Why I left teaching...

It's taken me 2 years to write this. I've put off telling my story because I didn't want to be seen as a "failure".

"Ha, she couldn't hack it!" That's what I assumed everyone would say.

When you put so much time and effort, so much of yourself into a career like teaching, it feels counterintuitive to leave it. And it feels even worse to say you quit.

I took voluntary redundancy from my role as an Engineer in the private sector at a time when Education was calling for experts in industry to "turn their talent to teaching". As a single mum at the time, honestly, my first thought was "Brilliant, I won't have to pay for child care in the school holidays if I'm a teacher!". But going back to Uni to do my PGCE was utterly awesome. I absolutely LOVED it. New people, new friends, shared industry experiences and I relished being immersed in something that was challenging my recovering baby-brain. The pedagogy, the theory, and then the practical application of teaching and building relationships. It was all so immense but I felt re-energised by it all.

10 years down the line and I was struggling to hold on to those empowering PGCE memories.

I've taught in 4 different schools teaching and leading Design, Technology, Engineering and Food from Key stage 3 to 5. I was that teacher who questioned the status quo. Having come from a lean manufacturing background where "waste" and anything not "adding value" wasn't an option, I was completely flummoxed as to some of the systems and thought processes in place in schools. From my empathetic and layman's perspective of social and cognitive psychology, I also couldn't fathom why staff and students were often treated and spoken to like they were either. Including myself. Everything was starting to feel contradictory.

But, I loved being in the classroom. I loved how every single hour was different. I loved how I had to up my game all the time, try a different perspective, experiment with a new method of teaching, differentiate constantly, deal with varying behaviours (staff and students!), personally and professionally develop ALL THE TIME. I loved the colleagues I got to meet, bounce off, laugh and cry with, coach and console. I loved that I found my husband at school and that's where our family was built from. I loved that I got to share all that over 10 years and positively influence the students in front of me. Lasting relationships built on respect.

What I didn't love though was that feeling of being a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. That feeling of wishing you were somewhere else because there had to be more to MY life. I didn't love being told I wasn't good enough because someone had decided the 5 min part of a lesson they observed didn't "tick" 10 standards. I didn't love the cycle of education initiatives that came round again and again with no solid reasons for their introduction to my way of teaching or subject. I didn't love the redundancies and watching colleagues crumble as their identities and effort were dismissed and taken away. I didn't love that my own children barely saw me and when they did I was "too tired" or "too busy". I didn't love that I was losing my sense of purpose. Everything was starting to feel like a fight. A fight for common sense to prevail. A fight for balance and justice. A fight for this strange and weird world of education to fall into line with the real world.

I wanted to keep fighting. I wanted to work my way up into the realms of education leadership with an "I'll show them how to do it properly" attitude keeping me going. Then the pandemic hit. 2020 was without a doubt one of the best years of my life. I realise that can come across as rather crass and not in keeping with the tragedies that occurred, but this is my truth.

I woke up in 2020. I was already doing my coach training. I was so committed to working my way up the ranks and tired of relying on non-existed school budgets to support my progression that I was paying for it myself. As I coached and was coached it all became clear. Clarity creates change. My core values didn't match those of our education system, they didn't match the institution I was working in, they didn't match my daily actions, nothing was in parallel with what I really wanted out of life. That conflict is why I felt like I didn't fit.

So I quit.

It's taken me the best part of 18 months to grieve that loss. You take on an identity when you're a teacher (and probably any kind of public sector role). It's who you are. It's what you do and because you give SO much of yourself to it, it felt really daunting to suddenly not have it, despite it being my decision. It takes time to figure yourself out again. Coaching has made me wish I had a coach and/or had had coach training as part of my journey in education. Maybe I would still be there... maybe one day I'll feel brave enough to step back in and finish what I started...

That urge to help people be the best they can be hasn't left me. That's my mission. I fully intend to use my experiences and coaching skills to empower, support and guide anyone who wants my help, whatever their direction.

Jen x

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