‘I’ve got a good job because I like working with teenagers. It’s very rewarding. But…it’s not an easy job. You can't switch off, sit down, relax, calm down a bit. You’ve got to love it or you couldn’t do it.’
Job: Secondary School Teacher.
Typical hours worked: 1,265 hours (over 195 days of the year).
Profile: Sarah’s a white female in her 40s who works full-time.
I started teaching 22 years ago in a challenging school, in a disadvantaged area and quickly got promoted, becoming Assistant Head within eight years. I loved the kids and the challenge of it. When I had children, I was allowed to go four days a week and ended up staying at that school for a lot longer than I’d originally planned – finding another part-time teaching role at the same level would have been difficult. Last year, the school was closed, and I found myself back where I started working as a Classroom Teacher in a new school. I've gone up and then back down in my career.
My working day
On an average day, I start at 8:15am. I teach five hours of lessons and look after my form for about another hour. Plus there’s about an hour a day to prep the lessons. It’s one lesson straight onto the next, so I’m setting up the next lesson while the last one finishes.
After the official school day finishes at 3:05pm, there are often after-school activities to cover, such as revision lessons, staff training or parents’ evenings. I generally stay at school until 5.30pm every day, marking and planning lessons, which also carries over into the weekend and some evenings.
When I first started, I worked 12-hour days because of how long it took to create each lesson plan. For an average lesson now, with the resources I have, it only takes me about 10 minutes to prepare. But the curriculum changes a lot, so every few years they will introduce new topics.
The only time I complain about my hours is when people say, ‘Well, you finish at 3 and you get all those holidays’. You do get good holidays, which is why I accept the workload. If they were to take that time away, I wouldn’t do teaching – it wouldn’t be manageable. Your days are so crammed full and you’re working evenings, you really need those holidays to refresh.
In the term time, I feel like I’m a rubbish mum because I don’t get to pick the kids up from school, I don’t get to take them to school. If there’s a school trip, I can never go because there’s no flexibility. I’ve never seen my kids at sports day. But then I get to spend six weeks’ holiday with them.
How would I improve teaching? I would make it that we don’t have to do duties, when you work through the mid-morning and lunch break like I did today. It’s just been crazy, running in from break duty to set up a class. I would make it that we had one free lesson a day to mark and plan. Then I could leave school at 4/4:30pm every day and have dinner with my kids. I would also love it if we could have more flexibility but then, obviously, the school is not flexible, the school day is not flexible.
*This graph shows Sarah’s score alongside the UK mean (average) for the 7 dimensions of the CIPD Good Work Index.
People don’t really understand that it’s not like an office where I can get a drink or go to the toilet when I want. I can’t just leave 30 children in a room. You can’t switch off, sit down, relax, calm down a bit. You’re on show constantly, which is very draining, and the job is very tiring.
I’ve always joked that I needed to get a desk job, but working from home in the pandemic, I found I couldn’t do it. In school, I like that it is a bit of a crazy whirlwind and my day goes very quickly. My job is quite active because I’m constantly moving around. I like that about my job. I’m my own boss if you like. Once I’m in my room, there’s nobody else but me and the kids. Although I’m told exactly what to teach, I can pick how I teach them. So, whether we do games or we do a practical, that’s up to me.
What I don’t like about teaching now is that all children do the same exam, even when their reading ages are completely different. I’ve got no control over what I teach. There’s a lot of curriculum to get through, so you can’t do as many fun things with the kids as you’d like because of how much you need to cover.
Pay and benefits
On the whole, teaching is pretty secure. There aren’t that many people that’re made redundant. That’s obviously just happened to me but job security is quite good.
Pay - it depends on what you compare it to. Do I get paid fairly for what I do? No. I’m sure I could probably earn what I earn now in lots of other jobs that don’t need the same qualifications or that don’t have the same pressures. When I was a head of year, for example, I was managing 180 children and eight adults. I think I was on maybe less than £40,000, whereas in the private sector, if you managed that many people you would be on a lot more money.
When I was young and didn’t have children, I got promoted very quickly. To get on in teaching you have to give a lot of your own time. When I was 22, I could do that. I was more than happy to do weekends and residentials. Whether I could work my way back up now, I don’t know.
When I was being made redundant, and I started applying for Assistant Headteacher positions, they all said, ‘Desired: have worked in numerous schools’. That’s why I ended up back as a Classroom Teacher. If I was to do my time again and speak to younger people in teaching, I’d say, ‘Every few years, to get those higher positions, you need to move on.’
I can’t, off the top of my head, tell you when I last went on a course for teaching. It was probably over ten years ago. We do training in school, but it tends to be the same training. I’ve listened to the same talk about child protection so many times – I’ve given that talk. If I could have CPD in maths or science to make me a better teacher, that’s what I’d like. I was offered some last year, but it was in the evening. I haven’t got time to do it outside of work hours and there’s no flexibility to do it within work hours.
If you’d asked me a few years ago whether furthering my career was important, I’d have said yes. I miss the money that I got – I’ve taken a big pay cut – but at the minute I just couldn’t move back up. I couldn’t fit it in with two children and everything else. So at the moment it’s not that important. There’s no promotion opportunities in this school in any case, but I might be able to apply to other schools later now I’ve worked in another school.
Relationships at work
It’s very difficult to make real relationships at work because you don’t come out of your room. I’ve got a lovely faculty, but we don’t get to spend time together. Our breaks are split breaks, and our lunches are split lunches where they run at different times. At break – because you’ve only got 15 minutes, I just go to the toilet and set up the next lesson, so don’t have a break. It’s the same with lunch – I don’t come out of my classroom.
My head of faculty is the person I would go to if I had any problems. Obviously, if it wasn’t dealt with, I’d go to my line manager and then the Headteacher. I’ve never had to go above my head of faculty because I have a really good relationship with him. This school is very supportive. If you’ve got any problems, it will be sorted out.
Generally though, I’m just left to it in the classroom. I did get observed today by the Headteacher – he’s like the ultimate boss. He came in for 20 minutes, watched my lesson and I will get feedback at some point about it. I’d say every term, somebody will come in and just check that you’re doing your job well.
Voice and representation
I’m a member of a union and used them a lot when I was made redundant from my previous role. In this school, I haven’t needed the union. Staff here are listened to and they do lots of questionnaires about the job and wellbeing. We then talk about the issues raised in the questionnaires in staff meetings.
An example is that people have moaned about the split break. It meant that people that had their break after period one, then had to teach three periods without a break – three hours – which people said was too much. They’ve now moved it so everybody gets a break after period two. It’s still not perfect but they’ve listened and done what we’ve asked of them.
When I first started here, they had a meeting after a few months to just check I was OK, or if there was anything that I needed. That was really nice – I never had that in my old school. They also do wellbeing meetings once a year, where the head sees everybody for ten minutes. It’s ten minutes a year, but still, I thought that was nice.
I’d say I’ve got a good job, because I like working with teenagers and it’s very rewarding. I’ve had lots of ex-students come back and tell me that I’ve made a difference to their lives. I’ve even been invited to some of their weddings. But I would say it’s not an easy job. I’ve seen a lot of people come into teaching because they think it’s an easy option. It’s one of those careers – you’ve got to love it or you couldn’t do it.
It comes back to the children I’ve taught over the years and the relationships I’ve got with them. When I was a head of year, those kids are now are in their 30s and I still speak to a lot of them. They still come to me for help to write out job applications. So, yes, the relationships you build, and also the time that it gave me with my own kids in the holidays.
This is a difficult job, so having support is what makes a ‘good’ teaching job. If you know that you can go and speak to someone and you'll be listened to. The head here thanks us for coming to staff meetings, even though we have to go, but little things like that mean so much. You know you’re actually appreciated for doing your job.
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