Teaching has broken me.
I remember the excitement, the childlike giddiness I felt when I first walked into the classroom as a volunteer a few years ago. I loved working with the children and as I watched the teacher at the front, I knew that I wanted to do that too. Make a difference to children’s lives, teach them a variety of subjects and watch them learn and grow. There and then, I decided to spend the next few years of my life working towards my future, becoming what I thought was an important and respected job in society…. A teacher.
After a short spell volunteering, I became a teaching assistant and I loved it. In hindsight, maybe I jumped into my teacher training too fast but at the time it felt right. I had watched the teachers I worked with from afar and I knew I wanted to be them. I wanted my own class. I had the rose-tinted view, the naive dream that being a teacher would be an amazing job to have.
When I was accepted onto a teacher training programme, I was elated with happiness. I was working towards what I thought I wanted. A secure job with a lot of room for development, a job that would be different every day and a job that makes a difference in the lives of children. Perfect.
The only word I can use to describe my training year would be soul-destroying. It was difficult, exhausting and sometimes felt impossible. However, I saw the light at the end of the tunnel that everyone spoke about. “It gets easier” they would say. “Just wait until you get your own class, it’s amazing.”
The day came when I got my own class. I had landed a permanent job at a lovely little school. I had my own Year Five class. I should have been on cloud nine and I was…. but it didn’t last. I would never say a bad word about the school I was in for my NQT year. They were extremely supportive and I had experienced teachers, an understanding headteacher and an amazing mentor to lean on.
I still remember the day when everything changed. It was a cloudy day in November. I had experienced the blur of my first term as a newly qualified teacher. I was enjoying the chaotic, ever-changing life as a teacher. I was thriving in the new career that I had chosen. I was acing my observations. It was different from my training in every way. I was feeling positive, happy and appreciated.
Then that day in November came.
I can only describe it as a switch in my brain. I suddenly felt like the walls were closing in. I could feel the pressure for the first time. The unrealistic expectations were creeping in. The ‘I’ll go easy on the new teacher’ feeling was suddenly ripped away from me, the training wheels were gone.
I was expected to be teaching outstanding lessons all of the time, planning quickly and efficiently, marking the ‘perfect’ pieces of work the children had done in every lesson. With perfect handwriting, no crossing out, every single mistake to be highlighted in pink and corrected by me. If I dared to make a mistake in their books or miss a single spelling or punctuation mark it would be spotted in a book scrutiny. 28 children. On average, 5 different books to mark a week. Do the maths. It was nearly impossible. All whilst dealing with emotional, needy and challenging children.
I persevered. This is my job now I thought. I have to find a way to gain a balance in the classroom and outside the classroom. For months, I felt as if I was on autopilot mode. I was swimming in a sea of planning, marking, observations, book scrutinies, parent complaints and children’s problems. There is only so much one person can do and eventually it broke me. I shattered under the pressure and had a panic attack in the staff room in front of my headteacher (I still cringe at the embarrassment now).
I am open and honest about my mental health issues so I told the headteacher how I was feeling and she was surprisingly understanding and helpful. Occupational health were involved. Things would get better now I thought. A weight was lifted from my shoulders.
January was a new start. I had that new term excitement and I was looking forward to the topics I was teaching. A few weeks into the New Year, I started to struggle again. I was constantly being watched. My books were being closely scrutinised every week. Stress was affecting me in every way. I wasn’t eating, I wanted to sleep all of the time, I was struggling to concentrate, my memory was deteriorating, I had constant headaches and my stomach problems were back again. My anxiety levels were through the roof and I couldn’t do anything to change it.
In March, I handed in a resignation letter to my headteacher. I wanted to stay until the end of the academic year but I knew teaching was not for me after all. There was too much pressure, expectation and scrutiny. I started to lose my enjoyment of teaching. My depression returned and I was struggling to motivate myself to leave the house in the morning to go to work.
Then, two weeks ago, another panic attack. This time, worse. I had a mental breakdown infront of my mentor after school. I had reached my lowest point. I had to make the decision to walk away. Telling the children I was leaving was the hardest part. Seeing their teary faces made me feel guilty. However, I knew I had to go.
Now people keep asking me what my next step is. But to be honest, I don’t want to think about it at the moment. I just need some time to recover, time to heal, time to find my way back to myself. I need to focus on being mentally, physically and emotionally well again before I decide to climb on a different career ladder.
If this journey has taught me anything, it is that in life, having a good physical and mental health, enriching relationships and time to do things that bring you joy are much more important than money, jobs and professional success. Life is defined by the moments that bring you happiness. It is your choice to walk away from something that is not meant for you and if you do, I promise… it will set you free.