Ffion-Medi Ryan, a final-year BA primary education studies student and ATL Future Steering Group Representative for Wales, writes:
Teaching is all I’ve ever wanted to do. It’s in my blood; I simply could not imagine doing anything else. However, during my final year, I seriously thought about walking away from the profession that I considered to be my lifeblood before even officially entering it.
I was the child at nursery school who threw a strop if I couldn’t be the teacher during role play. As clichéd as it may sound, I always knew I would be a teacher, and this idea was nurtured and cemented further by the awe-inspiring teachers who taught me.
I come from a family of teachers, so I thought I had a pretty fair understanding of what the workload would entail before my training began. But, to put it frankly, at the end of my training, having weighed up the pros and cons, I wasn’t quite sure if it would be worth it.
W H Davies noted in his poem Leisure: “What is this life, if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?” This sums up the feelings of most trainee teachers and NQTs at the moment, don’t you think? We hear so much about concentrating on a work-life balance but should we not be concentrating more on a life-work balance? I believe that we should.
I can personally attest to this lack of balance. I am due to marry a trainee nurse; it is not unheard of for us to go five days without actually sitting down and having a conversation. To make it worse, those times we do get to sit down are now regularly being swallowed up by immense feelings of what I call “professional guilt” – those feelings of, “I should be marking/planning/collating data (and so on)”.
You just need to look at retention figures to see that my case is far from unique: a staggering 4,000 professionals are leaving teaching every month. The majority of those leaving cite workload as their top reason for doing so. This is a sad state of affairs. Would society be so flippant if the numbers of doctors, nurses, police and firefighters began to decline so rapidly? I think not. So why do we perceive educational professionals struggling with workload as weak? Or regard making the heart-wrenching decision to walk away from the profession as simply not being able to hack it?
I was lucky: after finally plucking up the courage to speak out, a support network quickly formed around me and I got the enthusiasm, passion and excitement for teaching back. But there are those who aren’t so lucky, and we – myself included, until recently – are too quick to judge those who are struggling, even if that judgement is unintentional.
Teachers need to speak out more, to not be afraid of sharing their concerns with others. If I could only take one piece of advice into my NQT year, it would be this: to never feel like I am drowning in silence.