Gone are the days when a young person leaving university and deciding to become a teacher wants to do the job for their entire working life. In years gone by, teachers would say things like; “teaching is a calling” “I will dedicate my life to my job” but in my opinion, that’s not the case anymore. It is now quite strange to find a teacher who wants to remain in the classroom for their entire career. In the last issue of the magazine, we looked at ten career choices for teachers who have had enough of the classroom, and that article was one of the most popular articles of the issue. Why was that article so popular? Was it because the issue was published in January when most people are reassessing their lives or setting goals for the new year or could it be because most teachers have a vision for themselves, which includes only doing a set number of years in the classroom and then moving on? In this article, I want to put forward four reasons why teaching is no longer seen as a job for life.
Lack of autonomy:
The idea of teacher autonomy refers to the professional independence of teachers in schools, especially the extent to which they can make autonomous decisions about what they teach to students and how they teach it. This idea of teacher autonomy no longer exists, as the profession has become increasingly controlled, oftentimes by persons who have no knowledge of or experience in the education sector. What is taught and how it is taught are often politically motivated and manipulated. Policymakers often argue that the teacher has control over how the curriculum is delivered but educators know better because there is very little that can be done to change the delivery of a curriculum, which is designed to help students pass a standardised test or attain a predetermined benchmark.
This lack of autonomy is driving younger teachers out of the profession. Not being able to be creative and to co-design the learning with your students and being forced to hit certain targets by a given date, sucks the joy out of teaching. Having gained their qualifications, teachers want to be trusted as capable professionals who are able to design and deliver a programme of learning that is most suitable for their students within certain guidelines. It is understood that there have to be some stipulations on what is taught, but the overly prescriptive nature of the modern curriculum leaves little room for teacher input. Younger teachers who want to express themselves creatively tend to leave the profession to find other ways of doing so.
Lack of trust:
This goes hand in hand with a lack of autonomy, but it also goes deeper. It seems recently, that everyone is looking over the teacher’s shoulder. Government, society, school administration and parents and even students, all seem to believe that they know better than the teacher. You don’t have to look too far to find articles and blog posts chronicling all the things that teachers ought to be doing. Teachers are observed within an inch of their lives. Their plans are examined, their books and marks scrutinised and if they should ever make an error they are soon labelled as “bad teacher” or “in need of support”. This lack of trust will drive the most well-meaning teacher to the breaking point. Teachers, especially younger teachers, will not tolerate this lack of trust for very long. It is hard to find another profession that is as scrutinised. Teachers are fully aware of the delicate nature of their job and they also know that some amount of scrutiny is necessary as they are dealing with young children who are vulnerable. When teachers feel like they have to always watch their backs they become paranoid. This paranoia can lead to stress and anxiety which will drive them out of the profession.
Recently I heard a teacher say that teaching and starting a family do not mix. The lack of work-life balance makes it hard for teachers who want to start a family, to remain in teaching. Teachers can easily work seven days a week. There had been a lot of talk recently about teacher well-being, but the fact still remains, that the workload can be unbearable and if you have a young family it can easily become unmanageable, so some teachers choose to leave the profession when they decide to start a family.
Career progression and compensation:
No one enters the teaching profession to get rich but like others, teachers have financial and career goals that they would like to fulfil. Often times these goals cannot be reached if one remains in the classroom. Staying in education and earning a decent salary frequently means exiting the classroom, to either become an administrator or take on a similar promoted role within education.
The skills gained as a teacher stands you in good stead, in many professions, so many teachers use the skills and experience gained while teaching as stepping stones into other professions. Many young adults are also now choosing to enter teaching straight out of university as a way of gaining valuable experience, they also see it as an opportunity to give back to society almost like charity work. This new school of thought is being fuelled by programmes like Teach for All in the United States and Teach First in the United Kingdom. Graduates from top universities enter the teaching profession for two years and some may stay on longer, after which they go to work in the corporate sector.
This can be mistaken for career progression, but it is completely different. People have several passions and unlike before, when you might have just settled for one career and work at it for life, people, especially young people are choosing to follow their various passions at different times in their lives. You might be a teacher who wants to become a blogger and then move on to become an entrepreneur. The move may just be lateral, but it allows you to explore another area of interest. I have known teachers who left teaching to become chefs, open salons, become a fashion designer etc. Career diversity is becoming very popular and people now have very interesting and colourful CVs.
By: Leisa Grace Wilson