sense that I enjoyed working with children in the lower decile schools. So I left the classroom altogether.
For me to be the quality teacher I wanted to be I needed the quantity of students in front of me to be less. It really was that simple. Fewer students gave me the ability to do my job even better.
So I left the classroom.
Every year I feel the pull back. I long to have ‘my kids’ again. To enjoy being in front of children, exploring, investigating and imparting knowledge as a year-long journey.
And every year I decide I simply could not teach the way I would enjoy in the current education environment. I would rage against a system instead of working happily within it.
Perhaps next year?
~ by Sarah Aiono, first published on her blog, Cheeky Kids.
Sarah Aiono holds a B.Ed (Dip Tchg), PGd.Dip.Ed (Dist) and a Master of Education and has worked for over ten years with children exhibiting challenging behaviour. She is an Accredited Incredible Years Facilitator and Peer Coach. She is currently employed as a Resource Teacher of Learning and Behaviour and is a Company Director for Little Ninjas Ltd, a service for parents and teachers in understanding children who work outside the ‘square’.
These are the collection envelopes for the 18 staff leaving one small school at the end of term. Many of the staff have “served over decade, others more. All brilliant. A disintegration of a talented, loyal and dedicated workforce.”
This English school has been forcibly turned into an academy. A charter school by another name.
The teachers say:
“I didn’t want to leave but had to choose between madness and sanity. I chose sanity”
“When they took over we had promises of support, ‘bespoke’ training, nurturing of the staff that know the school, children, area the best.
Of course none of it happened.
We’ve had empty promises, backhanded threats and insults, dubious observations – the lot.
I’d only been there just over 3 years but left as the stress and understandable negativity around all the uncertainty and upset was just too much – after almost 20 years, it’s made me want to get out of teaching.
My heart goes out to all of the staff who’ve also made the difficult (yet easy) decision to go. As it does to staff in similar situations around the country.”
“…all of us have chosen to leave because we don’t want to work for this academy and particularly its interim head. The school is a shadow of the place it used to be”
“…this is exactly what [Education Minister] Gove wants, no qualified teachers and no union for them to stand together in”
” [The Minister] approves of older teachers being forced out. He believes teaching will be better for it. However, if you hollow out the profession of experience, it will end up badly for society. “
“[They] think they can run schools on a low-wage, high-turnover basis – but not if schools are to offer a decent education”
“And remember there have been others who have left mid year.”
Ten years ago this would have been unthinkable in England, just like it is for most people right now in New Zealand.
But it’s happening there, and parent’s and teachers’ concerns are ignored.
And it all started with a few changes … much like the ones New Zealand is seeing right now…
The pile of leaving cards from the school.
Every week the list grows longer as great teachers resign and leave the profession forever due to the crazy path that education is being pushed down by politicians.
In England and the USA there have been many highly public resignations outlining just exactly why the reforms have pushed teachers to say “No more.”
It’s sad not just because these good teachers are lost to the profession, and not just for them personally, but because these teachers are leaving because what they are being forced to do in the name of education is not beneficial to students.
It makes me both incredibly cross and very sad to know that unless something drastic changes, it’s only a matter of time before New Zealand starts to see a flurry of the same.
Here is Lucy Fey’s resignation letter:
” Dear Mr Gove,
I am writing to thank you for teaching me so much about education. I have been a primary school teacher for 14 years and have always worked in challenging, inner city schools with many children who have complex behavioural and emotional needs. According to my performance management, I am an ‘outstanding’ teacher. I feel that over the last few years my skills have diversified considerably.
I am proud to be able to say that each year my pupils’ achievement and attainment have improved. I have become skilled at pinpointing what they need to learn and prioritising their experiences to ensure they succeed in the core subjects. Sacrifices have had to be made but, despite what they would like you to believe, there is not a single pupil who has not wanted to achieve and be successful.
The last few years in particular, my job has become even more varied. As we no longer have any external support and advice to help us, we have learned ‘on the job’ how to be counsellors, behaviour specialists, social workers and mental health workers.
We use our instincts when dealing with children with complex emotional and behavioural needs. We do everything we can, but you never can tell without the training. Hopefully those children experiencing extreme difficulties will pick up how to become good citizens and be able to live within, and contribute to, the community.
I can only hope that they will know how to create a supportive and nurturing environment for their own children to succeed in the future. Maybe they will feel confident and proud of their achievements despite the lack of professional, quality specialists available to support their own complex needs in their formative years.
Until recently, I was not adept at data analysis. I now know that the pupils we are teaching are not simply children, they are numbers, percentages. The hours I have spent analysing data to decide which children need intensive afternoon intervention groups, those who need that extra ‘boost.’ Those children do not take part in the afternoon history, geography, art, science, music, PE or RE lessons as they are struggling with maths, reading and writing.
They understand that they must miss out on subjects they are more likely to engage with, feel confident in, so they have the opportunity to achieve the required level in writing, reading and maths. They spend all day, every day struggling. Slowly feeling more and more like a failure, becoming more and more disengaged.
It is amazing that every one of my pupils knows what level they are working at and what level they need to be at the end of the year. Children are so desperate to achieve and to please others that they naturally put themselves under a huge amount of pressure. If they are not working at age related expectations they believe they are not doing well despite the amazing progress they have made.
They are in tears. They feel the pressure. They know they are not where they ‘should’ be. They know already, at primary school, that they may not be ‘successful’ in the future. They know that the only subjects worth anything are reading, writing and maths. They know that their options are limited.
A big part of teaching is, and always has been, acting. You draw your audience in; encourage them to take part and to be inspired, challenged and enthusiastic about what they are discovering.
There is nothing better than a class full of buzzing pupils, excited about what they are learning, taking ownership of the lesson. This is becoming increasingly hard to achieve when we expect so much from them. There is little time to have fun, to enquire, to be intrigued, to be children. They have too much pressure. They must, “compete with the world’s best.”
Why are we not letting them grow as individuals? Why are we damaging their self-esteem and confidence by trying to make them all fit into the same box? To ensure a successful future for our country we need to give children a broad, balanced curriculum which enables everyone to excel at what they are good at. They need to feel empowered and valued for their individual skills to be able to take risks and push the boundaries to be successful.
How is that possible if they have had a restricted education? How will all those talented people who are not necessarily ‘academic’ excel in their different industries if they were not given the opportunity to hone their skills throughout their education? How will this improve our country? What sort of adults will they turn in to? I know I never had those pressures when I was a child.
I handed my notice in last week. I can’t do this to them anymore.
How sad that New Zealand is following on with reforms that are wreaking this kind of havoc.
We need to be asking who is driving this push and why, before there are no more Lucy Feys left.