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What To Do When You Want To Leave Teaching

Whether entering the infamous NQT year (with 1 in 7 dropping out during this year), or an experienced teacher who has seen it all, most teachers will have moments of doubt about the profession at some point in their career. Triggered by anything from workload to issues at home to changes in management in your current setting, these feelings of inadequacy (or even impostor syndrome) usually start a toxic cycle of stress, lack of motivation and even apathy towards elements of the job.

So, what can we do about this? Below are some ideas to help you get through what is certain to be a difficult period, but doesn't have to define your career:

1. A problem shared

As difficult as it might seem, it can be an enormous relief to share your concerns/ anxieties with colleagues, your line manager or a member of the senior leadership team. It is likely their expertise can help you manage the issues you are facing, or they can provide mentoring, coaching or external CPD to support you. As much as the narrative of the evil senior leader is perpetrated throughout education, the Twitter-verse and beyond, senior leaders will likely have been in the situation you find yourself in and offer insights you may have missed. There is, however, always the concern that sharing these concerns/ anxieties/ worries will somehow shine a spotlight on you and make you a target as someone who needs to be 'forced out'. If you are sure this is the case, then you have a very different problem and it may be time to...

2. Change setting

As much as it is tempting to pin all of our work woes either on ourselves or those around us, sometimes it is just a case of the wrong place at the wrong time. It can be difficult, but often a new working environment can be just the change that is needed to reinvigorate your working life. With this in mind, it then becomes more vital than ever to investigate each potential new school as thoroughly and accurately as possible. Ofsted documents, a tour, discussion with staff and SLT, scrutiny of recent results/ exclusions/ local press also become enormously important. Many staff report finding a new love for the profession after leaving a school/ college which has become (at best) stale or (at worst) toxic. Again, it's difficult, and can be highly stressful, but if you move into the 'right' workplace, it will make the world of difference.

3. Move to a different sector

Moving up or down in age range, this generally has one major lasting impact: you finally know where you want to be. This can mean anything from making the transition to EYFS, Primary, Secondary, FE, HE or the utopia of Middle school (as told by those who work in the sector) to SEND provision or making the move into a PRU or similar specialist educational provision and will give you a sense of perspective when making future decisions about your career. It will also give you perspective on your previous role - were conditions better than you thought or is the grass really greener? As with changing setting, it is vital to get this move right and so you should research as thoroughly as possible. As much as it can be financially difficult, attempting some supply or cover work in different sectors can give you amazing insight and help you make your mind up.

4. Reflect

For many, the feeling of wanting to leave teaching is triggered by negative feedback from leaders and what some see as overly aggressive accountability (without support) and even bullying. It is a natural response to become defensive when our flaws are pointed out, but teaching is reflection (on what we do as well as what students do). With this in mind, it is important to take an honest look at your practice and ask yourself some tough questions: 'How can I be more effective?' or 'Is the feedback accurate?' As detailed here, it can be tough to look at yourself and ask these questions (especially with the goal of identifying areas of weakness), but it is necessary. Once you have identified any areas for development, you can then start to fully engage with CPD, training, sharing good practice, seek targeted guidance and start a process of development.

5. Take a break

Surely, this is the toughest option - taking a break from the job. This doesn't necessarily mean leaving teaching forever, and can actually mean just taking a sabbatical or moving to a support role, but it is still a big step. Many teachers start their educational career as teaching assistants/ learning support assistants, and find it enormously rewarding (and excellent CPD for when they make the move to teaching), so it is a well travelled trail. Less financially difficult, could be the move to working part time. Arranging a 0.8 or 0.6 timetable can give additional breathing room throughout the week to concentrate on well-being or simply spend more time doing things outside of work which you may have been unable to engage with.

As much as the above is aimed at giving advice and help to practitioners wanting to stay in education, there are still those who may find it more beneficial to leave the job. As some figures suggest (and this is certainly backed up anecdotally), a life outside of teaching may be more valuable in the long run. Either way, the above will help you to make that decision.


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