Open Thinkering


This is why teachers leave teaching.


On Thursday, Mark Clarkson wrote a blog post that started off like this:

I seriously considered leaving education today. And if I had a viable exit strategy I might have taken it further.

Note the end of that sentence: a young, talented teacher with so much to offer the world feels like he has no ‘viable exit strategy’. There are thousands of teachers up and down the country feeling the same thing.

I should know. A few years ago I was one of them.

You should go and read Mark’s post. If you’re currently a classroom teacher you’ll be nodding your head at the bullet point after bullet point of bureaucratic, administrative nonsense he (and most other teachers) put up with. And if you’re not a teacher, you’ll be shocked.

On top of the ridiculous workload teachers like Mark experience each year, he notes that the benefits aren’t exactly stellar:

At the same time I am told that I will have to work for another 36 years. That I will receive less pension than I was promised… That tests are too easy. That my subject is not good enough. That I need to solve gaps in parenting. That I should receive performance related pay. That teachers are paid too much. That public sector workers in the north are paid too much. That teachers ‘cheat’ when the watchmen come. And today I’m told that ‘teachers don’t know what stress is‘.

I’ve been out of the classroom for just over two years now. And already my wife, a Primary school teacher, has to remind me what it’s like. I consider setting off together for work five minutes late a minor inconvenience. But for her, and many teachers, it can make or break their day. I’m fairly sure teachers know what stress is.

Although I would say this, I think we need a review of what we’re doing when it comes to schools. We can’t keep cannibalising the goodwill of people in an underpaid, overworked, increasingly-attacked profession. I think we need a public debate about the purpose(s) of education.

I’ll give the last word to Mark. He echoes something I used to say repeatedly – until I decided enough was enough:

I’m not leaving teaching today, because there are still too many moments that I enjoy.

TEACHING is a great activity. Teaching, at the minute, doesn’t always feel like a great job.

 Image CC BY-NC paulbence

28 thoughts on “This is why teachers leave teaching.

  1. This is why I like to get a position between 60%-80% rate of effort over the 5 day work week. This means I get to do all my work in work time and when I go home I can actually cook dinner, walk the dogs, and watch a show, enjoy my children. What regular workers do in their evenings rather than mark and plan, research, answer email, etc. Yes, it kind of sucks getting paid 60-80% of the salary, but it’s worth my health, sanity, general well being not to mention the ability to get up in the morning and do it over and over again.

    1. Exactly.

      And those that *do* give 100% get burned out. Teaching, day in day out, takes a kind of stamina I haven’t got (nor, to be honest, would wish to develop!)

      1. I’m feeling ‘burned out’. Disillusioned. I do well in teaching and I know I’m good at my job, but would I still be considered good at my job if I start to speak my mind and express how I REALLY feel about the education system and voice my concerns about ‘creative’ use of budgets? I think not. What can I do instead? If I had a viable option, I too, would leave.

  2. What field does one enter today realistically expecting to have the same job for 40 years?

    Who realistically expects a pension?

    Who realistically expects to be able to retire?

    The fact that a young teacher can even entertain those aspirations in the 21st century global economy show how out-of-touch the entire education community is. I sympathize with the young teacher, but he’s in a dead-end job in a dead-end institution in a dead-end economic sector. 

    1. I think it’s reasonable to want to stay in a sector for a full career.
      I expect to get money out of something I put into.

      I expect to stop working before I die.

      And if these things are ‘out of touch’ then I’m fairly sure it’s *society* that’s got the warped ideas. Don’t you think?

    2. Linda

      Are you saying it’s unrealistic for a parent to want their child to be taught by someone who has some energy and enthusiasm? I certainly wouldn’t want my daughter to be taught by an octogenarian!

    3. Why are you o.k. with those questions? When did it become o.k. to think that the goal of life is to work until the grave? Why is it o.k. that we are giving up the hard-fought gains of the labor movement of the early 20th century? 

      And why do we assume that teaching the next generation is a dead-end job?

  3. I think one of the reasons teachersa re overburdened is that they’re being asked to fix something that isn’t broken. They’ve been given the impossible task of making education do something it simply, explicitly wasn’t designed to do.

  4. I am 34 years into this career and have 3 to go.  My heart breaks for my young colleagues.  Excellent teachers are burning out and becoming so disillusioned.  They have so much that they want to give to students, but they can’t imagine staying in this career for the long haul.  I hate to think where we will be by the time I have school-aged grandchildren.

  5. Totaling agree with the post would like to say its better in International School sector but “no”. A good friend of mine has just decided to leave and go and work in construction. He said he is tired and frustrated of the management putting blocks in his way every time he tries something new and creative.  Pity he is one of the good guys!!

    1. It seems to be an endemic thing across the school system(s). Things need fixing – and from a grassroots approach, not top-down.

  6. Thanks for sharing this piece. I too have
    recently departed from the field of Teaching – I just left 3
    months ago and am now trying to break into the world of Social Media
    Marketing and PR while remaining connected in some capacity to education.

    did and still do experience a great conglomerate of emotions related to my change of
    position. I don’t doubt my family is much better off now that I am not putting
    in 60+ hours a week trying to make a difference in a field where it feels every
    odd is against you. I still at times though, doubt myself and wonder if perhaps
    I could have been stronger, stuck it out longer and powered through. The
    question though is not could I, bit should I really be required to?

    was and am as passionate as ever about the education of our nation’s children.
    I believe they are vital to the future our America. I truly loved and cherished
    every real “teaching” moment I spent in the classroom as well and the
    impressionable young lives I had the honor of influencing.

    many of those memories are crowded by the innumerable verbal beatings I received
    from parents, media and government that I wasn’t doing my job or not doing it
    well enough and if I really cared about my students, these new demands and requirements
    that were eating away at my life and leaving my children behind, would be
    easily born.

    I still wonder if one day, my path will
    lead me back to the classroom. Until things change I am comfortable with the
    decision I have made. At times, a feeling of guilt comes having left one of the
    noblest occupations one could enter. I know though, it was for a greater
    purpose; to ensure that my children remember me as a vibrant an involved mother
    – not a frazzled, embittered crone who stuck with a career for the sake of security.
    This is not the future I would want for my children and therefore it is not the
    one I chose for myself.

  7. I quit teaching without an exit strategy a few weeks back – I was becoming that crone.  Some of my soon to be ex colleagues look at me stunned whereas those who I meet outside often say well done. 

    Chris Woodhead excepted I suspect most OFSTED people have the best interests of all at heart and feel that the lists of best practice are guides rather than musts. Its the problems caused when the Press creatively take a report and spin such, or rather the fear of management that this might happen. Not sure if all this student voice emphasis is good for business either.

    Anyway I can appreciate bank holidays now  ….

  8. I am 33, a male primary teacher of 10 years. Currently half-way through a Masters of Education (Leadership) degree. I am the only male in a small, fee-paying school and I take-on all the sport and co-curricular activities (with excellent results, but few thanks). My female colleagues can bully, harass and physically hurt young children with no consequences from management. If I show my frustration for ONE second (and then quickly get over it), I am reprimanded. I have started a company that will provide a ‘sun-smart’ product. I can’t wait to transition OUT of teaching and it’s inequitable standards towards males.

    1. Sorry to hear this, David. My own experience is that different schools can have remarkably different cultures, but good ones seem to be few and far between.

      I hope you find something that deserves your passion and interests.

  9. For me in the Netherlands, when I quit teaching, what striked me most was the amount of colleagues telling me secretly that they envied me, because I had the opportunity to get out and they were too old to do the same. These were all passionate, good teachers, but they were worried they wouldn’t be able to keep it up until the age of 67 with the ever-increasing workload and pressure.
    Because of this, I advise everybody who wants to become a teacher to first choose a different career, and switch to education later. This way you won’t have the problem of being 45, only having 20 years of teaching experience to show for, and no place to go.

  10. oh, what a relief to know that I am not alone. when I was young, I had always loved teaching. since I graduated, I had done no job other than teaching. It’s not because I never had options but just that teaching is my passion. Moreover, it is a profession that enables women to be both maritally and professionally fulfilled.
    However, d story has changed because purpose of school has changed. teachers now work more than bankers in Lagos. just 6weeks maternity leave is granted to nursing mothers and resuming 6am and closing 6pm (no exception). One is punished for coming 10mins late even as nursing mother. The most annoying thing is coming to work on weekends. Imagine, it is No longer suitable for a woman that has a home. I hate bureaucratic organization. I had the peak of it when I was told my work takes priority over my personal life including my family. I can’t just swallow this. It doesn’t give room for career growth. And salary is so little. no increment for over 2 years. No other allowance, no lunch
    Everyday, I feel like quitting everyday even when I have no option yet. I am no longer enthusiastic. Though teaching is in me, I no longer desire to teach in School.
    What should I do, I am fed up.

    1. I just happened upon this post because I was looking up how to leave my teaching career. I have been teaching for 11 years and simply can not go on. The never ending stress of preping, grading, planning, recording, reporting, etc and the constant bombardment by parents and school officials have taken there toll. Tragically, we now teach in an era when it is the teacher who feels the wrath of a failing report card and not the student. I now longer have the energy to care more about a student’s grade than they, or their parents do. I have given this job my all. Always devoted, always staying late, always going in on weekends. It has literally caused my health to decline to the point I can no longer do it. What I face now is do I push through until May or leave after Christmas break.

  11. I’ve only been teaching for two years (I’m 34 and came to it later than most) but can already see the cracks appearing.
    I just want to be a teacher!
    This isn’t just a shameless plug but I’ve jotted down a couple of frustrations on a blog I’ve just set up.

  12. I have been teacher for 11 years and I am in the first year in a new place and I’ve had enough. I am constantly on edge and just fed up of the job taking over my life, I never relax as I know there’s always something to do. I have a young family and the only salvation are being there for them in the holidays. As the moment I am looking at any option as I need to get out!!

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