There's been a lot on Twitter and in the news about the retention crisis, a lot of teachers aren't lasting 5 years in the profession; some don't even finish their NQT year. The government is trying to solve the teacher shortage with plans to recruit more teachers, but recruitment is nothing without retention. I'm not going to suggest ways the government can retain teachers because, honestly, what do I know? I'm not in leadership, neither have I ran a department or a school. My advice its to anyone considering quiting and its simple. Try a new school.
We all start our training with 2 schools, our A and B placements, but for some people that will be the only experiences they have of different schools. Just this week I spoke to 3 teachers who had quit within 5 years of starting, none of them had worked at more than one school. New teachers worry about getting a job so much they accept an offer from their placement school and stay there. Assumptions are made about the entire profession based on those 2 schools. I'm obviously completely different, I've worked at 3 schools!
My A placement was a Catholic all girls school. The kind of school a teacher goes to and literally never leaves. The students were lovely; hard working, well behaved, actively participated in school life. The leaders were supportive, caring and there was real culture of love. Plus it was petty well funded. So let's just say I got a good idea of how great teaching as a whole can be. But my B placement was a whole different story.
I don't know what set me on the path to depression and I can't pin point exactly when it started, but I do know that after my B placement I was a shadow of my former self. The thing I remember most is how empty the staff room always was. At my A school you had to fight for a chair at lunch, here it was a ghost town. I had a few other trainees to talk to but otherwise I only ever saw my maths colleagues. A teacher had left the year before and so the department was a member of staff down, enter me. I was used as a cover teacher for a mid set class with behaviour issues (I later found out that the teacher who left had the top set, but this class’s teacher traded for them). Their previous teacher gave me resources that would be helpful and some tips on seating. It turns out they had already used the resources I had been given (by their previous teacher). The head of department kept popping his head in, which would have been great if he didn't chase this up by telling me I looked terrified. He offered to do an observation and give me suggestions, which I jumped at. However, he graded the lesson using Ofsted standards at the time, not trainee ones, giving me a 4 (the lowest). Needless to say I was distraught. I was already falling apart outside school, the only time I left the house was to go to work and that was making things a whole lot worse. Luckily B placement only lasted 6 weeks (a very short term) and I was back in the loving embrace of A placement. Ofcourse the road I was on to depression didn't stop but that's not the point of this story.
The school I had my B placement at not 6 months later closed down as it failed its Ofsted, the teachers left in droves – while I was there someone said the teachers were leaving like rats abandoning a sinking ship. It was by all standards a ‘bad’ school. But I knew that not all schools were like that. I had seen the other side.
My third school, where I actually had a job through my NQT year and a bit after that, started out great. The teachers were friendly, passionate, cared about the kids and most importantly made substantial use of the staff room. This has come to be the way I judge a school, a staff that avoids the staff room, in my opinion, is one that is either overworked or not happy or both. I had friends at the school and I loved comming into work, we had staff socials that were well attended, I was happy.
I had one term with the original head before they retired and a new one was employed (that old head was actually my mum, but again, not the point). The difference was like night and day. Policies were changed, the ethos of the school was overhauled and my ideal workplace became a distant memory. Behaviour went downhill, yearheads were forbidden from having lunches and forced to go on duty (the union rep resigned and no one stood up to the tyranny), the staff room became more and more empty (since I left three had actually removed the sofas and put in chairs). Staff began leaving, going off for stress and having breakdowns in front of the kids.
It was time to leave, I knew where this road led. I had just begun my recovery and that was the most important thing to me. I'd allways wanted to travel and so that's what I did, but I also always knew I'd go back. I love teaching and I know that the right school is out there, I'm willing to look for it. If I have to change schools a hundred times to do it I will. The way I see it, the longest you have to stay at a school is 2 terms, based on when you hand your notice in. But if it's that bad, break contract. Gone are the days where a school wouldn't employ someone who had broken contract, if you're good and you love the job you'll find another school, hopefully a better school. Your health is THE most important thing.
So my advice? Don't quit yet. Try another school, and another and another. If you love the teaching part, if you love the kids; then the right school is out there. And when you're looking...
Start with the staff room.