Will Ford: Why mountains of admin and pointless meetings made me quit teaching at Leeds school

What can be done to stop teachers leaving the profession?
What can be done to stop teachers leaving the profession?
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IT was at 7.30 on a Friday evening, having obediently “rounded the corners” of the pictures I was using for my classroom display, that I realised I wanted to leave teaching.

I had stayed late in preparation for a school governors review the following Monday.

We had been told to get “something on every wall” by the assistant head in charge of classroom displays (yes, such a title does exist).

This is just an example of the menial tasks undertaken by teachers to please the powers that be that have no discernible use to students.

The Government is always keen to point out the increasing numbers of people that are choosing a career in education. Top quality graduates are promised big sums of money to complete PGCE qualifications. What it is not so keen to point out is that there are more teachers leaving the profession than are joining it.

I was a science teacher in Birmingham for three years and gained qualified teacher status through the Teachfirst graduate scheme. I then accepted a position at an “outstanding” academy in Leeds. I lasted just six months.

This is not meant as the rant of a disgruntled former teacher – though I am. Nor is it meant to frustrate those who work similarly hard or harder in their own careers. It is meant to give an insight into what teachers actually do – and why we are leaving the profession in our droves.

No teacher enters the profession thinking it’s going to be easy. The warnings are about the kids – the social media-obsessed millennials with their lack of respect for authority.

For me, the kids were never the problem. Behaviour management comes under your remit as a teacher. It’s a skill. A skill that you can work on. Something you can get better at. Something you control.

Beyond your control are the hours spent each week on activities that your school requires you to do. Some of these tasks benefit the students, but most (unbelievably) do not.

The data entry in duplicate or triplicate that’s never looked at or used.

The multiple stamps (my record was eight) you’re required to use in every student’s book when marking every fortnight.

The feedback, and then response, and then feedback from the response of every single student every fortnight.

The strict guidelines on what has to be included in every lesson, removing the possibility of implementing any real teaching style or an atmosphere of enthusiasm among the students.

The meetings. The pointless meetings. The irony of a two-hour seminar on the “work-life balance”. Being talked through time-management, marking timetables and various other superficial, patronising methods of finding that elusive “work-life balance”. The teachers in attendance thinking only about what they could be doing with the two hours that they were wasting.

The convoluted behaviour management strategies that teachers, students and parents never truly understand.

If you are a teacher and these sentiments do not ring true, then I envy you. You are at a great school – and there are many examples.

Every teacher or ex-teacher knows that at times there is no better job.

The “lightbulb moments” when a student’s vacant expression turns to one of true understanding.

The buzz around a classroom when there’s genuine interest in what you’re teaching.

The feeling you get when a student tells you how much they enjoyed your lesson.

But these times are all too frequently overshadowed by those that make you think that the grass must be greener elsewhere.

The average age of teachers is dropping year on year. An experience black hole has been created, with newly-qualified teachers unable to draw on the experiences of “the old guard” who are becoming less and less visible in schools up and down the country.

Teaching used to be a career for life – but no longer. Such are the demands on teachers these days, many simply do not have the energy to last.

So what can be done?

Teacher wellbeing has got to be at the top of the agenda.

The work-life balance needs to be seriously considered, not with fluffy ideas that outwardly look like they’re helping and don’t, but by changing the very culture of teaching – giving incentives to persuade teachers to stay in the profession.

If nothing changes, teacher turnover will continue to increase, the standard of teaching will continue to drop and the students will suffer.

It is the students after all that are most important, and let’s not forget it.

Will Ford is a Journalism Masters student studying at Leeds Trinity University. He gained a teaching qualification through the Teachfirst graduate programme and taught for four years in Birmingham and Leeds before leaving the profession in April.