Over Christmas I made a decision. It was a tough decision to make, but the more I think about it, the more I realise it’s the right decision. I am leaving teaching.
When I was nine years old, I knew that I wanted to become a teacher, to inspire children to learn and to enjoy learning as much as I did. I worked hard and aimed straight for my goal, meaning I was already a qualified teacher before I turned 22. For two years I tried to get a job in Cornwall, my home county, before realising that there just weren’t teaching posts for young locals unless you were really lucky. Instead I supply taught until I was no longer allowed (Newly Qualified Teachers are limited to a maxium of 7 terms of supply without completing their NQT year). I learnt an awful lot going from one school to another; good things and bad things, but most of all, I learnt how to teach a lesson with no plans, no prior outcomes and to just come up with an inspirational and fun hour of learning.
I moved to London and taught for two terms in a state secondary school where children were streamed from the moment they entered the school, where the weakest children were considered ‘not able’ to be taught by secondary school teachers and instead were handed over to primary school teachers, especially employed to look after the ‘unit’ as it was known. When I joined, just before Christmas, my class were a nightmare of sullen, agressive and thoughtless children who had made a game of scaring off supply teachers for the prior five weeks (their previous teacher had walked out from stress). By May they were still difficult, but praise was coming in from across the school for their changed behaviour. The children felt like no one cared for them and so they stopped caring for their education and for each other. Even my unskilled management of the class made a huge difference because they finally felt like they belonged somewhere and had someone who cared about them. I had children who were proud of their siblings in prison, but who now wanted to stay in at lunch time to chat to me about the future; children from Somalia who didn’t know where they belonged and just wanted to feel safe; children whom no one had realised were incredibly intelligent and just needed the right push to help them to achieve. I was so proud of my class and how hard they were working, but when I tried to speak to their new year 8 class teachers, no one wanted to hear it. No one else in the school cared about these children in the same way I did, they just wanted to push them through the system and move on and I couldn’t face the thought of seeing those changed children reverting back to their old ways when they went back to having a teacher who didn’t care. Without a school to go to, I handed in my notice.
That was eight years ago… I got lucky when I left my old school, I applied for any job I could find and received an interview in a school in Putney, I hadn’t even realised it was an independent school when I sent in my CV and I nearly didn’t accept the position because I wasn’t sure I could face ‘abandoning’ the children who really needed it. There have been some hard times, some fun times, some wonderful times, some great friends, amazing lessons (and one or two terrible ones) and I have loved teaching such a fantastic bunch of children in the time I’ve been here, but I still have to leave teaching.
You see, there’s something they don’t tell you when they talk about teaching. Lot’s of people talk about the holidays being great, they talk about the paperwork being awful, the hours of marking, the pointless inset, the displays (oh God, the displays), but no one seems to mention the emotional strain of being a teacher. My teaching day starts before 8am as children start to arrive and, no matter how I’m feeling inside, I have to be energetic and smiling for all of those children, because my mood will affect their mood. I have to maintain that excitment and enthusiasm, even when teaching something I hate or something I know nothing about. I truly hate teaching drama lessons, but I can’t let children know that – we want them to be enthusiastic about learning so we have to be enthusiastic in return. I didn’t know anything about Victorian history three years ago, but I need to be an expert for every lesson I teach, even if that means spending my lunch break frantically researching about the Great Exhibition to pretend to be a fountain of all knowledge by the end of the day. I have to make my lessons exciting, otherwise I’m failing as a teacher, whether it be fractions, grammar or the story of Christmas, it all needs to be delivered in the right way.
And here’s the problem, maintaining that constant level of energy is slowly breaking me. I’ve spent two months this year sick with three successive chest infections and a mild flu. I love teaching, but some days I found struggling to drag myself out of bed in the morning. My enthusiasm is rapidly waning, not because of some government announcement, or change in the curriculum, but simply because I’ve worn myself out and working at this rate is not sustainable. I am determined to be a good teacher, I never want to be one of those teachers that just coasts along, delivers their lessons, but doesn’t inspire the children to find out more.
I say that as someone in a fantastic school, where I don’t have to stick to a swinging pendulum of a curriculum or listen to Nicky Morgan or Michael Gove or whichever career politician with no idea about what life in school is about wants to throw at my profession. I can snigger behind my hand when it’s declared that Roman numerals are more important than measuring angles and I can stand on the side in awe and horror while LEAs, the curriculum and Governors are abolished by the latest announcement that schools should all become academies. In short, I have it easy in my school, but I still can’t physically or emotionally keep going so how on earth do my state school counterparts still drag themselves out of bed every morning? This profession is so intensely emotionally and physically draining, it is no wonder so many people just give up.
So…what’s next for me? I’ve been really lucky, over the last few years I have found something that I am really, really passionate about and I have a new career goal. I am no longer satisfied just teaching a class of children about computing and coding, I am want to be able to teach lots of classes how to code and support teachers so that they can better teach computing and code. I want so much more than just teaching in one school and I am fortunate to have been given the opportunity to do so!
Way back in March, I was speaking to the lovely Jesse Lozano of pi-top and when I mentioned my plan, he very generously offered me a job. I was very pleased to be able to accept his offer, on the basis that it was a part-time role so that I could still focus on my own projects. I’m really excited that as education outreach champion for pi-top, I’ll be able to help them to deliver useful and exciting content for teachers as well as helping them to run workshops at events and support other teachers using pi-tops in their classroom. I’ve spoken to the a few members of the team and I can’t wait to get going and have the opportunity to work with such an amazing and fun bunch of people.
I think that the pi-top products, especially the CEED, have a lot of potential to be fantastic classroom tools because of their cheapness, ease of use and focus on all things code. In a primary school in particular, where space is limited, it makes life a lot easier to not have to worry about getting a separate monitor for your pi and storing bags and bags of cables. Added to this, the guys in the office are really keen to make sure that the software pre-loaded onto the pi-top is actually of a good quality and beneficial to teachers and they’re so keen to listen to what teachers actually want to ensure it’s the best it can be; I really hope I can help them achieve this goal!
But, I also mentioned my own projects…I’m still really keen to help as many schools as possible with their teaching of computing and coding and so I’m hoping to be able to head in to schools to run CPD sessions on how best to teach the new curriculum, or how to integrate computing with current set up. I’m doing some training with CEOP so that I can become a CEOP Ambassador to be able to deliver high quality eSafety training. I want to be able to offer bespoke workshops for children on coding, robotics, physical computing, or any other topic schools want me to demonstrate. I’m really pleased that Crossover Solutions are giving me the opportunity to work freelance for them as a consultant to make this all possible and I can’t wait to be able to travel around and meet more of you
Finally, I want to look at plan b for Coding Evenings – too often I’m asked by parents “How do I get started using a Raspberry Pi?” or “How can I do some coding with my child?” So the next step will be Coding Evenings for parents, which I’m hoping can be a pay-for event so that funds can be filtered back around to pay for “one drink free” inititives at the Coding Evenings for teachers. Perhaps a future plan c might be to look at Coding Evening for teenagers, but for now I want to develop the platform I already have.
So, if you’re currently working in a school who would like some help getting the most out of teaching computing and coding please, please get in touch: