It’s Friday 12th September. Usually, I would have just finished my second week back at work teaching at an east London secondary school after a five-week summer holiday. New exercise books would have been distributed and sullied with fresh graffiti. The students’ (and teachers’) initial enthusiasm at the start of a new year would be beginning to wane. And, if it hadn’t happened already, I would be starting to regularly raise my voice in anger at the students’ general indifference as their first coursework deadlines start to loom.
As I’m sure you can tell – just take a look at the rest of our site – I’m not teaching at the moment. I’m not working at all in fact – not in the nine-to-five, 40 hours a week sense anyway. Instead, I’m sat on a wooden deck overlooking the Pacific Ocean, tapping away at my laptop while the waves gently roll in and the evening tide rises. I’m not trying to rub it in, just setting the scene. Well, maybe I am trying to rub it in a little.
I handed in my notice back in April. It was earlier than necessary, but I knew in April what I knew right back at the beginning of the academic year last September: that my time in the teaching profession was finite. When I was leaving the teaching profession at the end of July, I knew that it would be for good. I had been teaching for seven years and for at least a year too long.
I won’t write yet another aggrieved teacher rant – I’ll just say that, despite the fact that I was a committed and successful teacher, the salary and holidays weren’t enough to balance out the stifling bureaucracy and relentless pressure put on teachers by central government. The holiday allowance so often cited by friends as an unparalleled benefit just wasn’t incentive enough for me to stay in the profession and isn’t incentive enough for me to return.
Will I miss teaching? Maybe. There will be times I’m sure that I’ll miss the interaction and fulfilment that comes with working in a school. However, I expect that whenever I have these pangs of nostalgia, accompanying anxiety will follow too.
What will I do when I get back? I don’t know. In fact, I have no idea. And I love not knowing. It’s the first time in nearly 10 years, probably since being a student, that I’ve not known what I’m going to do professionally. I may end up teaching English as a foreign language again – my TEFL qualification is hopelessly underutilised. However,I know that whatever it is, it will be likely quite different to what I’ve ever done before.
I’m happiest when I’m outside. I’m happiest when I’m close to nature. Not in a tree-hugging hippie kind of way – it’s just that I’m not an inherent urbanite. I spent most of my time in London trying to escape the city and find areas of seclusion where I didn’t feel like I’m in the “Big City”. Whether that was wild camping on the Moors or Downs, scaling mountains in Scotland midwinter or simply jogging round Fairlop Waters at the weekend, it still makes me a country boy at heart who can’t ignore his formative years and upbringing.
I suspect, that when (or if) I do return to the UK, I’ll be forced to do some short-term or supply teaching just to make ends meet. But it will have to be temporary. My biggest fear in life, and I suspect in most people’s lives, is to feel unhappy. And the wrong profession can easily make a person feel unhappy. I think I left in the nick of time.
I need to be careful not to badmouth my former profession as many of my good friends and former colleagues remain in teaching and continue to do great work. Teaching is a great and worthy profession – but I know I’ve made the right decision. About once a week, I wake up anxious from a dream about the classroom. After a few seconds, I realise where I am and a wave of relief washes over me. Knowing that I’m not going to be back anytime soon makes me feel happy.
With this in mind, I don’t regret my time as a teacher. I enjoyed much of it, met many fascinating people (adults and children) and made some of the best friends I’ll ever have. At the same time I look forward to the future, knowing only that I don’t really know what I’m going to do. And I like it.
I’ll end with the anecdote that got me thinking about all this. We are currently camping on Taveuni Island in Fiji. It’s a pretty basic campsite with a kitchen and communal area overlooking the ocean. There are two books on a table and when we came up to make breakfast this morning, Kia picked one up and leafed through it. Pausing, she read the following quote to me:
“Every schoolmaster knows that for every one person who wants to teach there are approximately 30 who don’t want to learn – much”
I just smiled and made some eggs.