Onwards and upwards!

[Apologies for the late update – I had this drafted last night but forgot to post!]

So, as of Thursday, I’ve officially resigned from teaching, and this weekend I’ve been at my happiest since the summer.

The build-up was worrying – I couldn’t shake the fear that I’d be walking back to hurt, angry, inconvenienced senior staff and an English department suffering from an added workload. I was completely wrong. After a friendly, considerate chat about leaving dates and a promise to keep in touch, I spent an hour with my department, being myself. This may sound pathetic, but it was almost overwhelming. Many of us must know the fears of leaving a post because of personal issues – the intense vulnerability, we think, must be written all over our face. Yet my smiling mentor simply called it “a professional loss” for the school, but a “personal victory” for me. What a brilliant way to put it.

On Friday night I went out with several Teach First friends, who over these past few weeks of sick leave and precarious negotiations with work, I’ve not been in contact with. Again, as I made my way to the birthday girl’s house, I felt that quickening of my pulse; perspiration slowly laced my neck. Why? Because I felt I had something to be ashamed of. I was the ill teacher who couldn’t hack it in a sea of successful ones.

Of course, again, I was met with open arms. I felt that I blabbed like an emotional, broken tap, but hey ho, sometimes one “victory” at a time is enough. I have left my first potential career, to save myself from misery, and perhaps the most amazing thing I learned on Friday was that people admire me for it. Some actually looked a little wistful as we spoke. Quitting isn’t only something to be envied; it’s to be respected. Who knew?

I’m a little woozy after the fun we had last night, so I won’t ramble much longer, I promise. But I feel like this is a moment which could change my outlook on the rest of my life; maybe it could be useful for someone else to read, too! My dad once told me that clichés are only clichés because they’re true, so I’m not afraid to use one here. Life is short, everyone, so take control of it!

To wrap up, here’s a quote from one of my favourite writers; Mrs Poyser captures my message far more efficiently, I think:

“‘Yes, I know I’ve done it,’ said Mrs. Poyser; ‘but I’ve had my say out, and I shall be th’ easier for’t all my life. There’s no pleasure i’ living if you’re to be corked up for ever, and only dribble your mind out by the sly, like a leaky barrel.'” (George Eliot, ‘Adam Bede’)



Why I left

So, after that slightly vague opener, I want to give you some more background (in a professional sense) to my story over the past half-year or so.

I’ve always been completely obsessed with learning. Education is probably one of my only two life-long loves. On top of that, I really enjoy teaching, too. I can remember in a maths lesson when I was 15, a girl in my class asked for help. I gave her some stumbling advice about angles or something, but as she walked away at the end of the lesson I can remember her words, clear as day: “You’re such a good teacher, Joe”. It’s one of my strongest memories, lame as that sounds.

So, going back two years or so, I was half way through my undergrad, unsure what to do but certain it needed to be in an educational environment. My absolute dream for years had been – and still is, really – to be an academic in literature. But with the amount of expense, study and insecurity lumped with that job, I’ve never had the courage to make the leap. I considered librarianship, which also really appealed to me – but again, postgraduate study is a must, and I just didn’t have the funds, despite working part-time through most of my degree.

When my partner mentioned Teach First, I think I recoiled slightly from the idea. The charity takes graduates, and without the training of the PGCE course puts them straight into full-time teaching in ‘difficult’ schools. I am not a confrontational person. I don’t even really enjoy taking the lead… But I love learning.

Slowly, but surely, I started flirting with the idea of taking this route. All expenses are paid for. It’s a guaranteed job for at least two years. How could I say no? I applied. I got invited to an assessment centre. I got in. And thus began Joe’s nightmarish foray into the ‘real’ world.

I could go on for pages and pages explaining how the next four months went; I don’t want to over-exaggerate, because there really were highs. Like I said last time, I did pretty well in almost all my assessments and observations. My confidence, in many ways, is at its absolute strongest. I made some incredible friends (who I hope will stay just that after this has all blown over). But I needed to leave.

I’ve already hinted above at how I reacted emotionally; that’s really a story for another time. What I’m doing here is explaining for you all, as well as myself, just why staying in the programme became impossible. There are reams of posts and advice on the net about PGCE drop-outs, but in my frantic, late-night searches I found only a handful of Teach First “traitors”. Once I’d decided to leave, I immediately wrote a rationale for myself (one of many efforts to keep my sanity intact). I’ll post a snippet below, as it was written back then:

Although I enjoy the function of teaching and deeply relish learning, what has consistently caused problems for me personally is the attitudes of students. This, in turn, has led to failures in learning each day, which by extension has aggravated a second, even more tenacious problem within myself – my perfectionism.

I am a very hard-working and conscientious individual, and it is precisely for this reason that, at least at this point in my life, I cannot teach. Time and time again, I have been forced to ‘get by’ and take shortcuts in order to meet the myriad demands of the job, partly because of the sheer number of these demands, but also because the pupils provide a consistent barrier to learning – the key reason I decided to teach. Of course, I understand and do not question the fact that teenagers will not always want to study. I feel, however, that the situations in schools like my own are extreme – does it make me a bad teacher to not want to spend 80% of my time behaviour managing?

Even on top of this issue of behaviour, as I’ve said I am a perfectionist, and I have come to realise that teaching has no patience for perfectionists. I cannot improvise student data simply because there has been no time in three short weeks to assess each student accurately. I cannot smile off having to push children whose basic skills in English are worryingly low into assessments far above their level, purely because they need to meet the administration’s deadlines. But crucially, and this is by no means the fault of anyone but myself, I struggle with putting my all into a job (11/12 hour days, at least 4/5 hours on weekends) when almost every day, no matter how many creative activities I use, no matter what kinds of media I employ, my work is almost always met with apathy.

I’ve worked damn hard at this, and I’m deeply passionate about education. I am absolutely certain that, were there an emotional meter in my brain I could turn down for the next six months, the workload itself would be entirely manageable. But, as many bloggers and writers on the web have already made known, this route isn’t for everyone. I’m too sensitive for this job, and dare I say selfish? I need to see progress which at least correlates with my efforts. I need to work with people who, if not thankful for my work, at least will not scorn it.

A little melodramatic, I know, but it came from the heart. You might notice a certain desperation in the tone; a desperation to justify myself. This desperation has been torturing me for weeks.

When I reflect on why, even weeks after deciding to leave, I’m still unhappy, two key culprits start dancing around my head.

  1. I hate quitting; I feel like a failure.
  2. I’m worried about my future prospects, despite having a new path lined up (I’ll explain in a future post).

Though I’ve moved beyond the indecisive stage of leaving, and I’m gradually becoming content with my reasoning, these thoughts still manage to grate against me each day. I’m sure they’re natural feelings when quitting a potential career, but believe me, this has been blown out of control.

I’ll leave you with this to think over. Some time soon, if not in the next post, I’ll let you know how I’m managing these buggers.

A hopeful start

“Reflection! Reflection! Reflection!”

Reminiscing over the somewhat wobbly roller-coaster that has been my half-year venture into Career Land, these are the words which whistle through my ears most often. I’m not talking about mirrors, in case you’re wondering, although “Look at yourself in the mirror!” is another regular visitor.

Before I explain, here’s some background info. I’ve just left my first job as a real, no studying, council tax paying, suit wearing adult. I was a  Teach First teacher (cue applause/cheering/cultic chanting).

I was miserable.

Everyone told me it was going to be difficult, excruciating even, and I thought I was prepared. Indeed, to some extent I was. My assessments were good. I was dealing with the work. My colleagues even liked me (I think). But when you find yourself kicking and screaming in the middle of a Wednesday night, wishing the sun could not rise just this once, something’s not right. When you spend your Christmas holidays blubbering into a pillow, you know it’s time to throw in the towel. (But this isn’t a sob story. I’m forcing myself past it whether I like it or not (plus I can explain the nauseating emotional details to you later). The reason I’m writing this is precisely so that I can move forward, and maybe even (if I’m incredibly lucky) encourage some of you, in one way or another, to do the same.

Life can be fucking hard. My teeny, nonthreatening, privileged little experience has taught me that. But what teaching has also taught me (and this part’s only just hit me, really) is that if you don’t look back, you can’t look forward. So that’s what this is about. Looking back, looking forward. Reflection! (*Puke*)

There’s definitely some shit in the future; my next post might help to explain this cynicism. But I’m tired of letting it smother me. I’m deciding to use it, because there’s a hell of a lot to look forward to, as well. So come, one and all, to watch me fail, then fail less drastically, and – you guessed it – reflect on what it takes to be a moderately successful young adult today.