This week marks another check-point for many trainee teachers. We are half way through the year and one step closer to qualifying. Inevitably, people are starting to think about next year, and one question seemed to bounce around the corridors of the IOE at our last professional development day: are you going to stay in the classroom next year?
For the large majority the answer was a resounding yes. However, I can’t help but worry about the years beyond that. This week the DfE told us that primary school teachers in state schools are working nearly 60 hour weeks, however, for myself, many of my colleagues and my peers this is definitely a conservative estimate and it is definitely taking its toll. Even working ridiculous hours we are time-poor, never having enough time to plan the lessons we wish we could teach, time to rest, time to spend with our families and time to continue to learn. Alongside this comes fear: fear that we are not modelling the right attitudes to our pupils and fear that our stress is to their detriment.
Already I have noticed how tired my cohort is looking after only six months on the job. One of the great advantages of classroom based initial teacher training is that much of your learning comes from observing experienced teachers in action. It is the advice and support of our colleagues that has given many of us the determination to succeed, but with this privilege also comes experiences of the darker side of the profession. We also see teachers, who love their jobs, corroded by years of pressure, a poor work-life balance and ill health. The government asks new graduates why they are not attracted to careers in teaching but if they really want to elevate the status of the profession they first need to address the wellbeing of qualified teachers.
Hearing my friends talk about all that they want to achieve next year, I am confident that they have the motivation and passion to be brilliant teachers but the longevity of their careers depends largely on a shift in attitudes towards teaching. Burn-out is a very real possibility because quite simply primary teachers across the profession are working too much and nobody is stepping up to address the issue in the right way.
Politicians argue that in order to encourage bright people to stay in the profession incentives, such as performance pay and fast-tracked career progression, are key. However, from the floor this is just not the case. In the past weeks not once have I heard a trainee complain about these factors when considering whether to stay in the profession. Wellbeing, health and morale, however, are big factors for many of us.