I used to be a teacher. No, I am not retired; I am 34 years old. I am “officially” on a leave of absence, but to be honest I am not returning. I graduated from my BEd when I was 23 and I taught for 10 years. I graduated during a year when a large amount of teachers retired due to a major change in the pension plan. This meant I was never without a contract, although I did teach percentages some years. I taught in a couple of school boards in Nova Scotia and finally settled in a small rural school. I taught there for several years and the school was a perfect fit for me. I loved the staff and the students were amazing. I was lucky to have decent class sizes and excellent support staff. I always had a professional relationship with my administration and received very positive reviews. I was a teacher advisor in a lot of different extra-curricular activities.
So why did I leave teaching? I left because I only have 24 hours in my day. I have a husband and family that I need and want to spend time with. I have housework, cooking and sleeping to do. I have a lot of hobbies I enjoy working on. I like to eat home cooked and healthy meals. While I was teaching I felt like I could not have a personal life.
We know this job is all encompassing. Initially I ignored the slow build up of tasks and I believed that “it gets better after (5, 10, 15) years” lie we tell new graduates. It actually got much more tough for me as years went on. The first few were just about keeping my head above water and I assumed that feeling would go away but it didn’t. It seems that every time the province decided on a new initiative or program, I was expected to use it immediately but was not allowed to discontinue any of the older ideas. Overall, it seems teachers are still doing the same work as teachers from 1976, 86, 96 and 06 plus all their new work. Most of the initiatives make some sense and I have no doubt decisions are made with students’ achievement in mind.
However something has to give. Here is an example. When I started teaching, I was expected to look at the outcomes for a course and assign them to my project and make a scoring rubric. This was time consuming but it made sense. It gave students a clear idea of what was expected. It meant that every teacher who taught the course had the same guidelines. I felt I had a bit of freedom in how it was worded and scored. But the department of education decided that this system was not precise enough. Within a couple of years, all my junior and elementary classes had moved to the 1,2,3,4 scoring. The rubrics still had to be made but now they had to be based on the awful “outcome based wording”. I spent additional time trying to use this format but I also had to try to make the rubrics easy to understand. Then Powerschool came. I was told it would make things easier. The 1,2,3,4 marking was recorded online and parents could see it and they would know their child’s progress. It sounded great; except some parents did not have Internet and even more don’t want to check. So I still had to make rubrics based in outcome language and write a personalized comment afterwards to explain the rubric. Then the comment had to follow a formula; it needed to include what a student did well, what they needed to improve and what to work on in the future. Then the “powers that be” realized that students need constant feedback past the final grade received on their rubric or in Powerschool (I would like to point out that a classroom teacher has always known this and has been doing it for years- it’ s called teaching). However apparently verbal confirmation isn’t enough and data needs a paper trail. So I needed to start tracking all the feedback I gave students, so I created checklists, charts and running records. Everything was to be recorded, even if it was a small informal conversation with a group of students. In the end a project that once took me a 2-4 hours to design, make and mark now could take 6-8 hours. However the students only worked on the lesson for an hour or two. So I needed to plan many lessons for one class for each week. Plus over the years I taught between 3-7 courses at one time.
This doesn’t take into account any individual program plans (IPP) or adaptations for the lesson, which can take hours to do properly. This example is one part of the job. There are similar long and ever-changing processes for grade level planning, long term planning, accommodating different learning styles, report cards, discipline and school improvement plans. Plus most teachers volunteer to run teams or groups that require planning, overnights and after school hours.
Again, I want to make it clear that I think most of these initiatives in theory are worthy, but as a teacher I did not have the time to properly complete all of them. More importantly I was not able to choose what parts of the process worked best for my courses, my students and my teaching style. With each new requirement I watched more of my personal autonomy go away. I felt like I could never get it all done. When I wasn’t working in the evenings, I was feeling guilty about not working. I counted down the days until Friday and then felt relaxed until Saturday night. Sunday was a day of stress whether I was working on schoolwork or just thinking about going back to work. I would start a count down for long weekends and holidays long before they arrived. Essentially I was counting away my life. I stopped exercising and working on my hobbies. My husband became 100% responsible for all the cooking, cleaning and other life chores. I was exhausted. My physical and mental health started to suffer. My husband encouraged me to leave my job and finally I decided to take the plunge. I am in process of starting up a small business. I have no idea if it will be successful and it is scary leap of faith but I am much more healthy and happy. If it does not succeed I will have to retrain for another career because I don’t think I will ever be a teacher again. Which is sad because I actually loved teaching my students.