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The pride, the workload and toilet breaks: my life after teaching
It feels like barely a month goes by without seeing another blog or report about teachers are walking away from the profession and the recruitment and retention crisis. I'm not judging: I was one of them. After four years at the front of a classroom, I put away my interactive whiteboard pen for the last time and went back to journalism. It's been an interesting transfer back into civilian life; here's what I've found since signing off as "Miss".
I can go to the toilet whenever I want now. For most adults, that is not a big deal. Compared with when I was a teacher, it's a luxury. And the mornings! I told myself that I would still get up early after leaving teaching and use the time for things like meditation and running, but that was absolute nonsense – I have not seen the world before 6am since I left.
For four years, I had a pile of books, essays or exam papers next to the sofa almost constantly. I tried to squeeze extra marking time out of every possible moment: I once almost vomited on a bus while trying to get through some mock papers on my way home, and I almost had a heart attack after leaving a folder of student essays in the pub on a Friday night (and nearly burst with joy when I got them back on Saturday morning). That's not to say that my commute now is stress-free – far from it, my office working hours mean hitting rush hour, and spending the journey frantically catching up on emails – but the only marking I do is the crossword.
The emotional rollercoaster
During training, our tutor told us to expect "hills of happiness" and "valleys of despair". Yup. The lows of feeling overworked and out of control were bad, but the moments when it all went right, when my students made progress and when I felt like I was doing something important were incomparable. For better or worse, the terrain of the post-teaching world is a little less thrilling.
What I miss
Perhaps I would feel differently if I had left to become a brain surgeon or an astronaut, but I do sometimes pine for the a chest-puffing pride that came with the phrase "I'm a teacher".
Being so engaged
I felt a lot of things when I was teaching – exhausted, exhilarated, desperate for a wee – but never, ever, ever bored. I think I was largely running on adrenaline, which is often not the case in an office, where some people (ahem) can disappear down Wikipedia wormholes for 25 minutes at a time.
I was lucky to work in departments where we, by and large, got along and looked after each other. If someone needed to look after their sick child, talk about their divorce, or just get a lift home, it was no problem. That forged-in-school closeness is special.
I miss my students too: it jolts me to realise that my Year 11s will be at university now, and those little Year 7s will be taking their GCSEs. I still bore my friends with stories about children they will never know, because those kids were some of the most interesting people I have ever met.
What I never thought I'd miss, but do
Of Mice and Men and An Inspector Calls
I taught both of these texts every single year, sometimes to more than one class. I can recite entire passages from them. You'd think I'd be happy to see the back of them, but I light up when they are mentioned and I find myself bringing them up weirdly often. Shout out to John Steinbeck and JB Preistley (and shame on Michael Gove for demoting them on the syllabus).
Being on my feet all day
I never realised what a great workout teaching was until I stopped. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't lost on me that I was standing up for hours and hours every day – and probably covering the distance of a half marathon – but I hadn't thought about how sedentary other jobs can be. I miss the days of being able to eat a KitKat at break and pretty much have burned it off by the last bell. Again, if I was an astronaut now this wouldn't be a problem.
I took a funny kind of delight in being briefly knowledgeable about young people's lingo. I would, of course, admonish my students for describing things as "extra", "peak" and (urgh) "moist", but understanding what they meant felt like cracking a code. Naturally, I am completely clueless again now.