Two years ago I closed the door on my classroom and walked away from a long career in primary teaching. Many reasons led me to that decision and I did not know where my decision would take me. Now, I find myself starting to feel more comfortable with introducing myself as a writer, rather than defaulting to my stock phrase of 'I'm taking a break from teaching for a while.' In all honesty, I cannot see myself back in that role. Pandemic aside - and I might add that I am in awe of all those working in schools through this, I am unable to find the strength to put myself back into such a pressure cooker of a working environment. It saddens me to read of the continuing hemorrhaging of the profession at both ends of the scale - newly qualified staff unable to find enough support to get through those initial years and continue in the classroom, and the countless cases of experienced, hardworking staff pushed to walk away when their price tag has exceeded their usefulness. Add to that the current teacher bashing that seems to be in fashion and it is a wonder that anyone wants to continue. But of course, at the centre of all of it, the reason most of us even consider taking up teaching, are the children. They are the missing part of my jigsaw now.
Yet, I have done a lot with my last two years. Many times I have put myself in those children's shoes for I have found myself in the role of the learner, starting from scratch and often feeling that there was so much to know and to understand that it was barely worth starting. Though I had written in various ways throughout my life, actually having that as my main goal was an unfamiliar venture. Adopting the mantra to aim to write something every day was akin to how children must feel, knowing that they have to focus on lessons each day regardless of whether or not they were ready to engage with the content.
Through my perseverance, I like to think that I have learnt new skills during this time. As we stand on the verge of another year, one we all hope brings some positive outcomes, I find myself turning to my writing again for solace. The three books I have published since leaving that classroom have all taught me something. I have honed my writing skills within their pages but more importantly, I have redefined myself through the process of writing them. Once a teacher, always a teacher - I think that is true, but it doesn't mean I cannot change and grow. Looking back upon the post I wrote as my farewell to teaching, I can see that I have moved on and appreciate how much I have achieved since then. Perhaps I can now mark it down as 'lesson learned.'
Overwhelmed and Out of Time
This term will be my last after 16 years supporting the children and families of one school, and about 27 years of teaching altogether. The decision to leave education was huge for me as I consider myself to have been good at what I do: igniting fire in young minds as I have built relationships with the children in my care, working hard to support their families and also being there to listen and help out colleagues however I could.
I am sad to say that I no longer feel able to do the job that I trained for and that I developed an expertise in, as the direction that education has taken has brought with it so many obstacles that I have found the people that matter, the children, have been lost among the targets, the red taped package of Ofsted and monitoring and the tick box exercises of daily teaching. It is with much soul searching that I have had to accept that I cannot continue trying to reach the goals set externally and have been left overwhelmed by a system that currently appears to be unsustainable for the long term positive future of the profession and the well-being of our children.
I accept that I have been struggling with family issues which have centred on both physical and mental health of different individuals within the family, alongside the process of managing a highly stressful job. This has been a double edged sword as whilst it has given me an obviously difficult time juggling the hats of career, wife and parent, it has also given me an insight into the difficulties that I have tried to help parents with as my role within Special Educational Needs has developed in recent years.
There have always been certain individuals or families that have made indelible marks on me during my career, often the ones I have had to invest the most time in to support. Over my time in education, my interest in SEN has grown to the point that I studied and completed the SENCO qualification a few years ago and have spent the last two years attempting to embrace the immense task of being a SENCO in a busy primary school. This has put me in the privileged position of being the trusted person when families are at some of their darkest moments and it has been a joy to see the relief when together we have been able to find solutions or gain much needed support when paperwork is agreed by SEN panels. For those cases that I leave unresolved, I feel a pang of guilt and hope that others in my place will sort things quickly as, unless you’ve been part of the roller coaster of accepting that a child in the family has special needs, you cannot begin to imagine how all-encompassing this becomes.
As for me, for many reasons, I found that I had become completely overwhelmed by the demands of the job alongside family issues to the point that I now have to consider my own mental health. So, rather like a large sand timer, I see that the time has come to accept that the sand has all run through and my energies have been sapped with it to the point that I am now out of time.
That phrase is apt for several reasons - out of time in how I now feel that I cannot continue fighting the daily battles with accompanying rising stress levels, out of time in how, as a middle-aged teacher my training was at a time that now seems unrecognisable for the current demands of the job, out of time in what I value as important in teaching young minds and how that doesn’t fit into the narrow focused curriculum that measures all children in a one-size fits all way that actually does not fit at all well for many of them.
I face an uncertain new year, with no fixed plans of what I will choose to do next. I have given myself permission to take some time to have some head space, to focus on my writing, to consider if there is another route that I may take work wise. I do not know right now, if I could return to teaching at some point. I feel that I have more to offer, especially in the field of SEN, but as yet have no plans about the form that this will take. I hope to make something of my writing, as it is certainly true that blogging my thoughts this year has helped me to confront long buried emotions and face up to issues that have been hard to talk about. I am too close to it all right now to answer questions about my future. Just today my husband asked if I feel I could do something in the future to keep making a difference in the field of SEN. I could not even think of how to respond to the question without welling up - I suppose that must mean that the guilt in leaving families part way through a journey, in stopping being the one waving the SEN flag at school and fighting a child’s corner is all still too raw for me. Being a SENCO is more than just a job, it seeps into your bones and you certainly cannot leave it at work.
Perhaps readers of this blog will have ideas of where I could jump next? I would be happy to hear suggestions. For now, I have to remind myself that it is okay not to know where I am headed. Moving from a heavily time managed environment to a situation that is bound by no rules or deadlines is simultaneously liberating and intimidating. Friends have put a rose coloured spin on it, encouraging me to follow my dreams. Perhaps they are right? So I am working hard to think of this point in time not as an ending but as a beginning. I have a lot of people to support me and I have got better at asking for help. My past successes will always be there, my future ones are worth striving for and I am truly blessed to have my support network helping me to keep moving forward. Perhaps I am not out of time, more choosing my own time, my time to shine.