A primary school teacher tells us why she has chosen to leave the UK and teach abroad.
“…in many schools today the teacher is stripped of their independence- the curriculum and methods of teaching are dictated by policies and initiatives with the aim of improving SATS results…”
I love teaching, but not being a teacher. Not in the UK at least. Since qualifying as a primary teacher I have taught four classes in Manchester and have spent two years teaching English in Korea, as well as spells of teaching voluntarily in India. I have come to the realisation that, for me, teaching long term in the UK is not a desirable option. Deciding where to go next career-wise is a matter of weighing up the conflicts between financial security, job satisfaction and life enjoyment.
For the last five months, I have been teaching a class in an inner-city Manchester school and, after two years in Korea, the transition to the UK classroom was far from easy. I had plans to come home and remain in England, but it didn’t take long to realise that returning to a life as a teacher there would entail a rejection of my values and my perspective on what human living should look like. My eyes have recently been opened to the fact that there are alternative lifestyle possibilities, and it was suddenly very difficult to dedicate my time and effort to a system that I fundamentally don’t believe in.
So, what exactly made the work at this school so objectionable? Firstly, a huge amount of a teacher’s energy is used up dealing with behavioural issues in the classroom. This is partly due to the large class sizes and lack of support for children with special educational needs, and partly due to cultural expectations. The job becomes a matter of crowd control rather than a process of inspiring the minds of young children and the large class size is a cause of great frustration, as it does not allow the time to attend to the needs of children, both socially and academically.
Secondly, in many schools today the teacher is stripped of their independence- the curriculum and methods of teaching are dictated by policies and initiatives with the aim of improving SATS results in numeracy and literacy. There is almost total focus on these ‘core’ subjects and, in this school at least, the arts, humanities and sciences are hardly touched on at all. Even my behavior management strategies and seating arrangements in the class were prescribed by school-wide policy.
To add to this demotivating environment, there is much additional, and in my view unnecessary, paperwork demanded of teachers- endless inputting and analysis of assessment data, lengthy planning in prescribed formats, continual writing assessments using time-consuming checklists designed to assign levels to children’s work based on their formulaic use of certain vocabulary or grammar buzzwords. Little time remains for a healthy work-life balance, and as someone who enjoys an active and varied lifestyle, this is a huge challenge for me.
So, that is how I found the work. It is draining, demotivating and leaves little time for the enjoyment and appreciation of life outside of the job, little energy to pursue hobbies, creative interests and social activity. I refuse to believe this is how we should be living our lives.
So, having come to the realization that I cannot take this career path and simultaneously lead the lifestyle I want to lead, what options do I have? I considered several possibilities including the opportunity of working in a more alternative educational environment, but found nothing financially viable. Perhaps I could boost my income with music teaching or tutoring, if I could find the work, but these are insecure employment options and I am reluctant to take the risk in attempting it, especially in the current political and economic climate. In the end, I opted to take another contract teaching abroad, this time in a British school in Qatar. Not the ideal solution, especially as it means once again leaving family and home behind, but at least I will be able to do my job well and hopefully serve the needs of my students better, while at the same time enjoying a varied lifestyle. I have been reassured by friends currently teaching there that with the smaller class sizes and increased teacher independence, the workload is much more manageable and leaves much more time for a life outside the classroom.
To be clear, this is not the perfect answer to my unease, my search for a way of life I feel comfortable with and can accept whole-heartedly. Teaching abroad does, however, offer the opportunity for an improved balance between the need to work and having the time to do the things I enjoy. For now, until I figure out the next step, I’ll take it.
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