The Tragedy of Teaching Today

Laurian Bold’s devastating decision to jump 140 feet to her death should compel education ministers to stop ignoring everything they know is happening and actually deal with these real issues.

The state of British education today is in turmoil.

I know. Many of you are thinking: Here, we go again; another moaning teacher, trying to convince the world how bad her life is, whilst the rest of you are struggling with a ‘real’ job. We don’t understand how good we have got it.

But no.

You don’t understand how horrific my job is.

There. I’ve said it.

I’ve finally admitted that the job I once loved with passion has now become a nightmare. And I just cannot cope anymore.

In order to truly understand what makes my job so horrendous, you need to understand the basic principle: we are being set up to fail. That is not paranoia. That is the truth.

The fact is, if I said to you,  ‘I want you to clean 40 windows, which take 2 minutes each to clean, but you need to clean them in 30 minutes’, you will be set up to fail. We are being told this. But we are being given 30 seconds to clean the windows. All 40 windows.

So, in order for my non-teaching comrades to truly understand what I am trying to convey, you need to be able to live a week of my life. This is what I am required to do in a week:

  1. Plan 27 lessons per week.
  2. Teach 27 lessons per week.
  3. Be a form tutor and take a register 3 times per day. Make sure each child is healthy, happy and hasn’t lost his/her PE trainers.
  4. As a form tutor, teach 2 tutorials per week, as part of the Citizenship curriculum. This now takes me to 29 periods per week. Leaving 6 free periods.
  5. In those 6 periods, plan 27 outstanding lessons per week. This includes: making the PowerPoint presentations, creating the resources, writing out lesson plans and photocopying. But they cannot be good lessons. Ofsted says they need to be outstanding lessons.

N.B. I lost 1 free period this week, as I had to cover a sick colleague. Apparently we shouldn’t be covering anymore but schools have no money anymore and hence all of us are covering anyway. This now takes me to 5 free periods per week.

6. Teach 164 students each week.  The school policy is to mark each class fortnightly. Let’s call that 82 students a week. I have a system. In my ‘6’ free periods, I plan the 27 lessons. I aim to. I try to. After school, I mark. This system fails. By 7pm, I am still planning. I teach English. So if I work on superhuman speed, and mark their exercise books (classwork and homework) averaging at 5 minutes per book (although it takes about 10 minutes per book) I need to find another 7 hours to mark. I plan to work from 8pm-10pm each night to try and stay on top of the marking. Sometimes, I fall asleep on my books. The doctor says I suffer from fatigue. I have no time to listen to this doctor. Time is running out.

7. You cannot just mark. You need to keep a record of marking. Three versions. One for yourself; one for the department; one for the school. This is called Data Tracking. Also, you cannot just copy paste – as they all want different things. I spend another 3 hours copying marks into spreadsheets.

8. Students don’t hand in books on time, when they are meant to. This requires chasing. I do not have the time to chase. Or give out detentions. Because that requires more form filling.

9. Each half term we need to make a new seating plan for each class. This is to avoid bullying and allow students to work with different groups. I am fast. This is good practice which, in Ofsted lingo, means it is important. Because I am spectacular, I only take 20 minutes to formulate these.

10. I haven’t included the weekly departmental meetings yet. I also take the minutes and distribute them to the Department as well as my Headteacher.

11. We are also required to run extra-curricular activities – I run Poetry Club and Debating Society 2 lunchtimes a week. The other lunchtimes I meet students who have questions about their work.

12. My students want to take part in Debate Competitions. I organise them, which includes form filling, finance office visits, writing letters home, collecting reply slips, organising transport, collecting medical kits and medical information, filling in Risk Assessment forms, and accompanying the students on the evenings.

13. We also organise educational visits. I have just finished organising the Year 11 trip to Poetry Live. See above for procedure.

14. This week, I also had the pleasure of Year 11 parents evening and our Sixth Form Open Evening.

15. Due to the two late evenings, I could not mark my 82 books. Now I am behind.

16. Due to the two late evenings, I have only planned 13 out of the 27 lessons this week; lots of blagging needs to be done.

N.B. I am not a new teacher. I have been teaching for 13 years and am highly experienced. But Gove decided to change the GCSE, AS and A Level specifications in one go. All at the same time. I am teaching a brand new curriculum. I am starting from scratch. I haven’t had time to familiarise myself with the new curriculum yet. We were not given any time. But I don’t need time. I have superpowers.

N.B. Gove did not apply the new changes consistently. This means the students will receive a number for GCSE English and Maths, and a grade in other subjects. When they apply for a job, they will say, ‘I got 1 6, 1 7, 2 As and 3 Bs.’ This sounds ridiculous – but no one cares. We have not got the time to care.

17. Due to the marking errors from last summer’s exams, we are still in the process of writing appeal letters to the Board as the results were wrong. The Board have decided that they are sick of remarks so want to put a stop to us complaining. It is unfair ‘some students get a second bite of the apple.’ We think it is unfair that the marks were wrong. The bite should be right the first time. The Board and I do not see ‘apple to apple’. They do not want to admit that they do not have enough experienced examiners. Although, this is a slow process, the results are being rectified. Gradually. This requires daily emails to the Board. I write them.

18. Some students cry. They are unhappy. This means I stop what I am doing and spend time talking to the child – reassuring him/her that it will be ok. I find time for this.  This is important.  Sometimes it is a serious concern. I then put it in writing and report to the Child Protection Officer in my school. This is important.

19. We also have formal assessments because we need to show ‘Value Added.’ This means EVERY child needs to make progress each half term and I need evidence to show this progress. This means that when I write reports every half term, I cannot write the truth. The truth isn’t value added. So I look at what I wrote last half term and go one sub-level higher. 6b becomes a 6a. It is a game. I am good at this game. I think I am winning.

N.B. In the League Tables, my school is not first in the borough. Another school is. My school got 91% A*-A at GCSE. The other school got 49% A*- C at GCSE. The reason that school is higher in the League Table is because it had better ‘Value Added.’ So parents who look at the table think it is better than my school. It isn’t. It just is better at playing the game. It is ridiculous. Our Headmaster says we need to go higher in the League Table. 91% is not good enough. I calculated this. If my school gets 100% A*-As, it still will not beat the other school in Value Added. We are being set up to fail. Everyone knows this but no one talks about it. We just continue playing the game.

20. I teach 32 students in a class at KS3. About 26 students at KS4. At A Level, I used to teach 14 students; now I teach 26. That is absurd for an A Level class. But the government has cut our budget and members of staff leaving are not being replaced. Hence, group sizes are ballooning. Moreover, we are also being asked to teach subjects we have never taught and know nothing about. I feel this is wrong. I feel students should be taught by subject specialists, so you can instil passion. What do I know? Who has time for passion?

N.B. My salary has stayed static for 5 years. Once you get to the top of your pay scale (after 9 years) your salary stops increasing. Forever. There is absolutely no attempt to keep you in the profession. I wrote to the Education Secretary about this. I explained that many teachers were leaving the profession (According to the Department of Education figures, a record number of teachers are leaving and 79% of schools say they are struggling to recruit or retain teachers) as they are working ludicrous hours with no financial incentive. Psychologically, the idea that no matter how well I do my job, or how many hours I put in, I will never get a pay increase, is not very motivating.  My friend in Sky is earning more than me and she works 9-5. Her secretary replied saying that if my Head thinks I am good, he can ignore the pay freeze and just pay me more. I didn’t reply. He has no money to employ a cover supervisor; I doubt he has money to pay me extra.

N.B. Due to budget cuts, we cannot buy books. Currently, we have sellotaped old copies of Skellig. We are also sharing one between 2. That is the least of my worries. But it isn’t a very pleasant experience.

I don’t have any answers. But next time you are about to tell your teacher friend about their long holidays and how they finish at 3pm, please don’t. Bite your tongue. Say nothing. Or help them mark their books.

For me, this game is over. No, I am not jumping off a bridge, don’t worry – but I am tired. I am exhausted. And I handed in my resignation today.

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