I’m Walking Away…
‘I’m walking away from the troubles in my life, I’m walking away oh to find a better day…‘ – Craig David
I always told myself that if teaching became a contractual obligation, a mere method of paying bills and not something I loved, I would walk away.
A year ago, this week, I was driving to work and decided to put on the radio as a form of escapism and Craig David’s wonderful Walking Away was playing. It was a premonition that the fire to teach was fading. That day I arrived more anxious than ever before, logged into my PC, printed resources and I was ready to teach. Just as my form left for period one, I was hauled, totally off guard into an SLT meeting. You see, teaching exam groups and accountability go hand in hand, so when your exam groups are below par, it can swallow you up. The meeting followed the usual routine of data crunching, explaining why my results were amongst the bottom two of the school and how I wasn’t doing my job well enough. I was due to leave in July and despite being hassled to hand in my notice earlier, I requested an early resignation.
The 2000 hit Craig David is effortlessly one of the most beautiful songs I have heard. The lyrics ‘now I truly realise, some people don’t want to compromise’ will always stand out for me.
I didn’t quit as there are no quitters in teaching. There are simply those who put their own wellbeing first. Without going too much into detail, I have experienced waves of bullying my entire life and to an extent, it became a banal part of life. As a teacher, bullying was normalised through buzzwords like ‘resilience’, ‘accountability’ and ‘expectations’ amongst many others. So, what forced me to leave? The 80hr weeks, sleepless nights, after school revision sessions, evenings marking, lesson observations, organising folders for students (I know), the family gatherings missed, weddings and funerals I was absent from and break-down-worthy stress? The constant feeling of being a failure, letting others down and being undermined? The ‘CV gap’ played on my mind as did the lack of certainty over finances but I took the leap of faith. I am fortunate enough to look back and reflect with a crystal-clear gaze.
Five key questions
These are my five key questions for teachers who leave mid-year, mid-term or like me, mid-morning. This is not an all exhaustive list but just a process I went through during a dark time.
What is your purpose? Why did you go into teaching? Where was this purpose lost and can it be regained? I remember the following weeks after I left, I needed to find the check shirt and knitted tie wearing, Dr Martens flashing, lanyard swinging, happy-go-lucky Shuaib again. This was a personal journey as well as a somewhat spiritual one. I came into teaching to make a difference and this was lost through the rigidity and bureaucratic nature of the system. Finding your teacher identity after having that identity supressed for so long was so difficult but my confidence is coming back, my anxiety isn’t as high as it used to be and I can now go in, teach and go home. What is your purpose? Never lose sight of who you are and why you became a teacher as sometimes, it is all we have. Take some time to reflect.
But I still love teaching? – Like me, you may still love teaching and although you’ve had a difficult time of it, doesn’t mean you can’t still teach. What aspects of teaching do you most and least enjoy? Create a list, it will help you gain perspective before you make any big decisions. I love making resources, so I started making and selling resources on TES. I chose to do supply which provided me with more flexibility, albeit a reduced pay-packet but at least I don’t have do deal with the juggernaut of accountability or attend meetings. Although the was fire fading, it never extinguished. Even if I don’t teach full-time, the knowledge and experience I have can benefit someone, right?
This will inevitably vary from person to person but the aspect is to redevelop a sense of what you enjoy about teaching.
What can I learn from my experience? What was the key life message? – When I left my school, I felt nothing but ‘done’ and ‘done’ is an emotion in itself. I had given it my all, worked as hard as I could and there were no regrets. But feeling ‘done’ was like being swarmed with thousands of emotions at once. Done for me was the realisation that no matter how hard I tried, I was fighting a losing battle, so I suppose the key life message way, to leave what causes you uncertainty and anxiety. I began to put my mental health ahead of work, looking past my pile of marking and doing the things that make me feel okay. I learnt from my experience that it won’t say ‘Shuaib Khan, achieved a positive progress 8 during 18-19 academic year’ on my headstone. There is so much more to life than work, it just took a toxic experience for me to realise this.
Is it like this everywhere? Teachers who leave a role mid-year or mid-term, especially those without a new job to go to, our bad experience can make us more inward-looking. If you’re leaving teaching, have you tried another school? Although your current school may not provide you with job satisfaction or a work-life balance, what’s to say it is the same everywhere else? Sometimes when we leave a situation, there’s always the subconscious thought in our mind of ‘what if I stayed?’. I remember on a day of supply being run ragged by a group of feral Year 8s and coming home slightly teary wondering ‘is the grass greener?’. Considering what I left behind, a few hours dealing with poor behaviour is a mere walk in the park. Not every school is the same and although it can feel this way, the personnel of a school can make or break our experience. Don’t walk away from a job you love, go somewhere where you’re appreciated.
Have I found closure? I think we are all looking for closure from any experience we have. It hurts so much that I never got a chance to see my Year 11s complete their exams or the fact I never really got a chance to say goodbye to friends and colleagues. Seeing someone who made my role impossible gain promotion make me wonder if there’s any justice in the world. The pain ran deeper than the blue sea. I was heartbroken. Could I have stayed and coped with going through that process again and the pressure that accompanied it? I don’t think so. I found closure when I sat an interview for a long-term supply role, and I was complimented for my lesson. For the first time in three years, I felt like I was doing something right again. I found closure when I saw two former students whilst I was buying groceries and both were visibly moved when spoke to me. One said “Sir, it was a shock that you left but we still remember you man”. Another added “We could see you were unhappy, you did what was right for you”. This was my closure. I have closure in the fact that I can’t be hurt by that school any more and won’t allow myself to be hurt by them anymore either. That is my closure.
Whether you leave mid-year, mid-term, mid-day or mid-morning, the guilt and sense of hurt to your professional pride will always exist. A year ago, I couldn’t cope, I was in a bad place and it has taken some serious evaluation for me to even write this blog.
Very often I have found messages from strangers more comforting than those from family. Those strangers then became family and I am forever grateful. Even when I do supply now, there’s a constant fear of getting too emotionally invested after my experience. We kind of wrap our hearts in bubble wrap, like our Grandmas China dishes, and will do anything to stop them being shattered again. Not all is lost but to throw a punch, sometimes we’ve got to take a step back. The fight continues and although we are the ones who walk away, it’s those who hurt us that say goodbye.
Thank you for reading,