Wonderful Summer Optimism

I’m starting to feel so much better. I feel healthy. I’m not getting icky spots between my eyebrows, as I always do in bouts of stress and tiredness. I’m sleeping well (save the epic Week of Three Job Interviews – but that’s over with now). I’m eating lots of green things and waltzing around the city like I own the bloody place, because I’m feeling optimistic. The sun’s out, and the streets look beautiful. There are frickin’ bluebells sprouting up in our front garden – even the weeds look good!

The chirpy mood is partly down to the time of year – I feel so much better when the weather’s warm, and the days are long – but for another exciting one, too.

I have a new job.

I applied for a post at an amazing private school, thinking I’d never get it because I’m not clever or posh enough, and I’d never get that lucky. Then I got an interview… and it went really well. The interviewers seemed genuinely interested in me as a person, asking about my degree, my hobbies – not my ‘strategies for making progress’ and my classes’ GCSE results. The children were an absolute delight: eager to learn, sweet and earnest. They made me wait a week to find out if I got the gig, and I spent seven days thinking there’s no way – there’s no way I’ll get it. (Even though they interviewed me first. Even though they invited me to interview before the deadline passed. Even though everything went really well. Why do I beat myself up so much?)

Well, I got the job. From September, I’ll work four days a week at this lovely, tiny little school in the prettiest part of the city. I’ll teach lovely children Drama and English. I’ll get a free lunch every day, longer holidays… and I’ll feel valued and respected by my employers. I’ll say it again: they didn’t ask me about results, they asked me about me. That’s got to count for something.

I always felt uncomfortable about the idea of private education, because I come from a family that couldn’t even consider paying for school – as is true for the majority. I’m not happy with the idea that your parents’ wealth should be able to pay for a hugely advantageous start in life. But then, I’m not happy with what’s happening in state schools either. I’m afraid the government has largely ruined it for me, what with the circus of testing and brutal, pointless bureaucracy of constantly covering backs in case Ofsted show up. It’s change for change’s sake, constantly. I feel teachers are suffering at the hands of the DfE’s ambition and misunderstandings.

Of course there’ll be high standards at this fee-paying school, and of course I’ll have to work hard. I’m OK with that. I’m looking forward to looking forward to work. Feeling purposeful, and secure in my work – because I know the school is managed well, and free to make their own decisions. I’m looking forward to knowing happy children who want to be taught and are hungry to know more. It feels a selfish move to abandon ordinary kids for a cushy job with free lunch (yes! literally free lunch!), but I feel I’ve done my time in the state sector. I’ve worked hard for so many kids who didn’t want to work for themselves, and at times it was truly gruelling. It feels good to be moving on. Yes, summer optimism is flooding through me.

The New Me: Freelance Teacher

I feel like I’ve smashed through a few frontiers in my teaching career this week: my first time as a one-to-one A Level tutor, my first venture into private sector education, and my first professional steps into an Oxford College. A few months ago, I wouldn’t have believed it possible. I thought I was quitting teaching for good – but I’m now glad I gave this career a second chance.

After seven years working in state secondary schools (or should I say academies), I’d had enough of the workload and pressure. I’d worked in two schools that were very unhappy places due to the pressure of inspections, the constant merry-go-round of government changes and increasingly brutal target-setting culture.  I loved my subject, and I knew I was a good practitioner… but my job made me sad and anxious. Back in January, I had to take some time out. I’ve always been a worrier, but I was starting to get ill from the constant demands of my job. Even over the two week Christmas break, I hadn’t been able to switch off. My 30th birthday was on New Year’s Eve, and while I had a lovely day, I crept off to bed swiftly after midnight, tearful and miserable that now I had just a few days before term began again, and I had so much to do. I worked hard. I managed three days at work before I was full of cold, with a terrible headache. I had to take a day off sick, and then another. Before long, it was the anxiety of returning to work that was the real problem. I got dressed for work on the third day, and then cried, because I felt so incapable of going back. I got signed off, and after a few weeks, full of guilt, I asked to be released early from my contract.

Once I knew I was leaving that job, I felt instantly better. I applied for lots of different types of jobs, feeling free, and excited about trying something new. I applied for admin roles, school librarian jobs, and a tutoring job at a university. I didn’t get much of a response, so I resolved that my back up would be signing up with a teaching agency. I put my CV online and it suddenly felt like my phone exploded: so many voicemails, emails, missed calls. I genuinely had no idea there were so many agencies out there. There was lots of work, too.

My first supply role, which I will return to next week when the Easter break ends, is in an FE college. It’s been a great experience so far. I work four days a week, and I have very little planning to do, as all the classes are GCSE retake students, studying the same skills. These kids missed out on their magic ‘C’ at school, and many are disillusioned, frustrated or simply struggle. But they’re interesting kids. I’ve seen some challenging behaviour, but nothing worse than I’ve experienced in secondary schools. The pace of the day is easier – longer lessons, but longer breaks, too. I don’t feel exhausted at the end of the day.

This week, I’ve signed up with a tutorial college to teach A Level revision. It’s well paid, and the students are paying a lot for an intensive course, so I’ve definitely felt the pressure. Fortunately I’m teaching subject matter I know well, and I can rely on resources I’ve used before. I have two students, both lovely, and very appreciative of my efforts – which feels great. I’m teaching in a beautiful room in an Oxford college with views of daffodils and the quad, complete with obligatory ‘keep off the grass’ sign. I’m enjoying it, but I’m also pleased I don’t have to work this hard every week.

I’ve also been invited to work for an education publisher on a text book, which is a privilege, and something I’d never have time for if I was still a full-time secondary school teacher. It’s work I can do at home, though I’ve been asked to go into the office too and help out. It’s flattering that my skills and experience are valued, and I’m grateful to develop another string to my bow. It gives me hope that I can continue to teach part-time, and find other ways of making money.

I’ve been an examiner before, and I signed up for the summer exams as back up in case I didn’t get enough work. I’ve been offered so much, that I won’t have time to examine as well – but again, it’s another source of income if I need it. I don’t particularly enjoy marking dozens of papers, especially under immense time pressure – so it’s not the kind of work I’d choose. But it’s an option, and something I know I can do well.

All in all, I think I now qualify as a freelance teacher. It’s a new way of thinking about my career, and I like it. I feel like I’ve got a bit of breathing space. I don’t feel trapped, waiting for the next half term holiday. It’s giving me time to write, too, which is of course what I really want to do (as is the case for so many teachers, I’m realising). I think it’s opened my eyes to see working life in a different way… something to fit around my own well-being, perhaps. I do miss the relationship you can build up with classes over time, and there might be a time when I want to go back to more full-on teaching. Maybe when the government stop messing about with everything (will this ever happen?). Until then, I’m content with part-time work, and going freelance.