So, Barack Obama wants to return to teaching after he’s finished being President of the United States, does he? In an interview on ABC’s daytime talk show ‘The View’ he said that ‘working with kids’ would be his ambition once his tenure as most powerful man on earth ended. (Clearly he hopes to have his lease on the White House extended for another four years first.)
I said something similar, once. (Although I wasn’t the most powerful man on the planet.) When I gave up teaching five years ago I was sure I’d be back; I just needed a break. I did return to the classroom, of course, last year – working as a psychology teacher while my wife was on maternity leave. But once again the school bell rang and although I’d enjoyed my year immensely, I found myself starting to have doubts about the long term plan to return to teaching permanently.
My misgivings, though, have little to do with the classroom. Far from it. If the job was simply teaching and marking then there wouldn’t be a problem. But it isn’t. In common with just about every other occupation, it’s about self-justification and administration – spending an inordinate amount of time responding to the demands of those from politicians to inspectors to Headteachers who seem to need to micro-manage every aspect of the job.
As an example, allow me to introduce exhibit A – the announcement last week by the Head of Ofsted that he would instruct inspectors to mark down schools that gave pay increases to teachers who were ‘out the gate at 3 o’clock’. Sir Michael Wilshaw said he expected teachers to stay beyond the end of the school day in order to ‘go the extra mile’ for children, especially when working in poorer communities.
As I write this, at gone ten o’clock in the evening, my wife is still sitting at the dining room table, marking. She’ll be there a good deal longer, too. As she is almost every evening. And yet the demands just keep on coming. Teaching, as defined by people like Sir Michael Wilshaw, is rapidly becoming mission impossible. No teacher ‘out of the gate at 3 o’clock’ can hope that’s the end of their working day. With marking and lesson preparation extending well into the evening, every evening, encroaching into weekends and eating sizeable chunks of those oh-so-generous holidays, combined with the need to flee one set of school gates in order to arrive in time at another, I can certainly think of easier ways to earn a living.
This isn’t a plea for teaching to be considered a special case. Lots of people work jolly hard, and I’ll not single out any particular profession because we’re all increasingly being asked for more whilst being given little in terms of pay or praise in return.
But I’ve decided I won’t be filling any of the increasing number of teaching vacancies in the future. At least, not full-time. I’ve had twenty years of the highs and lows (more highs than lows, to be fair) and can only see the prospect of another twenty as being an exercise in masochism.
Which rather begs the question: what will I do when my time as daddy daycare ends?
Ask not for whom the school bell tolls… it tolls for me!